KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A familiar scam continues to spread throughout East Tennessee.
People are getting threatening phone calls demanding money.
Here's how this ruse works:
A caller claiming to be from a federal agency tells people they owe money threatens them if they don't hand it over.
You can find multiple forums online explaining people's experiences with calls just like Tonya and Dave Petty received.
David Petty played for 6 On Your Side the message sent by a man who called himself Agent Cooper.
The call was directed to Dave's wife, Tonya.
"This is Agent Cooper calling you from the Bureau of Crime Investigation Department," the caller said.
The phony debt collector said Tonya had outstanding debt, and if she didn't agree to his terms, he had ordered the police to make an arrest.
"Make sure you be at your address tomorrow morning and if you want to know what this is about and why you are getting arrested, so here is the call to make," the caller said in the message.
At that point, the phony collector gave his phone number and Tonya called it.
"Agent Cooper with the Criminal Bureau of Investigations, he directed me to a website connected to the U.S. Treasury Department," Tonya said.
It's the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a real government agency.
"I started getting a little concerned," she said. "I thought it had something to do with identity theft."
Years ago, she had her identity stolen. Tonya feared the thief could have accumulated a big debt.
"And maybe this was a loan that had been taken out with my name and Social Security number and someone was investigating me," she said.
"So if you want to know why you are getting arrested, here is the call to make," the caller said.
By this time, David was getting anxious.
"It really irritated me when you either pay this money or we will be there at 9:01 with a bench warrant," he said.
"So I kept questioning the person to figure out the loan origination company, but he would not tell me," Tonya said.
She kept notes from the caller who told her the debt was huge.
"He claimed I owed $27,000 to this company, but they would be willing to settle for $1,385," she said.
Suspicious now, the couple got fed up with the irritating caller.
"I told the man on the end of the line that they would just have to come and arrest me, and I was calling the police," she said.
"I think what they are trying to do is really intimidate those they are calling," said Officer Holly Hatcher with the City of Alcoa's community policing office.
Hatcher says the con artists who make calls to people like the Petty's often use the names of real agencies and loan companies to make to their pitch sound legitimate.
"Your financial institutions are never going to call your home and demand these things of you. You would more likely get a written correspondence, that way you would have a record to follow up with," Hatcher said.
Scammers will use official sounding aliases to deliver their terrifying threats and use pressure tactics to get your money.
Remember, it is illegal for any debt collector to say they are with a law enforcement group, and they can not use threatening or obscene language.
"Don't get in a hurry to pay anyone," Tonya advises others who get calls from the man who goes by Agent Cooper.
The Pettys didn't pay anything, but they want others to know about their frightening experience.
While there are laws prohibiting threatening phone calls, it is tough for law enforcement agencies to catch these crooks, and they are just that because many people fall for their scams.
Remember this about debt collectors:
Under the Fair Debt Collection Act, a collector must send a written statement that indicates how much money is owed within five days of first contacting a customer.
And they're not going to call the police to pick you up.
You can see Don Dare's 6 On Your Side reports every Monday and Wednesday on 6 News at 5:00.
If you have a consumer question, send Don an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call his 6 On Your Side Hotline at (865) 633-5974.