TULSA -- Phone scams are everywhere. The calls are constant, convincing, and incredibly difficult to trace. It's important you know how to protect yourself because once you pay an illegal debt collector that money is likely gone.
Most of us have answered a phony call at one time or another.
“We received a request to execute a default judgment and place a lien on any bank accounts or property linked to your social security number.” That’s according to a recent voicemail from someone pretending to be with the Oklahoma County Clerk’s Office.
Scammers use personal information to illegally collect a false debt.
The recording continues, “This came in for the amount of $4,842.”
According to Marketwatch.com, phone scams cost Americans an estimated $9.5 billion in 2017.
Victor Wandres is a consumer protection attorney in Tulsa, and says anyone, even with a criminal record, can purchase a list of bad debt online and start making calls.
“These scam artists are calling about debts that you may have had, that may have appeared on an old credit report, because they've got a copy of your old credit report,” he says. “Probably illegally.”
And, the scammers use fear to get you to pay them right over the phone.
“Their M.O. is to scare you into believing that you're going to be prosecuted,” says Wandres. “Arrested, charged, have a lien put on your house, have your wages garnished.”
In Brian Frank’s case, the scammers went after his mom to get her to pay an illegitimate debt on Brian’s behalf.
Only problem is, she paid.
“It was somewhere around $524,” said Frank. “And, they said if that was not paid, it would be around $3,000.”
He suspects the thieves obtained his Social Security number and credit information from a signature loan he received more than ten years ago.
He says after he realized his mother paid a scammer, he immediately called police and his mother's bank to dispute the charge to her account.
But, he says the bank wouldn't refund the money.
“It was a scam they refused to pay because they said, ‘You knowingly and willingly gave your card information out to these people’,” said Frank. “’We are not going to help you.’”
Technology has made it easy for scammers to use a computer to robo-dial thousands of people a day.
Other scams use an actual voice and spoof a phone number, meaning it's a number that looks familiar, to get you to answer.
Wandres says he police can't do much if the call comes from out of state, or even out of the country.
He says your best defense is to find out exactly who you're dealing with.
“You can ask them for their mailing address,” he says. “And, if they give you a P.O. Box it's a real good tell tale."
Also, ask for their website or something in writing. Any information can help you fight back.
Consumers are entitled to certain protections when dealing with debt collectors.
Here are three federal laws you should know:
1. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act – to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors.
2. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act – restricts the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages.
3. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act – intended to protect individual consumers in online and telephone bill payment.
You can also request a copy of your credit report from CreditKarma.com. It is free once a year and will show your which debts are valid under your name, so you can spot a phony.
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