Figures from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) show that about 70 million people—more than a quarter of adults in the United States—either have a debt in collection or have been contacted about one.
Some of those people are wrongly contacted by debt collectors. Reasons include contacting the wrong person for the wrong amount, or for debt that can’t legally be enforced, according to the CFPB.
Some calls are from debt collectors who aren’t legitimate and don’t represent an original creditor or don’t own the debt. In other words, they’re outright scams.
There are a few warning signs that a debt collector isn’t legitimate. Here are a few, according to the CFPB:
They hang up when you question them
Ask the caller for their name, company, street address and telephone number. If your state licenses debt collectors, ask for their professional license number. If they won’t give you any of that information, or they hang up when you ask for such information, then it’s probably a scam.
Don’t give personal, financial information or money to the caller until you’ve confirmed they’re legit.
Criminal charges threatened
Legitimate debt collectors shouldn’t have to claim that they’ll have you arrested.
You don’t recognize the debt
If debt collectors refuse to give you information about your debt, or you don’t recognize the debt, you can request more information in writing before you pay.
Don’t discuss any debt until you get a written “validation notice,” says the CFPB. The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and a description of certain rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
They ask for personal information
Any caller who asks for personal information should be avoided, including fake debt collectors.
This can include a request to confirm personal financial or other sensitive information such as your bank account, credit card or Social Security Number. Scam artists can use this information to commit identity theft and charge your credit cards or open new credit card or checking accounts in your name.
They won’t stop contacting you
If you don’t want a debt collector to call you anymore — whether they’re legit or a fraud — you can ask them to stop calling you. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act requires them to stop contacting you if you tell them in writing to stop.
If it’s a legitimate debt, that doesn’t mean the debt will go away. These tips will help if you’re being wrongly contacted.