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An acquaintance's child got this text on their phone...

enter image description here

(The web site looked fake to me - but I may be wrong. Even if the web site or company is not fake, it seems very strange - no name, etc. And who "texts" about a debt??)

What's the scam here?

(Not that it matters, but the kid's phone is not even Verizon, and of course the kid and family members have no debts, etc.) I tried to phone the number a few times, but it's just a bounce where they try to get you to use their "convenient online chat".

Anyone know the angle here??

--

Interestingly if you go to the (actual?) www of that company, the phone number is different - maybe the SMS did not come from them!

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    If you don't get anything in writing, it's not a legal collection. "If the debt collector doesn’t provide the above information in the initial contact with you, the debt collector is required to send you a written notice including that information within five days of the initial contact." - CFPB – Kevin Mar 17 '18 at 19:16
  • fantastic info, @CFPB. in short I guess one can ignore anything from "debt collection agencies" which comes by SMS. – Fattie Mar 17 '18 at 19:18
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    It may be that the kid has a very similar name as someone who owes money. If they are desperate, the debt collection agencies may resort to contacting anyone they can find that matches the name they have. – Simon B Mar 17 '18 at 20:50
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    @Harper Because it's not ink-on-paper, I presume. That's what "in writing" usually means. – TripeHound Mar 19 '18 at 10:35
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    I'd like to note that in a situation where you suspect a scam it's typically not advised to browse to the website provided (either through clicking the link or typing it directly) because it could be malicious. Personally, I would do research on the company first via google to find if the website listed is the same as the legitimate companies site. In this specific case however, I would avoid the website entirely and wait for a letter in the mail. – Ben.12 Mar 19 '18 at 14:38
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A search finds a collection agency at the address listed on the web site.

Further searching finds the typical practices of an aggressive collection agency and the unhappy customers it leaves in its wake.

Collections are a tough business, they often buy paper (the right to collect money owed) for pennies on the dollar, and then go after the money like their paycheck depends on it.

  • Thanks Joe - do you think it would have been just a rare "error in the phone number", or do they just randomly go after numbers, any idea?? – Fattie Mar 17 '18 at 18:46
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    @Fattie I doubt they randomly go after numbers, that would be a poor business practice. If they are legit, that number could simply be bogus info a nefarious person used as cosigner info or who knows. If the company is listed as a legitimate business in that state, you may want to engage them, safely of course (certified mail may be best), and resolve it. – red_squiggly_line Mar 17 '18 at 19:30
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    “then go after the money like their paycheck depends on it“ - it does – DonQuiKong Mar 17 '18 at 19:57
  • @Fattie - I honestly don't know. The very nature of debt collection makes them come off as scammy. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 17 '18 at 20:42
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    @Fattie I get debt collection calls on my landline all the time for folks who have the same initials as I do! Debt collection agencies cast a very wide net and robocallers make it very cheap to follow tenuous connections (like similar initials). Despite the fact that JoeTaxpayer found an apparently legit collection agency on the web site, I'd still be VERY suspicious of a scam. There are very strict regulations against debt collectors calling cell phones and I think SMS messages are included in those regulations. Most legit collectors are going to stick to email and landlines. – Charles E. Grant Mar 17 '18 at 22:59
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The scam is to convince the mark to give the scammer something, usually money. The scammer will usually be pretending to be a large company with a lot of customers (such as Verizon) to increase their chance of getting a hit, or pretending to be with an existing collections agency as cover.

Mark calls / chats with the scammer. Scammer asks mark for their name, address, account information, etc to "look up their account" -- this could possibly be used for identity theft later.

Scammer will then tell mark that there is a problem with the account: unpaid bill, overcharge for too much data, etc.

This can go two ways: if the mark buys into the idea that this is a legitimate debt, the scammer can pursue that, and will offer threats: "you can go to jail for not paying this."

If the mark does not buy into the idea that this is a legitimate debt, the scammer will "investigate" and quickly determine that the bill, overcharge, etc is fraudulent or a mistake in the system. They will then claim that it will be taken care of, but in the meantime the mark should send a check, wire transfer, money order, gift cards, etc "until the matter gets sorted out."

In any case, the scammer wins if the mark sends money or other items of value.


Other twists on this are a malicious web site that attempts to install malware on the computer, emailing the mark malware under the guise of "proof of debt", directing the mark to a "payment site" under the scammer's control to harvest account or credit card information, etc.


