‘Operation Corrupt Collector’ targets illegal scare tactics
DES MOINES — Nobody likes getting debt collection calls. But have you ever gotten one for a debt you already paid — or you know isn’t yours? Or have you been threatened and harassed by a debt collector until you paid up? If so, we want you to know how to protect yourself.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, along with the Federal Trade Commission and more than 50 federal and state law enforcement partners, announced a nationwide law enforcement and outreach initiative today to protect consumers from phantom debt collection and abusive and threatening debt collection practices.
“So many Iowans are under financial pressure during the pandemic, and bad actors take advantage of that stress and fear,” Miller said. “We’re joining the FTC in rolling out new information to help consumers know their rights if they receive a call from a debt collector.”
The initiative, called Operation Corrupt Collector, includes enforcement actions brought by the FTC, three federal partners, and partners from 16 different states against debt collectors engaged in these illegal practices.
In each of the new FTC cases announced today, the companies claimed to be collecting on debt that they can’t legally collect, or that people don’t actually owe. In these cases, the companies made robocalls to people, telling them that they’ve been sued, or soon will be, if they don’t pay up.
In other cases, the companies called people claiming to be law enforcement officials or attorneys — scaring people with threats of arrest at their workplace, prison, or suspension of their driver’s license if they didn’t pay right away.
Have you gotten a collection call about a debt you don’t recognize? Before you pay:
- Find out who’s calling. Get the name of the collector, the collection company, its address, and phone number.
- Get “validation” about the debt. Within 5 days of first contacting you, debt collectors must “validate” or tell you the amount of the debt, the name of the current creditor, and how to get the name of the original creditor. You can then send a debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt. If you send the letter within 30 days of getting the validation notice, the collector has to send you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe, before it can start trying to collect the debt again.
- Don’t respond to threats. When scammers threaten to arrest you, suspend your driver’s license, or call your employer if you don’t pay immediately, hang up and report the collector to the FTC and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
- Do your own detective work. Check with the original creditor. Is the debt yours? Did they sell your debt or hire a company to collect it? If so, is the caller the original creditor’s collector?
- Dispute the debt. If you think you don’t owe some — or all — of the debt, dispute it with the collector by mail or online. Even if you got validation information.
The FTC has also created a new online dashboard with information about reports received from consumers on debts not owed and abusive and threatening collection practices. So far in 2020, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network has received more than 85,000 reports from consumers related to debt collection, and nearly 45 percent of those were related to debts the consumer did not owe or abusive and threatening practices.
Through Sept. 24, the FTC had received 362 reports from Iowans about debt-collection complaints in 2020. More than a third of those reports were about debt not owed or threatening or abusive debt-collection practices.
In addition, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office has received 68 complaints regarding debt-collection matters so far in 2020.
TO FILE A COMPLAINT
Federal Trade Commission: File a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division: To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).
For more tips, follow the Iowa Attorney General on Facebook and Twitter at @AGIowa