Monday, December 16, 2013

Scammers, “Playing With My Money is Like Playing With My Emotions!”

That famous line comes from the movie Friday. The character Big Worm said it after Smokey requested more time to turn in his money from selling drugs. However, that is not how I am using this line today. I am using it the way any hardworking individual would when a schemer gets us riled up for trying to take advantage of us. Here are my worthless two cents on what happened today when I got a phone call stating that I owed money.

The Phone Call
I was sitting at work putting a report together when I got a call from an unfamiliar number. Like a lot of people, I let it ring and checked the voicemail message after it was over. When I checked the message, the woman said that she was calling about a “serious matter”. That right there told me it was a collection call. She continued her message by referring to the case being turned over to a county court if I did not respond within 30 days and to call back and mention the account# she left in the message.

I called the woman back and she told me that I owed money to for a payday loan (that I did not take out), located at a certain webpage URL (that did not exist), and that I took it out while working for a certain employer (when I was actually living a few states away).

How was I quickly able to identify this woman as a schemer and what can you do to protect yourself? Here are some tips I learned when working as a supervising debt collector. Not only was I well-versed in the FDCPA (Federal Debt Collection Practices Act) that all debt collectors must abide by – whether they are Capital One or your neighbor Joe - but I trained newcomers on it to make sure that they did not violate it. Oh yeah, those schemers called the right one today! If you would like to read the full FDCPA, check it out at Before I get into the tips, I suggest that everyone record the whole conversation. Android phones have a number of free apps that can record both sides of a phone conversation. I like to use Easy Voice Recorder because it is very clear.

1.     Debt Disclosure
According to the Prohibited Practices section, a debt collector must “disclose in the initial written communication with the consumer, and the initial oral communication if it precedes the initial written communication, that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” In other words, as soon as a valid debt collector gets enough information from you such as your name and date of birth to verify your identity, they will immediately state that they are attempting to collect a debt that any information you give will be used for that purpose, sort of like how the Miranda that cops must state to arrested individuals lets them know that anything the individual says can and will be used against him/her in a court of law. The woman I spoke to never gave this disclosure and proceeded to immediately talk to me about my debt. In fact, she did not even verify anything other than my name. 

Additionally, no debt collector worth their salt would mention a court, debt, or anything legal except the law office they are calling from in a voicemail message because that can be a violation of the FDCPA which states that the debtor must first verify if the person on the phone is the debtor or the debtor's legal representative (such as an executor of estate, power of attorney, or a personal representative, all of which must be on a legal document received by the debt collector's office). When leaving a message, they have no idea what kind of machine is recording it and if someone else will hear it when I play it back. Therefore, improperly disclosing the debt and legal nature of the call was the first red flag.

2.     Payday Loans
Schemers are notorious for insisting that an individual owes a payday loan that they do not really owe. What is worse is that it works. ‘But Erica,’ you ask, ‘why would someone pay for something that they know they never signed up for?’ Because of the pressure put upon them by the caller to make a quick decision or something bad will happen to them. When I told the woman I have no idea what she is talking about, she asserted that I do owe the loan and was able to tell me certain things about myself that I happen to know is available on any credit report (I also used to work opening store credit cards). So her mentioning a payday loan was the second red flag.

3.     Get it in Writing
If you know you do not owe something, do not pay it, period, especially for a payday loan. They will threaten you with taking you to court like this woman was trying to do to me, but it do not give in. Get everything in writing, something they are obliged to do. According to the Validation of Debts section of the FDCPA:

 “A debt collector must provide the consumer with certain basic information. If that information was not in the initial communication and if the consumer has not paid the debt five days after the initial communication, all of the following information must be sent to the consumer in written form:
·         The amount of the debt
·         The name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed”

After you have received this information in writing, you have thirty days to dispute the debt in writing. In my case, I have not received anything in writing. A valid debt collector will first state that they have sent a written notice to my home and have received no response. This woman did not mention anything about a letter being sent, the third red flag.

4.     Incorrect Information
As I stated before, the woman was telling me things about myself that I know probably came from my credit report. However, some of the things she was saying about me was wrong, and anyone that has worked with credit reports before knows that they are riddled with errors, albeit mostly minor errors. That cemented in my mind that she is reading from an old credit report, not from some file she has of mine from a creditor. A valid debt collector has accurate information because it came from you when you applied for the debt. Yes, it is possible that you could have made an error when filling out the information, but saying I worked a few states away from where I live is not a mistake I would make. Receiving inaccurate information about myself was the fourth red flag.

