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Signs 'debt collector' is scamming you

Expert: 'Scammers make threats that real collection agencies don't'

CVA Call Christina 1/26 6pm

MIAMI – A recent Urban Institute study found 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies. Experts say con artists are seizing on that startling statistic, claiming to be a debt collection agency, to con people out of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.

Local 10 News Call Christina viewer Marisa Tarride said she is familiar with debt collection agencies.

"There's a lot of people that have gotten into debt, I myself being one of them," she said. "But I know what collection agency I'm with."

However, Tarride told Local 10 that she was scared and intimidated after receiving a threatening call from supposed debt collection company, Alvarez Sinclair and Associates. That's when she reached out to Call Christina, telling Local 10 investigator Christina Vazquez, "I just decided to call to you to see if you could help me, because I was actually scared."

"They first called me saying, 'We're going to sue you, we're going to garnish your wages," Tarride said. "They made it sound so realistic that it sounded like an actual company was coming after me."

The agency said Tarride neglected payments on a credit card and she would be sued for more than $2,500.

"I said that I never owned a BP Amaco card. They said, 'Well, you made a payment in 2010,'" she said. "I took it a step further and called my bank and they said they showed no payment made to BP Amaco -- like, they said it didn't exist."

Tarride said it was at that point that she started to get skeptical about the authenticity of Alvarez Sinclair and Associates and began to do some research.

"I wanted to speak to their supervisor," she said. "He wasn't available. I sent him a fax, he never responded via fax, via phone call. So I Googled them and there's no such company."

According to consumer protection attorney Jason Weaver, a failed Internet search definitely raises a red flag.

"Most major collection agencies are going to have a Google website, they're going to have an established payment portal, all that kind of stuff you'd expect with any reputable business," he said. "When they don't have it, that is clue No. 1 that this is somebody that you should think twice before you pay."

Telltale Signs of a Scammer

Weaver told Local 10 News there are a several other indicators that you are dealing with a scammer trying to steal your money rather than an actual debt collection agency.

"The No. 1 thing is they threaten," he said. "They make hardcore threats, immediate threats that normal debt collection companies don't."

These might be threats such as those Tarride received of being sued and taken to court right away if the company does not receive the money.

"The other big red flag is payment," Weaver said. "Real collection agencies, they'll take your money any way you want to give it to them -- mail, phone, online. Scammers though, they'll give you one way to pay. They only want it by phone or they insist on it being mailed."

Another sign you are dealing with a fraudulent company is their history of legal activity. Weaver checked and couldn't find a single lawsuit against Alvarez Sinclair and Associates.

"Legitimate companies get sued. Real debt collection companies get sued. If a company has never been sued it's usually a good sign that they're not legitimate," he said.

Have debt?

If you have been in debt before, or know you have unpaid bills but are skeptical about a phone call from a supposed collections agency, Weaver advises asking plenty of questions.

"Ask them about their company. Do they tell you how long they've been in business, where they're located, how they can be called, who they service, that kind of thing?" he said. "A real collection agency will give you background on their company but a scammer will not."

If you get the feeling you're dealing with a scammer, you can report them to the Florida Attorney General's Office, but do not continue interacting with them.

"Don't argue with them, don't play games with them. It's like fishing -- once they have you on the hook, they're going to keep going with you. Don't get frightened because they want to frighten you," Weaver said.

When it comes to Marisa Tarride's case, Weaver said she did the right thing.

"She did her homework, she didn't let these people bully her, she didn't pay them a nickel and she moved on," he said. "They've stopped bothering her. Everybody should take a lesson from her."