Sherry knows she’s getting conned, but she can’t tell by whom. And while there’s a lot of fishy stuff happening on her phone lately, the only definitive proof she has of a scam is that somebody used her credit card information in a Gamestop store to try and buy video games.
“I’m frustrated,” a Credit.com reader using the screen name “Sherry” said in response to a recent story.
Here’s what she knows. In 2009, Sherry received an online payday loan for $300, she fell behind on the payments, and then received a collection call demanding that Sherry pay $300 immediately, and set up automatic payments deducted directly from her checking account. If she failed to pay immediately, the caller said, Sherry would be served court papers the very next day.
Sherry didn’t know it at the time, but this call had all the makings of a scam. Sure, legitimate debt collectors use high-pressure techniques to make consumers believe — often falsely — that there is a tight deadline for payment.
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No, the real red flag here was the threat that if Sherry didn’t pay immediately, she would be served with court papers the following day. Debt collectors don’t have any power over courts or sheriff’s deputies. If they tried to tell a judge to issue such papers, they’d get laughed right out of court.
But because Sherry didn’t know that, she went along with the scam. She made the upfront payment, and handed over her checking account information so the “collections agent” could withdraw monthly “payments.”
That’s when the second red flag popped up: someone used Sherry’s account info to try and buy games at Gamestop. Now another company is pestering her, saying she owes them money, too. And each company is calling the other a fake.
[Related Article: 7 Ways to Stop Overseas Debt Collection Scam Calls]
“(N)ever again will I get any kind of payday loan or online loans,” Sherry says.
How should Sherry get out of this debacle? By shutting everything down and starting over, says Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s consumer credit expert.
“It sounds like she’s been scammed,” Detweiler says, “and it sounds like she needs to close that account.”
Closing the account and opening a new one will deny the scammers access to Sherry’s money. And then she can start from scratch, making sure she’s paying off the right collectors and denying scammers any chance to buy anything else with her money.
After closing the account, here are the most important things Sherry can do to protect herself. For a more in-depth look, check out Detweiler’s recent story on how to avoid collections scams.
1) Do not be intimidated. Debtors have rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Remember: You cannot be arrested for failing to pay a debt. And collectors have no special influence in the courts.
2) Demand written verification. Sherry admits that she’s behind on loan payments. But don’t trust anybody who happens to call. Request that they mail paper documents to prove they are the company authorized to pay the debt.
3) Protect yourself. Con men have direct access to Sherry’s checking account. After closing the account, she should place a fraud alert on her credit report, and possibly even a credit freeze. That will make it harder for her to access credit, but will lock scammers out. “It sounds like they have data on her that they could use to hurt her again,” Detweiler says.
4) Call the authorities. Report the scam to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state’s attorney general. If they get enough complaints, they may open a criminal investigation to stop the scammers.
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Image: Patrick Hoesly, via Flickr