Consumers have recently reported a rash of phone calls from a man claiming to be collecting on a debt to a payday lender and threatening criminal charges if they don't pay up.
Since most of the consumers say they have never had a payday loan, they would normally brush it off as an obvious scam attempt, except for one thing. This man, consistently described as rude and having a foreign accent, has their Social Security number, email address and the name of their employer.
Tarra of Carrolton, Mich., said she received a threatening voice mail on her answering machine and quickly returned the call.
"I returned the call to figure out what was going on only to reach another person with the same accent," Tarra said. "He stated his name was Mark was I was being sued and requested to be able to read the affidavit to me without any interruption. Right before reading the affidavit he read me my social security number and my email address."
Other consumers also note an aggressive, threatening tone.
"He told me an investigation team will be coming to my job at 11 am in the morning and talking to my employer about the matter. He also said that I would have to pay thousands of dollars for all charges, fees, etc," Chanae, of Camden, N.J., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Then he stated that I can take care of this matter if I send him a authorized letter stating that I will allow him to charge my visa $545.33. That's when I knew something was fishy."The consumers say the caller claimed they owed a debt to Instant Cash USA, whose website identifies it as an online payday lender. Kate, an Instant Cash USA customer service rep, who asked that we not publish her last name, says the company has been inundated with emails from terrified and baffled consumers.
"I have called them myself, claiming to be one of the 'debtors' they contacted," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was advised it was not Instant Cash, but a "INSTA Cash" they were representing. They, of course gave me very little information on my 'supposed debt.'I explained that to the woman who emailed me for help. She then contacted Insta Cash, and they, too, knew nothing about it."
Consumers, of course, have federal protections against aggressive debt collectors, and in the case of scam attempts, can simply hang up. But there is great cause for worry when a scammer reveals that he has your Social Security number and other sensitive information. Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Centerin San Diego, says that security could have been breached any number of ways.
Your information is out there
"How many doctors have you gone to? How many dentists? Have you ever applied for a mortgage? If so, all your information is sitting in files where anyone with access to it can take it an sell it," Foley told ConsumerAffairs.com.
What should these consumers do to protect themselves? First of all, they shouldn't fall for the shakedown scam and give the caller any money. If the debt is legitimate, they are entitled to receive all documents in writing.
More importantly, says Foley, they should move quickly to protect their identities by first getting a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and checking to make sure no unauthorized activity is taking place.
"They should also call all three credit reporting agencies and place fraud alerts on their account," he said. "A fraud alert is good for 90 days, then they should renew it for another 90 days."
A fraud alert contacts the consumer anytime someone tries to open any kind of credit account using his or her identity. The numbers for the credit reporting agencies are:
Equifax (888) 766-0008
Transunion (800) 916-8800
Experian (888) 397-3742
The Identity Theft Resource Center operates a toll-free consumer hotline to advise people on identity theft matters. That number is (800) 400-5530.