Miami-Dade State Attorney Warns of Debt Collection Scam


Miami-Dade State Attorney Warns of Debt Collection Scam
Miami-Dade State Attorney Warns of Debt Collection Scam

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is warning residents about a recent e-mail scam filled with legal-sounding jargon – but with notable grammar and spelling mistakes – threatening the arrest of the recipient if they do not send $750 immediately in order to pay off an alleged debt, according to public information officer Ed Griffith on Tuesday.

The bogus e-mails contained a fake court case number, threaten an impending arrest and attempt to acquire valid credit card information from consumers.

“I’m outraged that thieves would hope to use the prosecutor’s office as a tool to get cash from terrified victims,” Fernandez Rundle stated. “We have already spoken to victims who almost fell for this scheme. Only luck and good judgment saved them.”

According to Fernandez Rundle, the scammers use the false identity of “attorney” Joseph Foster from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.   Inclusion of an official agency such as the state attorney’s office and the use of a fake name is a recent revision of e-mail and phone scams that include threats of arrest to collect debt that consumers do not owe.

Preliminary investigation reveals that the false e-mails may have originated in Thailand, making it unlikely that U.S. law enforcement will be able to arrest the scammers or get a return of lost monies, according to the state attorney’s office.

Victims in the Miami-Dade debt collection scam have reported that the fake debt collectors maintained a familiarity with their personal information and have additionally associated themselves with the “Morgan & Associates” law firm.

Return calls to a telephone number contained in the e-mails reveal possible use of VOIP technology.  These phone numbers have since been disconnected.

In similar scams, fake debt collectors speak English with a foreign accent and call themselves “Affidavit Consolidation Services,” “Cash Advance Inc.,” “Criminal Bureau of Identity,” “DNR Recovery,” “U.S. National Bank,” “US Justice Department/Payday Loan Division,” “Federal Investigation Bureau,” “United Legal Processing” and other phony names.

The fake collectors refuse to disclose their real names or addresses and are believed to be operating from homes, automobiles, and foreign countries.  As these scammers have kept themselves well hidden, law enforcement authorities have been unsuccessful in locating or shutting them down.

Fake debt collectors typically pose as lawyers, law enforcement officers, investigators, and bankers while attempting to collect on phony debt.  They threaten consumers with immediate arrest for “bank fraud” or other crimes unless a credit card number is provided or funds wired immediately. They scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legal phrases such as “We are downloading warrants against you” or “We are filing an affidavit against you.”  Consumers that do not immediately fall for the scam are warned, “Only God can help you now.”

Fake debt collectors almost always call consumers at work – sometimes several times a day – advising their supervisors, “Your employee has committed fraud and is about to be arrested.” Such threats have been unsettling to consumers and employers.  Because the scammers make a special point of calling at work, employers should realize that their employee is an innocent victim of a criminal enterprise and cannot stop the calls voluntarily.

According to Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office never communicates important information via e-mail and would never be involved in a debt collection action.  The office strongly recommends that consumers never electronically respond to situations that demand immediate action with threats of punishment or even open unsolicited e-mails from unfamiliar senders.  Consumers should also ask for documentation that proves an alleged debt exists.

“More potential victims are calling our office now that this scam has become public,” Ed Griffith, public information officer, told Examiner.  “A new twist on an old scam, consumers should be vigilant and not provide personal information or credit card numbers to anyone they haven’t first contacted themselves.”

For more information on this debt collection scam or to report possible fraud, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office can be contacted through their Cyber Crimes Unit at (305) 547-0837.

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As a nationally recognized credit repair and identity theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

For daily updates on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, you can join Bill’s 11,550 plus fans on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/thecreditreportwithbilllewis.

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How to Beat the Debt Collector with Sample Cease and Desist Letter


Debt collectors are highly motivated to convince debtors to pay the debt because they frequently work on a low base pay plus commission. This business model has created the reputation for bill collection agencies that we know today.

