KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knoxville woman is resting easier after she avoided a call from scammers claiming to be debt collectors.
Lisa is a lifelong Knoxville area resident and she lives not too far from her parents. She pays her bills, has a car loan, but otherwise no other outstanding debt. Then last week, she gets a call from a guy claiming he was from a collection agency.
“He told me that I owed Freedom Communications $493. I was scared. I didn’t know. It was weird that they had real true 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 dad’s number, and even the bank she uses. Having all that correct information, Lisa believed the caller was legitimate. But a debt incurred in 2013 from a business she can’t remember? That didn’t seem right.
“I told him that I did not own anything. I did not know who this was, had never heard of it. He said, well you do owe it and you will have to pay it. And, if we don’t get back the money tonight, then tomorrow you are going to go to court. You’ll have to pay lawyer’s fees and it’s going to go up to $3,000,” said Lisa.
At that point Lisa said she was really worried, there was no way she could pay $3,000, let alone $400 on a debt she doesn’t remember.
“I told them I didn’t work and I couldn’t pay this. They said if you don’t work all we got to do is get a hardship. So they dropped it to $200. Yes. They negotiated to $275. I said, okay well if I owe it, then send me some proof of it. I’ll pay it tonight because I wouldn’t want to go to sleep knowing that I owe somebody money,” said Lisa.
She was then sent the email below, a payment stipulation, and was given instructions to click on the link to sign. Lisa never opened the link in the email, instead, she went to her bank.
“So they did put a high alert on our account. They said unless they had something from the court that it was certified and registered, they wouldn’t do anything,” said Lisa.
She also contacted one of the three credit reporting agencies. That free report indicates the balance she owes on her car, and it shows “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 that says how much money it is and who you owe.
What to do if you don’t think you owe the money?
By law, debt collectors have to send you a written document, called a validation notice, within five days after they first contact you. If they don’t, that’s a warning sign that they may not be legitimate, 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 gotten a suspicious debt collection call, report it to the FTC.
How can I verify whether or not a debt collector is legitimate?
Ask the caller for their name, company, street address, and telephone number. You can also refuse to discuss any debt until you get that written “validation notice.”
Lisa’s warning about this hoax is succinct.
“I’d either hang up and definitely, don’t make no payments to nobody,” said Lisa.