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Debt collection scam surfaces


WORTHINGTON -- A scam that has been around for several years recently showed up in Nobles County with a new twist.

The old scam: A person gets a phone call from a fraudster who is pretending to be a legitimate debt collector. The intended victim is told he or she owes money on a payday loan or other financial debt, and the caller demands immediate payment or bank account numbers. If the person won't give up account numbers, the "debt collector" will send police to the victim's house and be put in jail.

The new twist: The "debt collector" claimed to be from Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore's office. He threatened the intended victim with arrest and charges of fraud if she didn't pay off the loan immediately.

"She said the caller sounded foreign -- an east Indian or Pakistani accent -- and claimed to be from my office," Moore said.

The woman received repeated calls, with one caller even claiming to be Moore.

"She knows who I am enough to know I don't have an east Indian accent," Moore stated. "She called law enforcement to report the scam calls."

Using the names of public officials and authorities is illegal for a legitimate debt collector, Moore said.

"Impersonating someone else, terrifying people ... it is against the law," he explained. "Apparently the callers were very aggressive and got even more hostile when she asked questions."

Threatening to send police to arrest someone for non-payment of a debt is also illegal.

"The fraudsters have threatened to garnish a person's paycheck, submit affidavits to the court against a person or send an official to serve the person with a summons," states a report from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. "Don't be intimidated into paying money you don't owe or disclosing your personal financial information in the face of such scare tactics -- these types of threats are illegal. Under the law, collectors cannot use any false, deceptive of misleading statements when trying to collect a debt."

Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and other state laws, collectors cannot harass, oppress or abuse you or any other person they contact.

They cannot swear at you, threaten to harm you, call you repeatedly in an attempt to annoy you, call without disclosing their identity or publicize your name as someone who refuses to pay debts. They cannot threaten to have you arrested or charged with a crime if you don't pay a bill.

Within five days after a debt collector's initial contact, the collector must send a statement of the total amount owed to the creditor. In that written correspondence, the collector must inform you what action you can take if you dispute owing the money.

"If the calls continue after a written correspondence, they are probably phony,' Moore said. "Tell the callers to put it in writing and to stop bugging you."

Moore also suggests that any calls, especially those claiming to be from local officials, be reported to the Minnesota Attorney General's (A/G) Office, law enforcement or his office.

"Bringing in that local angle causes people to stop and pause," he said. "(Local names) give it legitimacy, but we don't have debtors' prisons in the U.S."

In this age of technology, scam artists are sometimes able to obtain detailed personal information about a person, including social security numbers and bank information.

"Do not be taken in by a phony collection scam simply because the fraudster provides some accurate personal information," the A/G report states. "Do not respond to any requests that you verify such information for the caller, either. Remember, scam artists do not follow the law, and verifying or disclosing any such information could make you more vulnerable to identity theft."

Moore said he wanted people to know that his office does not make debt collection calls such as this, and that any similar calls alleged to be from the county attorney's office should be reported.