January 29, 2019
“Is This a Scam?:” How to Respond to That Unknown Debt Collection Caller
We often get calls from folks who have been contacted by phone about “their account,” or perhaps “the balance that they owe,” or attempts to deliver a certified document or summons that implies that if no return call is made in 48 hours, they will be in legal trouble. These calls may be for something that is completely bogus, an account they never had, a service they never applied for, an amount that was due, but is not collectible since 25 years have passed, or a host of other things that should cause them to be very suspicious. It could even be that family members are being called seeking information about your “so called” account.
The first and best step toward protecting against being scammed is to approach every single one of these phone calls as if it is a scam. For instance, this kind of jaded perspective can be very helpful. I am not suggesting that people immediately hang up on such callers (although I am not against such actions, either). What I am suggesting is that people who get these calls insist upon getting the first and last name of the caller, the company from which the person is calling, a good callback number, an account number, and an address. There is virtually no chance the caller will provide all this information.
Instead, expect the caller to deflect these questions and say something like, “Well, I need to get the last four of your social security number so I know I am talking to the right person.” When you hear this, tell them to only communicate in writing and hang up. I mean that. Hang up after that. Do not give them your address. If they say they need to confirm your address, or confirm anything at all, hang up the phone.
We hear routinely about how the caller already had so much information. This is precisely the problem. The caller has the person on the other end of the phone at a complete disadvantage. Essentially, a stranger has called, has some information on some alleged delinquent account, and is demanding more information from the person they are contacting. This is crazy. DO NOT give out information over the phone. Insist on written communications. This way, any information or account numbers can be verified.
Very little good comes from speaking with debt collectors on the phone. They record calls, which may include admissions to things at a time when the information available to the person calls is unavailable or perhaps even unobtainable. If it isn’t in writing, it did not happen and it is not worth discussing. This is generally a good rule of thumb when dealing with debt collection calls.
Surprisingly, we get collection calls on behalf of our clients that often begin with the caller demanding we confirm the last four digits of our client’s social security number. Bear in mind, these are not calls from lawyers on the other side, but debt collectors. Thus, we usually respond with, “Hey, buddy, you’re the one calling me.” We do not spend much time with these calls.
Many of these calls are, in fact, scams. These collectors often prey on the elderly and they are well aware that there are very, very limited resources for the government, state or federal, to take any action against them. Far too many people will grant them access to their bank information, including account numbers, along with other personal information, to address a claim for a delinquent account. I use the term claim because nobody is comfortable with the idea of owing someone else money. Just the allegation makes many people feel either ashamed or guilty, even if just long enough to stay on the phone, when they should have hung up from the first minute.
Remember, there is no law that says you must speak to a debt collector. There is no law against refusing to tell them your name or confirming your name. The best practice is to demand that they send you whatever they want to say in writing. Then hang up. If they don’t have your address, that’s a problem, but only for the caller.