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The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin has received reports of phantom debt collectors — callers posing as debt collectors — and is warning consumers about the relentless scandal involving fake debt collection calls.

It usually begins with a telephone call, during which you’re told you owe money on a current or old debt you don’t remember, you paid in the past, or a debt that isn’t even yours.

Consumers say the callers attempt to collect and often threaten to have you arrested unless you pay up. They are aggressive, intimidating, and very convincing.

The callers pose as legitimate debt collectors and may even have a few tidbits of personal information, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number. That does not mean it is a legitimate call and the caller may even ask for more personal or financial information as part of the spiel.

“Unfortunately, some victims will pay out of fear, even if they believe they paid the debt, just to stop the harassing calls,” says Ran Hoth, CEO and president. “In some cases these payments can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you’re not careful, ID theft can be one of the consequences of interacting with a debt scammer.”

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors may not call between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. unless you give them permission to do so. They are also prohibited from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

This will help you with a legitimate debt collector, but how can you tell if the debt collection call is legitimate?

Here are some tips:

  • Take control — Ask for the caller’s name, company street address and telephone number, and say you have nothing else to discuss until you receive a “validation notice” which is proof of the debt and the name of the creditor and amount owed.
  • Don’t confirm any information — The caller may ask you to verify the last four digits of your Social Security number or ask for banking, date of birth and other information. Don’t confirm or deny.
  • Don’t trust caller ID — Caller ID can be easily manipulated to display whatever name or phone number the scammers choose.
  • Call the creditor — The debt may be legitimate — but if you think the collector is rogue or a criminal, let the company that you owe money to know about it.
  • Report the call — If it is an identifiable company with a Wisconsin address — file a complaint with BBB.org. If not, file a complaint with the FTC.

A version of this article originally appeared under Your Stories on BayViewNow.com. To contribute an article, scroll down to the Your Turn feature on the home page, select the Your Stories tab and then click on the “Submit a Story” link and follow the instructions.

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