For more than a year frightened consumers have reported getting aggressive and belligerent calls from someone claiming to be a debt collector seeking payment of a payday loan.

The calls are scams, since the victims have never had a payday loan or a relationship with any of the companies the caller claims to represent. In some cases the caller names an actual payday loan company. In others, he simply makes up a name.

Laura, of Englewood, Colo., recently reported an encounter with one of these scammers. Her description might help other victims recognize this scam as it unfolds.

"I received a call at 7:00 am this morning from a man stating that he wanted to know who my attorney was,” Laura told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Note the time of the call. It's early in the morning, when someone could be expected to be rushing around getting dressed for work and getting the kids off the school. The victim is already somewhat stressed. Calls late at night can also find victims in a vulnerable state.

"I asked who was speaking and he claimed to be an attorney who had been retained by Cashnet for theft and fraud, stating that I owed almost $7,000 for a payday loan taken in 2009,” she reported.

It's no crime to owe money

Note the words "theft” and "fraud.” These words describe criminal activity, not simply being delinquent on a debt - a debt that doesn't exist, mind you. Still, the scammer is planting the seeds of fear of the victim. Next, he turns up the intimidation.

"He stated that they had sent me 15 to 20 emails,” Laura said. "He demanded that I send three faxes requesting that I not be arrested today, that I authorize them to take payments from my bank account and a copy of my drivers license.”

Note the scammer plants the fear of being arrested just before demanding payment. A debt collector cannot have you arrested and is not even allowed to raise that possibility. But the purpose is to induce panic.

"He knew my bank account information and everything. He stated that if I could pay $786.87 today he would not have me arrested,” she said.

This could be bad

Okay, this part is very, very troubling. If the caller did, in fact, have Laura's bank account information, then he did not simply choose her at random. He has a list of people that includes sensitive information about them, including bank information and even Social Security numbers.

Without the scammer possessing this information, Laura could simply laugh in his face and hang up. But if the scammer possesses her personal information, her identity is at risk. She should take immediate steps to freeze her credit reports and notify her bank and credit card fraud departments of the call.

How did the scammer obtain the information about Laura and possibly thousands of others getting these calls? There are several possibilities. They may have purchased stolen data from another criminal enterprise on the black market.

Or, they may have simply purchased "uncollectable” debt data from a legitimate source for pennies on the dollar. But instead of trying to collect an old credit card debt, the scammer is trying to extort much more money using fear.

Meanwhile, consumers should not believe anyone who claims to be a debt collector and who makes threats. Learn more about what debt collectors can and can't do here.