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How’s this for a nightmare scenario: A Minnesota man was busted and sentenced to prison for stealing identities while working as a legitimate debt collector.

Khemall Jokhoo, 36, is the kind of guy who gives debt collectors a bad name: He was sentenced Aug. 20 to 14 1/2 years in federal prison on 33 counts of trying to steal more than $700,000 by way of identity theft. His more than 60 victims were often elderly or disabled, and in one instance, he threatened a disabled veteran, saying he would push him in his wheelchair off a bridge if he didn’t pay his debt, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

That’s appalling enough as an isolated incident, but it’s just one of many stories involving Jokhoo and illegal debt collection tactics. On top of the threats of physical violence (one of the several things debt collectors are prohibited from doing), Jokhoo used his position as a debt collector to access debtors’ private information, allowing him to steal their identities and fraudulently withdraw funds from their bank accounts.

“The term ‘identity theft’ seems an inadequate description for what the defendant did to the victims in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lola Velazquez-Aguilu said, according to the Star-Tribune. “He used their identifying information not only to steal their money but also to terrorize them, taking pleasure in making other human beings feel completely powerless and without worth.”

Jokhoo owned and operated First Financial Services out of his apartment from May 2002 to Nov. 2009. He was the only employee. He was stripped of his debt collection and real estate licenses in 2011 and fined $100,000, the Star-Tribune reported, and he’s expected to pay $257,000 in restitution as part of his sentence.

Know Your Rights

Jokhoo’s operation combined and exploited common consumer fears: identity theft, debt collection scams and abusive debt collectors. If you’re worried about identity theft, you can monitor your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com. Any large, unexpected change in your scores could signal identity theft and you should pull your credit reports to confirm.

If you’re ever contacted by a debt collector — legitimate or not — you’ll want to know your rights, like how you’re entitled to written verification of the debt. While there are plenty of reports of collectors treating consumers poorly, they’re not all bad, and even as the debtor, it’s probably more productive to maintain patience and a respectful tone when dealing with collectors, as well.

Collection accounts can seriously damage your credit score — though some credit scoring models don’t consider paid collection accounts or medical-bill collections as adverse as an unpaid collection account — so it may be in your best interest to pay the account, focus on maintaining other aspects of your credit scores, and let the negative item age off your credit report. If you can’t afford the debt or think it’s inaccurate, communicate with the creditor about a settlement or a dispute.

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