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How to handle a 'phantom debt' collector

What should you do if a bill collector calls about a debt that you don't even owe?

Consumers have rights in such cases. Here are some tips from the National Consumers League:

  • If a caller asks you to wire money or provide information such as a bank routing number, credit or debit card number over the phone, hang up. It’s probably a scam.
  • If you are unsure if you owe a debt, ask the caller to only contact you by mail and to provide written proof of the debt. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires collectors to stop calling their targets if they are asked to do so.
  • If a debt collector claims to be from a government agency or official-sounding institution, hang up and call the organization directly.
  • If you are unsure whether you are delinquent on a payday loan, contact the lender directly.
  • Look up numbers or email addresses for lenders on your own or rely on your loan paperwork to find a contact number.
  • Consumers who receive calls from phantom debt scammers may have had their personal information exposed, raising the risk of identity theft. Check the Federal Trade Commission website for a step-by-step process on recovering from identity theft.
  • Be wary when applying for payday loans via the Internet.

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