By Capt. David A. Coleman/XVIII Abn. Corps LAOApril 1, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - You receive a call from a man with a heavy accent, purporting to be a debt collector. The caller knows your personal information, your date of birth, Social Security number and even bank account information. The caller claims to be from a law office, the Department of Justice, the "Financial Crime Department," or some other governmental agency or company.
The caller becomes aggressive. He states that the debt arises from a payday loan or online payday loan or some other obligation and that you will be arrested if payment is not promptly received. He threatens other action. On occasion, the caller will even contact your chain of command complaining about the debt.
The problem is that you have never heard of the debt and have never applied for a payday loan. When you inquire further about the debt, the caller becomes evasive and is unable to answer basic questions. You are concerned about your security clearance and chain of command. Should you pay him to make this abuse stop'
The answer is, "No." This is a scam.
Over the past several months, the legal assistance office has met with a number of clients regarding this increasingly pervasive problem. Most of them were going to pay to make it go away but something made them question the amount or other detail that seemed suspicious and they sought help. With the majority of these calls the area code of the incoming call is often from California, Florida, or New York. However, in speaking with representatives of the North Carolina and California attorney general's offices, it is thought that the calls are generated from overseas. In most instances, this makes prosecution almost impossible. Therefore, prevention is the only recourse. Remember, once the money is gone, it's gone!
Unless you are absolutely sure of the person's identity, never provide additional information or verify information to anyone over the phone. Be extremely careful about what information you publish or provide to companies over the Internet. A number of scammers have even resorted to requesting information from Family members. They too should be instructed not to provide or verify information.
When called by a debt collector, whether real or fake, always request written verification of the debt. Debt collectors are obligated to provide this verification under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Under the FDCPA, you may also demand that debt collectors refrain from calling your employer. There are also limitations on when the collector can call your house. It is important to remember that federal and state legislatures abolished debtors' prisons in the mid-1800s. The threat of imprisonment is a sign of fraud or abusive business practices. Contact your legal assistance office or private attorney immediately if you are receiving calls or letters from a debt collector.
If you have been a victim of this or a similar scam, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your risk of identity theft.
Pull and review your credit history. Federal law requires that the three major credit reporting agencies - Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax - provide to you, free of charge, a copy of your credit report once a year. You can request your reports by going to www.annual creditreport.com, sponsored by the government. If you notice any unusual activity on your report, immediately contact the credit reporting agencies.
If you suspect you are the victim of a scam or identity theft, you should have a fraud alert placed on your account. This can be done by calling Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289. After taking down your information and forwarding it to the other two agencies, the credit reporting agencies will verify the alert by mail. The initial fraud alert will last 90 days.
You can request the three agencies to place a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze requires the agencies to obtain your permission prior to sending your credit information out to a third party, such as a lender. Requesting a credit freeze is also an easy way to ensure the protection of your finances while you are deployed or if you are concerned about identity theft.
Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission and the North Carolina Department of Justice. Not only will this help protect others from falling victim, but it can also serve as proof to financial institutions that a particular transaction was fraudulent and not authorized.
You can file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov and www.ftc.gov. Also, report them to the XVIII Airborne Corps Legal Assistance Office so we can help relay this information to the authorities.
If you believe you are the victim of a scam or need assistance in rebuking unscrupulous debt collectors, contact the XVIII Airborne Corps Legal Assistance Office at 396-0396.