The Better Business Bureau (BBB) this week issued a nationwide alert
to warn about a scam in which criminals call payday loan recipients and ask them to square up their debt -- or risk getting arrested.
The fake debt collectors are primed for success with this ruse because they appear to be using stolen sensitive data about their potential victims, meaning it is more likely that individuals will fall for the bait, said Alison Southwick, a BBB spokeswoman.
"The amount of information that these guys seem to have is really frightening," Southwick told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday. "We suspect there has been some sort of transfer of information about people who have taken a payday loan. When they have all this information about people that they're calling, it makes it more likely that people think they're legit."
The BBB received complaints from victims in three states -- Hawaii, Indiana and California -- in about a week, prompting the nonprofit to issue the alert, she said. According to the victims, the phony debt collectors not only know that they took out a payday loan, but also know their Social Security number, home address and employer's name.
In some instances, the callers are threatening the victims with immediate arrest and extradition to California to await trial if they don't pay a certain amount in a short period of time, Southwick said. In the Hawaii case, a female victim wired the thieves $1,000.
Further investigation revealed that the numbers the criminals are calling from phone numbers that already have received numerous complaints in internet forums, she added.
The BBB notified the FBI and Federal Trade Commission.
An FBI spokeswoman said she was not aware of the scheme.
An FTC spokesman told SCMagazineUS.com that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
requires creditors to send written notice of how much a person owes, five days after they make first contact with the debtor.
"So tell them to send you proof that you owe the debt, and hang up," spokesman Frank Dorman told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday in an email.