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Beware of Fake Debt Collectors!

The Department has seen an increase in complaints involving fake debt collectors attempting to collect on false debts. We have provided some simple steps to avoid falling victim to a debt collection scam.

How Debt Collection Scams Work

Fake debt collectors start by contacting you by phone, text message, mail, or email. The collector claims that you owe a debt. The debt may be completely fake, not even yours, canceled, discharged in bankruptcy, forgiven, or beyond the statute of limitations or “time-barred,” which means a debt collector cannot sue you or threaten to sue you for it.

Before paying the collector, make sure that the debt is a valid debt you owe and not just a scam. The scammer will use various techniques (lies, intimidation, harassment) to get you to pay. Use the following tips to help recognize when you’re the target of a scam and what you should do to protect yourself.

Red Flags

You do not recognize the debt

You might be correct if you think the debt is entirely false or the amount is incorrect. The debt collector might be attempting to collect a debt that is fake, canceled, discharged, forgiven, or past the statute of limitations.

The debt collector won’t identify themselves

Debt collectors are required to disclose their identity when they contact you. A scammer may refuse to tell you this information.

The debt collector threatens you or lies to you

Debt collectors can’t threaten to report you to the police, pretend to be an attorney or from the government, use obscene or profane language, or threaten to tell your employer or your family about your debt.

The debt collector demands immediate payment

Scammers are always looking for a quick payout. Be very suspicious if the debt collector is adamant that you pay immediately.

The debt collector is willing to accept unusual forms of payment

Scammers may try to convince you to pay using methods that are difficult to trace, such as a gift card, wire transfer, prepaid card, or cryptocurrency. Legitimate debt collectors will accept normal payments such as checks and credit cards.

How to Protect Yourself

Asking questions is your first line of defense. Debt collection scammers hope you pay them quickly, without asking any questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them for the following information:

  • The name of the person calling and the name of the company they work for
  • The company’s name, address, phone number, website, and email address
  • The debt collector’s license number
  • The amount of the debt
  • The name of the current creditor who is trying to collect from you
  • The name and address of the original creditor

Ask the collector to confirm the debt in writing.

The law requires a debt collector to provide you with information such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and how to dispute the debt if you don’t believe it is correct.  If a debt collector does not provide information during initial contact, they are required to send you a written notice providing this information within five days of initial contact.

Check your credit report for the account in question

You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies. To get your free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228.

Contact the original creditor

If a debt collector claims to be collecting debt on behalf of a creditor (such as a payday loan company or another type of lender), contact the creditor to validate the debt.

File a complaint

The DFPI regulates debt collection in the state of California. If a fake debt collector is contacting you or if a debt collector is lying or threatening you, you can quickly and easily file a complaint on the DFPI File a Complaint Webpage.