The collector might engage in threatening behavior and harassment. However, like any other business they are governed by laws that prohibit certain abusive practices.

There are three reasons for a debt collector to contact you: your creditor has not received a payment from you within the time frame discussed in the contract; you are a victim of an identity theft meaning someone used your identity to obtain credit and didn’t pay it off; and finally, you might be contacted by collectors who are looking for someone other than you .

When contacted by a collector, take as much information as possible from the caller. Ask for the name of the company, address, the caller name, fax and phone number, amount owned, and the name of the creditor who passed your account to them. Also, tell them you expect to receive a notice in the mail concerning this debt. The last step is very important because you need to have proof of the debt in question in writing.

If you discovered that the debt is not yours, never pay it off simply to get rid of the collector. Also, never ignore the collector either. They will not stop contacting you, and may even file a lawsuit against you. If you are repeatedly being contacted by a collector looking for someone other than you, it may be considered a form of harassment. To stop this you need to send them a letter requesting to cease calls.

If you established that the debt is yours and you don’t feel comfortable dealing with a collector via phone, tell them you want all future correspondence in writing. You need to send this request via a certified mail and request a return receipt. If you want to allow calls only between 5pm and 6pm, tell them about it in the letter. By law collection companies are required to respect your privacy and will have to cease all phone calls to your home, relatives, neighbors, and work.

Once you have their claims in writing it’s easier to seek legal help, and keep records of your correspondence.  Send all your responses to bill collectors via Certified Mail. This way you will have proof of receipt by the addressee.

Remember that the amount they claim you owe is negotiable. You can negotiate the total amount due, number of payments, and the payment deadline. Once you worked out the payment plan, request it in writing.

What a debt collector CANNOT do:

1.) Use deceptive practices. For example, threaten you with arrest or trick you into paying for collection calls.
2.) Use obscene language.
3.) Call you at work after you tell them that your boss does not approve these calls.
4.) Deny you the right to receive a written notice (within five days after your first phone conversation) that would tell you how much you owe and the name of the creditor that says you owe the money. If you do not receive the notice within five days, call the collection agency and ask for its address and fax number. Then, send a letter to the collector noting its failure to send you the required notice. As a minimum, make a note in your file.
5.) Refuse to give its name and the name of the collection company when asked.
6.) Put a debt on your credit report if you file a dispute. It must validate the debt by obtaining a verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment from the creditor before continuing their collection efforts. The results of the investigation must be mailed to you.

SAMPLE CEASE AND DESIST LETTER

The cease and desist letter has legal stature based upon the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act at section 805. You can read it for yourself here. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to both the agency and to attorneys who collect two or more debts per year. This law does not apply to the original creditor. However many original creditors will honor your request to not be called.

Please note that when a consumer debt collector receives a cease and desist letter they may move the account to legal status. This means that if they intend to sue you, the cease and desist letter will prompt them to bring suit immediately. So if there is an alternative way to stop being bothered by their calls, like using an answering machine, I’d suggest that you try it first. If there is no alternative then send the cease and desist letter.

Send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt request. Keep a copy of the letter for your files. The letter may take a couple of weeks to work its way through the collection agency’s system before your number is taken out of their automated dialers. Even after they receive the letter they are allowed (under law) to contact you one time to notify you of their intent.

The below letter is easily personalized by utilizing a word document program. Although not the cease and desist letter currently utilized by Credit Restoration Consultants, it will serve to notify consumer debt collectors of your intent and purpose.  Although protected by copyright, single user permission is granted to individuals in the self help credit restoration process.

 

My Address
My City State and Zip

December 30, 2001

Acme Collection Agency
12345 West Main Street
Any Town, AL 30311

Dear Sir/Madam:

This letter is forwarded to your collection agency reference account number 123456 and the dunning collection notices/calls recently received. Insofar as your agency is a debt collector pursuant to section 803 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you will be treated like one. Therefore, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act – and all of its relevant provisions – will be invoked.

YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED that this is a disputed debt pursuant to section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The specific content of said dispute was recently stated – verbally – to an individual at your agency who refused to provide their name upon request thereof. Pursuant to the FDCPA, you are prohibited from dunning a debtor when a specific debt is disputed.

YOU ARE FURTHER NOTIFIED that this is a disputed debt pursuant to section 623 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It is my belief that your agency has illegally reported this disputed debt to Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If this is the case, I will most certainly litigate an action against your agency insofar as it has willfully reported a disputed debt. Pursuant to the FCRA, your agency must notify the consumer reporting agencies of any disputed delinquency immediately upon notification thereof. A further cause of action may exist for failure to perform this ministerial task.

YOU ARE FURTHER NOTIFIED that I desire no further communication with your agency under section 805 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your agency is to CEASE and DESIST all further communication immediately. Should I receive another piece of dunning correspondence that does not comport with the provisions of the FDCPA, I will immediately initiate litigation against your agency.

Sincerely,

John Q. Public

THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO MAKE A DEBT COLLECTOR OBEY THE LAW. ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE. THIS COMMUNICATION IS FROM AN ALLEGED DEBTOR REFERENCE A DISPUTED DEBT.

Beware of Fake Debt Collectors – FDCPA May Not Protect You


Over the last several decades, America has truly transitioned into a debtor society. Despite tough economic times, consumers are more likely to borrow than they are to delay when making a purchase. With consumers having financial obligations to multiple institutions, keeping accurate records and documentation can become a challenge. Opportunistic con artists posing as “fake” debt collectors recognize this as an area of vulnerability and are more than willing to use it to their advantage.

These fake debt collectors speak English with a foreign accent and call themselves “Affidavit Consolidation Services,” Criminal Bureau of Identity,” “U.S. National Bank,” “US Justice Department/Payday Loan Division,” “Federal Investigation Bureau,” “United Legal Processing” and other phony names. They refuse to disclose real names and addresses and are believed to be operating from homes, automobiles, and foreign countries such as India. As these scammers have kept themselves well hidden, law enforcement authorities have been unsuccessful in locating or shutting them down.

Fake debt collectors typically pose as lawyers, law enforcement officers, investigators, and bankers while attempting to collect on phony debt. They threaten consumers with immediate arrest for “bank fraud” or other crimes unless funds are wired immediately. They scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legal phrases such as “We are downloading warrants against you” or “We are filing an affidavit against you.” Consumers that do not immediately fall for the scam are warned, “Only God can help you now.”

Fake debt collectors almost always call consumers at work – sometimes several times a day – advising their supervisors, “Your employee has committed bank fraud and is about to be arrested.” Such threats have been unsettling to consumers and employers. Because the scammers make a special point of calling at work, employers should realize that their employee is an innocent victim of a criminal enterprise and cannot stop the calls voluntarily.

“My office works to protect consumers from fraudulent activities by seeking to stop deceptive practices and resolving consumer complaints,” stated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. “However, a consumer’s best defense is to be aware of the scam so all demands for money can be resisted and personal identification information is not misused.”

In general:

A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, e-mail, telephone, telegram or fax. A collector may not contact you with such frequency that can be considered harassing. A debt collector may not contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves nor may they contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

A debt collector is required to send written notice within five days of first contact advising the amount due. The notice must also specify the name of the creditor and what action to take if you wish to dispute the debt.

You may stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter ceasing them from communication. Once the agency receives it, they may not make further contact except to advise there will be no further contact or to notify you of a specific action contemplated by the creditor.

A debt collector may not harass or abuse a consumer. A collector may not use threats of violence against a person, property or reputation; use obscene or profane language; advertise the debt; or repeatedly make calls with the intent to harass or abuse the person at the called number.

