Phantom debt collectors — they’re scam artists who make up debts to gain access to your bank account information. They’ll call often, and may even tell you that someone is trying to serve you with court papers. They may call from what appears to be a local number so you are more likely to pick up the phone. The collector may have personal information about you, such as your spouse’s name, your address or your employer. You’re scared, so what do you do?
First, write down the number calling you. Ask what company the collector is calling from. If the collector won’t identify him or herself, hang up. If the collector does provide information, ask that the agency send you a letter describing the debt.
All legitimate collection agencies attempting to collect “consumer” debts (those incurred for personal, family or household purchases) must provide you with a letter describing the amount of the debt and where it is from.
Next, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). The CFPB has an online complaint portal, available at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/. You can also call (855) 411-2372 for more information. While the CFPB may not be able to locate the phantom debt collectors, lodging a complaint may help others avoid problems. That’s because the CFPB will:
- Forward your complaint to the appropriate company for a response
- Share complaint data with other state and federal agencies
- File a case if there are enough complaints against a particular company
- Make complaints available to the public as a resource guide to avoid scammers (without personally identifying you)
You can search the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/consumer-complaints/. Check to see if the company calling you is listed.
Finally, end the call and don’t provide any additional information about yourself. If the collector is legitimate, the agency will send a letter in the mail describing the debt you owe. You can also contact your local Clerk of Court to confirm that no case has been filed against you.
If you need more help and want to contact an attorney, keep a list of the calls you’ve received. The attorney should be able to help determine if the call was legitimate.