5.     Unfamiliarity With the FDCPA
When I had enough of this schemer trying to make off with my money, I asked her if she was familiar with the FDCPA. She did not have a clue what I was talking about and asked me to repeat myself two times. Then I asked if she was familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and she hesitatingly said yes, probably after figuring out that I knew what I was talking about.

A valid debt collector is familiar with the FDCPA acronym and will never ask that you tell them what it means. That is how they commonly refer to it in the debt collection profession, and they never aggregate it. That is like someone who works for NASA only referring to their job as The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. If you ask if a debt collector is governed by the FDCPA and they are confused about what that is or what it stands for, it is a scam. Do not give out any personal information about yourself after that. And, again, all debt collectors are governed by the FDCPA, so if one happens to say that they are not governed by it, it is a scam. This woman’s unfamiliarity with the FDCPA was red flag number five.

 Don't Forget to Report it
This 'Don't Forget to Report it' section was actually something I almost forgot to include in this article when I posted it yesterday. I cannot believe I almost forgot the most important part. Schemers have to be stopped, and many times the government can help. How can they be bought to justice if no one knows about them? You have to report it to them. Because this schemer presented herself as a legitimate business, I can go to a specific government agency and state that this business is engaging in illegal practices. When they get involved and see that this person or group of people are fraudulently presenting themselves as a legitimate business, they can be brought up on a number of charges ranging from fines to jail time depending on the scope of their criminal activities. I personally do not care which charges they get brought up on because even a fine can be enough for a schemer to get the point. Still, if it leads to jail time, so be it. 

In order to make a good report, you must take down good notes. Try to write down as much information as possible. For this type of payday loan scam, if at all possible be sure to jot down the name of the company, their address, their phone number, the name of the person you spoke with, the account number that they claim belongs to you, any amount they say you owe, the name of the original creditor, and the date that the debt was incurred. If you record the conversation as I suggested in the beginning of this article, you can keep it for your records and also gather this information from it at your leisure. Almost take note of the date and time you spoke with them.

The government agency that you file your report to depends on the specific kind of scam. Since this woman presented herself as a business for a payday loan, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at and with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at as soon as I got off the phone with her yesterday. If you are a victim of another type of scam and do not know which agency to report your problem to, a good place to start is with the Federal Trade Commission at If after researching their website you are still not sure which one to use, you can call, e-mail, or write them and they will tell you the agency to file a report to. 

I know it seems like this takes up a lot of time, but both websites are really easy to follow. Between the two websites I think it took me an hour, but that is only because I like to give every detail when documenting what happened (as you can tell). If you are a whiz with being concise, it will only take you about ten to fifteen minutes. If you do not take the time to do your part and report fraudulent activity, it will continue and target others until it finds a victim who many times are helpless. The elderly are the most vulnerable since they many times are confused with what is going on and would rather pay the requested amount than deal with frightening legal action being taken against them.

Schemers on the Home Front
Probably all of us are aware of overseas schemers that reach out to us in the states in a number of ways to get money. Some use debt collection schemes in writing or by phone and others use a series of e-mails to drain a supposed love-interest of her money (the victim is usually female) or to get a declared lottery winner to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of taxes before being sent millions. However, this woman was an American scammer. She called me from a Charlotte, NC phone number, had no accent whatsoever, and sounded like your average white woman.

We as Americans have to learn to stop looking at non-Americans with a doubtful eye so much that we forget to give a second look at fellow Americans. How many times has something horrible happened and people say that they could not believe the suspect could be capable of committing the crime? Perhaps the suspect showed on a number of instances that he was capable of it but no one cared to really see him for what he is. I feel that as a nation we have been groomed to be suspicious of those in other countries, and the media may be partly to blame since most times we get news from other lands it is when unrest is taking place. However, if you do not like people playing with your emotions by playing with your money, then you would be wise not to ignore your intuition that something does not seem right whether the suspect is an American or from another land.

Has someone ever tried to scam you? What happened? What did you learn from your experience?

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