Knoxville woman avoids debt collector’s scam

Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – A Knoxville woman is resting easier after dodging a call from scammers claiming to be debt collectors.

Lisa is a longtime resident of the Knoxville area and she doesn’t live too far from her parents. She pays her bills, has a car loan, but otherwise no other outstanding debt. Then last week she got a call from a guy claiming he was from a collection agency.

“He told me I owed Freedom Communications $493. I was afraid. I did not know. It was weird that they had real real information,” said Lisa, who chose not to share her last name. “They knew my name and my social security number.”

She said the caller also knew her mother’s phone number, her father’s number and even the bank she uses. Having all of this information correct, Lisa thought the caller was legitimate. But a debt contracted in 2013 with a company that she no longer remembers? It didn’t seem right.

“I told him that I didn’t own anything. I didn’t know who it was, I had never heard of it. He said, well, you owe it and you’ll have to pay it. And, if we don’t get the money back tonight, then tomorrow you’re going to court. You will have to pay attorney fees and it will be up to $3,000,” Lisa said.

At the time, Lisa said she was really worried, that there was no way she could pay $3,000, let alone $400, on a debt she couldn’t remember.

“I told them I wasn’t working and couldn’t afford it. They said if you don’t work, all we have to do is struggle. So they lowered it to $200. Yes. They traded at $275. I said, okay, if I have to, then send me proof. I will pay it tonight because I wouldn’t want to fall asleep knowing I owe someone money,” Lisa said.

She then received the email below, a payment stipulation, and instructions on how to click the link to sign. Lisa never opened the link in the email, instead she went to her bank.

“So they put a high alert on our account. They said unless they got something from the court that it was certified and registered, they wouldn’t do anything,” Lisa said.

She also contacted one of the three credit reporting agencies. This free report shows the balance she owes on her car and says “no collection debt”.

Here are some things to know about this scam

The Federal Trade Commission says you can’t be arrested for not paying your bills. If a debt collector calls and before you agree to pay anything, ask for written proof showing the amount and to whom you owe.

What if you think you don’t owe any money?

By law, debt collectors must send you a written document, called a validation notice, within five days of their first contact with you. If they don’t, that’s a warning sign that they might not be legit, that it’s a scam.

The FTC says debt collection complaints account for nearly one-third of consumer complaints to the commission. If you or someone you know has received a suspicious debt collection call, report it to the FTC.

How can I check if a debt collector is legit or not?

Ask the caller for their name, company, address, and phone number. You can also refuse to discuss any debt until you get this written “validation notice”.

Lisa’s warning about this hoax is succinct.

“I would hang up and definitely not make any payments to anyone,” Lisa said.

Tana T. Thorsen