More information:

8 Ways to Recognize Debt Collection Scams

Scam Alert: Collection Call Con Takes New Twist

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    Great answer. To anyone reading this GETTING EMAIL PROOF OF A DEBT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. USE CERTIFIED MAIL. If it ain't in the postal mail, block the number and move on with you life. – red_squiggly_line Mar 17 '18 at 19:40
  • Yes, the information you provide to help "look up the account" is a likely target. A collector with a clue would have provided a reference number (not necessarily restricted to numeric digits) in their initial contact. – Ben Voigt Mar 18 '18 at 0:21
  • @BenVoigt your are right, I was trying to address the dangers of giving out any email information. But replacing it with your legal address isn't much better. Thanks for catching that. – red_squiggly_line Mar 18 '18 at 0:42
  • @CTChapman: Well, if based on a reference number they were able to look up your name, address on file at the time the debt was incurred, company you owed the money to, account number with that company etc., then it would be ok to give an updated address. It's just that you don't want to give out information to a scammer who is just guessing that someone at any given number may have an account with big company XYZ. – Ben Voigt Mar 18 '18 at 1:03
  • As another twist, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing scammers that put hidden *coin miners on their site for the free money from people accessing them and spending some time trying to determine if they are legitimate. – IllusiveBrian Mar 18 '18 at 12:54
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Well since JoeTaxpayer's answer seemed to uncover a "legitimate" (my quotes not his) collection agency, why not request documentation of the collections account?

It may not be a scam. Are you certain the family has no debts? Maybe there has been identity theft and the collections account does in fact exist. Most debt collectors websites I have seen are pretty generic so that may not be a good signal.

As for calling and getting directed to an online chat, that makes a lot of sense from the company's perspective. I'M NOT SAYING THIS IS A LEGITIMATE COMPANY. However, I can understand how a chat session would be more useful to a collection agency. There is a written record and information about the collections could be copy-pasted, thereby making the collections agent life's easier.

I have taken over a phone number which was a great number it was easy to remember and hard to mispronounce. It was also previously held by a person who had a lot of legal and collections issues. I fielded calls from bounty hunters, collection agencies, court process servers, random angry people and quite a few lady friends who shared explicit content.

As for any collections efforts, my understanding is it is illegal under some FTC law (I'M NOT A LAWYER!) to autodial a cell phone. This may pertain to texts also, I'm not sure. I either answered the phone or called them back if I got a voicemail.

I followed this script: "Hi, how's it going? Yeah I'm not sure who you are looking for, what's their name again? Huh, OK and what state is your office located in? Ok and what's your name? Ok and do you have an employee ID number? What is that number? BUT WRITE ALL THAT INFO DOWN!

OK , thanks for that info. Yeah that person no longer has this phone number or never did, I'm not sure. Anyways, I'm not them. I do not know nor have I ever known that person. Please take me off your contact list for this person immediately.
Also, just so you know it is against FTC law to autodial cellular phones. Did you enter this text message manually? It looks autogenerated. Anyways I'm sure your job is hard enough without FTC violations in the mix. OK, so I hope you have a nice shift, sorry I couldn't help. Again, please remove this number from your records. Thank you, hope your day goes well! "

I have only had a few call me back twice. At that point I mentioned I would write a letter to their state's attorney general's office regarding autodialing cell phones. Never heard from them a third time.

Also, keep in mind people give bogus contact info for things all the time. Getting a new phone account? Have bad credit and need the contact info of a few "relatives" or cosigners? Just make that info up!

You can always send a letter to their business address requesting a validation of the debt. Many templates online for a letter of that type.

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    I +1ed because this answer is mostly useful, but the chat vs. phone isn't convincing. They can record calls, and voice to text isn't that hard. Additionally, it's easier to impersonate someone over chat than phone, which is probably bad for a collection agency. – jpmc26 Mar 17 '18 at 23:45
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    "request documentation of the collections account" is a really bad idea unless you also emphasize "provide no information to them". Not your name, not your address, not your phone number or the number where they contacted you. If there was a reference number provided in the text you could provide that, since there isn't, any effort to get documentation is doomed from the start. They can't find the documentation in their collection of millions of accounts without a reference number. – Ben Voigt Mar 18 '18 at 0:19
  • @jpmc26 agreed on call vs. chat and I think it may be required there is a way to reach a collections company by phone. But that isn't to say all collections companies follow all laws. – red_squiggly_line Mar 18 '18 at 0:36
  • @BenVoigt great point, they will have to get the info back in to mail (assuming it is a legit company, which I do NOT think this one is) but I forget not everyone has a PO Box. I will edit the answer. – red_squiggly_line Mar 18 '18 at 0:37

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