Thousands of consumers across the country are falling victim to scammers collecting phantom debts, totaling $5 million in losses. It prompted the Federal Trade Commission to issue warnings Tuesday to consumers not to pay debt collectors over the phone without receiving written verification.
The calls, which show up in caller ID with local numbers, come from a call center in India. It's the first time the FTC has dealt with complaints stemming from India.
"We have a very serious problem," said Steve Baker, director of the FTC's Midwest regional office. "As the economy globalizes, so has fraud."
On Feb. 14, U.S. District Court granted the FTC's request for a restraining order against American Credit Crunchers, the company that the FTC alleges collected phantom payday loan debts. The California-based company and its owner, Varang Thaker, are being charged with violating FTC regulations and the operation’s assets have been frozen.
The FTC alleges that the company acquired personal information from online applications that consumers filled out for payday loans and then claimed to be collecting money that was owed, even if consumers owed nothing.
Callers recited personal information and made threats such as contacting their employer or claiming to be with the “Federal Department of Crime and Prevention.” Other callers claimed to be local law enforcement and threatened that they would arrest the consumer if they didn't pay them in the next two hours. For one victim, JanLaree DeJulius of Las Vegas, the threatening call came while at work and, fearing that they could arrest her at work, she gave the caller hundreds of dollars, she said Tuesday.
On average, the FTC said callers demanded around $500. The calls are made from India, but caller IDs show local numbers and the callers often don't have Indian accents. Since January 2010, about 8 million calls have been traced to this scam, ending in 17,000 transacations.
The FTC advises consumers to not pay debt collectors who haven't provided you with written verification and reminds consumers that debt collectors can't make arrests or contact an employer. For more information, go to the FTC website; to file a complaint with the FTC, call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
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