A debt collector may not use false statements, such as implying they are attorneys; that you have committed a crime; that they operate or work for a credit reporting agency; misrepresent the amount of a debt; or indicate that papers mailed are legal forms when they are not.

A debt collector may not threaten arrest or that they will seize property or garnish wages unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so; or that a lawsuit will be filed when they have no legal right to file or do not intend to file such a suit.

If you are being harassed by a debt collector – real or fake – file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226) or by visiting their website at www.myfloridalegal.com. The Federal Trade Commission also offers a consumer collection guide detailing your rights at www.ftc.gov.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/jun/27/lc-beware-of-fake-debt-collectors/

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Debt Collector


Debt collectors can no longer claim ignorance of the law as an excuse for violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) while attempting to collect a debt.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling that severely restricts the “bona fide error” defense under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for debt collectors that send erroneous collection notices.

In a 7-2 ruling, the high court ruled that collection law firms could not use misinterpretations of the law in a “bona fide error” defense under the FDCPA.

In the matter of Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich, Karen Jerman sued an Ohio law firm for violating the FDCPA when it attempted to foreclose on her home following payment on the mortgage. In its initial collection notice, the law firm sought written proof that Jerman paid her Countrywide Home Loans mortgage. Absent proof of payment or a written dispute within 30 days, the debt would be presumed valid. Jerman hired an attorney to meet the written requirement, although the FDCPA does not explicitly require consumers to submit disputes in writing.

Specializing in real estate and foreclosure law, Carlisle admitted that its initial validation notice intended dispute claims to be submitted in writing. After Jerman sued, the firm argued that it should not be held liable under the FDCPA because the violation was an unintentional or “bona fide error.” Carlisle defended the matter asserting a “safe harbor protection” stating they were unaware that “written” disputes were not required under the FDCPA.

Although consumers are often instructed by debt collectors to submit written disputes, no such language exists under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In this instance, Carlisle argued that said “bona fide error” was the result of a clerical mistake.

The lower court sided with Jerman, noting that while Carlisle had violated the FDCPA, it was not liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for damages as the violation was unintentional or a “bona fide error.” An appeals court decision affirmed that ruling, sending the case to the United States Supreme Court.

In an opinion written for the 7-2 majority by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the high court stated that “ignorance of the law will not excuse any person, either civilly or criminally.” Carlisle had argued that misinterpretations of the law were written into the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Sotomayor and the majority disagreed, noting that ignorance of the law was not explicitly written into the FDCPA.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., said the high court’s decision “aligns the judicial system with those who would use litigation to enrich themselves at the expense of attorneys who strictly follow and adhere to professional and ethical standards.”But Sotomayor spoke directly to that objection in the majority opinion, writing, “We do not foresee that our decision today will place unmanageable burdens on lawyers practicing in the debt collection industry.”

“Debt collectors should be treated like anyone else when violating a federal statute,” said Scott Kleiman, a foreclosure defense attorney with Kalis & Kleiman. “The Supreme Court decision keeps intact an important reason for debt collectors to abide by the law. While strong financial incentives encourage the collection of delinquent debts, continued unlawful behavior will not be excused and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

The case originated when Carlisle – acting as a debt collector – sent a notice and foreclosure complaint to Jerman, requiring her to submit any dispute “in writing” within 30 days. The “in writing” language was included in the notice based upon legal authority from other jurisdictions. 

Although Countrywide Home Loans subsequently dismissed the foreclosure action, Jerman turned to the Icove Legal Group, a Cleveland-based public interest law firm that filed a class-action suit on behalf of her and other homeowners who received the erroneous notice. “This case will have a far-reaching impact within the debt collection industry as consumer laws in a number of states have ‘bona fide error’ statutes identical to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” stated attorney Ed Icove, in applauding the 7-2 majority decision.

The entire United States Supreme Court opinion can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1200…

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune. http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/apr/25/us-supreme-court-rules-against-debt-collector/columns-welewisjr/

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.