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Don't fall for threats from suspicious collectors

To write about every scam that pops up these days would fill a whole section of the newspaper. So some scams don't make it into print.

But here's one I couldn't overlook:

Callers began harassing Ashanti Blackman, 20, of Spring Hill at home and then at work, saying she owed $756.12 on a loan she never applied for or received.

"They were threatening me, that they were going to arrest me," Blackman said. "They said they're policemen. They even said they're lawyers for the U.S. federal government.''

Blackman complained to the FBI and joined a growing list of consumers who have received similar calls from the supposed lender, Fast Cash International.

Even if Blackman and others had taken out a loan through Fast Cash International, the company could not use the tactics it has employed — some for obvious reasons, such as posing as a federal agent.

(You would think con artists with enough intelligence to acquire consumer contact information would be savvy enough to know not to impersonate federal authorities. Worse than just plain greedy are those who are ignorant and greedy.)

"These are all things that are specifically prohibited in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (PDF)," said Kevin Jackson, chief investigator for the Hillsborough Consumer Protection Agency. "You can't threaten arrest. You can't act as if you are a government entity. You can't even threaten litigation."

Jackson said the increase in harassing calls over debt collection — legitimate or not — has been a serious issue for the agency. There are even some restrictions on debt collectors who choose to call someone's employer.

"If you're trying to collect a debt, there are guidelines," he said.

Blackman said the whole ordeal scared her.

Though she had never conducted business with Fast Cash International, the callers knew Blackman's home and work telephone numbers and her home address.

Oh, and they were rude.

"They yell at you; they curse at you," Blackman said.

She began filing complaints about the scam as concern grew for vulnerable consumers, such as seniors who might feel pressured to send them money.

"They're scaring a lot of people," Blackman said. "These people really threaten you."

When she attempted to call the number that appeared on her phone's caller ID, it did not work.

A website for Fast Cash International did not have a telephone number. There was no response to an e-mail sent to an address on the company's contact page.

So here's the Edge:

• Do not give in to threats. Debt collectors have rules to follow. Threats are prohibited, so a company using those tactics may be a scam. For a complete list of federal debt-collection rules and regulations, visit ftc.gov/os/statutes/fdcpajump.shtm.

• Check your credit report. If you believe someone might have stolen your information and is using it to harass you for money or to acquire credit in your name, you need to know so you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/consumers_edge and find Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Don't fall for threats from suspicious collectors 05/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 12:57pm]

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