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A Scam to Watch Out For

As an attorney, most of my time is focused on issues related to consumer debt. I spend a lot of time helping people deal with their creditors, fighting debt collection lawsuits, and dealing with issues of harassment by debt collectors. By the time one of my clients approaches me to help with their debt problems, a debt might have been transferred between several collection companies and sold between multiple owners. Trying to find out who actually owns the debt can be tricky, not to mention finding out what the debt actually for. If a person has financial difficulties he may have trouble remembering a credit card which was closed for non payment years ago. We have a lot of experience investigating these matters and finding out who exactly is coming after our clients.

In the last two months I have increasingly been meeting with clients who appear to be the targets of criminals. It is not clear who exactly is targeting them but they seem to be doing it to people across South Florida. A group of criminals were busted in the Panhandle a few months ago and a similar group seems to be trying to prey on people in South Florida now. These criminals call people and claim that they are trying to collect old credit card debts, usually for small amounts, less than a thousand dollars. If someone calls you about a debt, it’s a very strong warning sign that it might be scammers or criminals trying to trick you:

1. THREATS OF JAIL TIME. There are no debtor prisons in the United States and except for some special exceptions, mostly related to disobeying court orders or child support, people are not put in jail for not paying their bills. These criminals are using threats of jail time to try to get people to give their credit card numbers and make payments over the phone. Some “legitimate” debt collectors can be aggressive but no legitimate debt collector will threaten to send you to jail.

2. CLAIMS TO BE A COURT CLERK, SHERIFF OR POLICE OFFICER. I have repeatedly heard stories from people who claim that they were called by a “police officer”, “sheriff” or a “court clerk” or “someone from the clerks office”, claiming that money was owed about an old credit card debt and that they should make a phone payment of the money right now. Sheriffs and other police officers do not make collection calls about consumer debts, neither do court officials. If someone claims they are a police officer or work at the courthouse and trying to get you to pay money about a credit card, it is almost certainly a scam. Please note that process servers are people hired to deliver official court papers, they do sometimes call people to ask when they are home so that they can deliver the papers in person. Process servers will generally not try to make payment arrangements with you about the court papers they are trying to deliver.

3. CLAIM THAT A WARRANT HAS BEEN ISSUED / AN ARREST IS IMMINENT. I have been told stories by my clients repeatedly that someone called them and told them that a warrant has been issued because they did not pay a credit card debt. Except for the rarest and most extraordinary circumstances related to contempt of court (which means disobeying a judge), that is nearly impossible. I have also been told by multiple clients that someone called them and said that the police were on their way to arrest them that moment and the only way to avoid arrest was to give their credit card number

We don’t know who exactly is perpetrating these scams but they are trying to take advantage of good, honest people. When lawsuits are filed the records of who is sued are made public, these criminals may be searching those public records, finding the names of people who are having debt problems and then calling them, hoping that people who are far enough behind in their bills to have been sued won’t remember everyone they owe money to. If you get a call from someone using any of the above tactics, get as much information as possible about the debt they claim you owe. Even aggressive creditors from legal collection companies will usually tell you who owns the debt, who they are and where they are physically located. Criminals usually won’t give you any of that information.

If you need assistance to find out if you have become the target of these criminals, check your credit report and see if the debts they claim you owe are listed there. If you want professional assistance to find out if you owe a debt, contact our office or another attorney. Our office will not charge you anything to help you discover if you actually owe a debt or if you are the target of identity thieves.

This document has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney in connection with any legal issues related to the matters discussed in this article as the applicability of state, local and federal laws may