The fake payday loan collectors remain quite active, maybe moreso than ever. Those of us with experience fielding more legitimate (even if marginally) collection calls see through their outrageous tactics, but I believe we are the minority. Hardly a day passes that I don't see a few new complaints on the unknown caller forums. The stories share a running theme of foul-mouthed reps with thick foreign accents and their extreme threats of legal and police action. Reactions range from suspicion to bewilderment. Almost no one reporting realizes we have Fair Debt laws which make the typical caller conduct so obviously criminal, however difficult to prosecute.Faux Names
The outsourced criminals like to use scary, legal-sounding business names. A few are borrowed from real entities, most are fabricated, seemingly by picking random legal-ish words from a hat. These three are lately reported most often:
Affidavit Consolidation Services
Central Investigation & Litigation
National Affidavit Processing Services (or "Center" or "Department")
The following faux names were compiled from various mystery call forums and news reports. This I'm sure is not a complete list:
American Law Division
American Legal Processing Division
American Legal Services
Attorney General's Office (insert state here)
Bureau of Crime Identification
Bureau of Criminal Investigation (or "BCI")
Bureau Department of Criminal Investigations
Crime Monitoring Services
Crime Protection & Investigation
Criminal Bureau of Identity
Criminal Investigation Bureau (or "Department")
Cyber Crime Division
Department of Criminal Investigations
Department of Financial Crime
Department of Law & Investigation(s)
Federal Crime Investigations
Federal Fraud Investigations
Federal Investigation Bureau
Federal Investigations Company
Federal Legislation of Unsecured Loans
Financial Accountability Association
Financial Crime Division (or "Department")
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
Financial Crimes Unit
First State Attorney
Monetary Crime Division
National Bureau of Crime Investigations
National Check Restitution
National Criminal Center
United Client Suspect Department
United Financial Crime Department (or "Division")
United Legal Processing
United Nation Legal Department
U.S. Crime Suspect Department
U.S. Federal Bank
U.S. Investigation Bureau
U.S. Justice Department: Payday Loan Division
U.S. Legal Investigation Bureau
U.S. National Bank
White Collar Crime Unit
As of Autumn 2010 the new wrinkle was posing as employees of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which uneducated debtors may not realize has zero ties to debt collection. Here are a few of the storefront and collector style names associated with this scam:
Cash Advance USA
Christian Nicholas & Associates
Hopkins Law Office
United Cash legal department
United Pay Services
The overseas reps frequently adopt vanilla American names and pose as law enforcement. Sometimes their aliases negate all credibility, such as these:
James Brown (hardly carrying a brand new bag)
John Henry (in retirement from laying rail tracks)
Steve Martin (truly as "The Jerk")
John Smith (What, no Jane Doe?)
Will Smith (slumming from a faltering movie career)
Denzel Washington (There could be two, right?)Brutal Tactics
The flimsy business names and aliases are of course absurd, but they've fooled enough people each week to make this perhaps the fastest growing phone scam of 2010. The scam also frightens and upsets people, particularly those who have never experienced "real" debt collection calls from the tamer American agencies. These are the sorts of semantically ridiculous yet convincing claims heard fairly commonly:
- "We are downloading warrants against you."
- "We are filing an affidavit against you."
- "You will get your social security blocked."
- "You have complaints against your social security number."
- "You have committed fraud against the government."
This is on top of the more "normal" empty threats of arrest and imprisonment, borrowed from the worst U.S. agencies. Many reps toss a scripted rotten cherry on top as they end the calls, such as "Only God can help you now", or wishing the victim "good luck".
Here are abridged quotes from some consumer forums which reveal how ugly these threats become:
".... threatening that I would be arrested and jailed for 2 months ... If I ask any questions he becomes tempermental and starts telling me how I will be raped and beaten in jail. ... says he's downloading my file to the sheriff ..."
"After informing the indian gentleman on the phone that the person he is seeking cannot be reached at this number he asked if he could pay me for sex. When I asked for his name and supervisor he said f--k your mother. He has also stated that he wants to my lemons and that he is going to teach me a lesson."
"... said his name was officer John peterson.. told my work he was the sherriff looking for me .... called back not 2 hours later and told my work he was the emergency room .... I have a 22 month old it was all i could do not to break down before i called his nursery ...."
The kicker is that much of the time the callers already possess bank data, SSN, and other identifiers of their victims. Such data are used to 'convert' a victim into believing in a legitimate claim. The trafficking of such data among Indian and Pakistani call centers full of abusive thugs should alone cause alarm.
Theories vary as to the food chain of this scam, but there is a strong suggestion the U.S. payday lenders sit at the start.
- They may have sold data from application forms for unprocessed loans, as a means of monetizing dud papers. This parallels the practice of fraudulent internet-based services, which sell off email addresses from abandoned accounts to the spam gangs, usually after the second or third year of account dormancy.
- American PDL firms may be quietly orchestrating the scam, feeding data from both dud and processed loans, some of the latter being already repaid by consumers. This would amount to a double dip or worse, while laundering the fraud through overseas call centers.
- One theory from Autumn 2010 holds that a disbarred Florida debt collector may have changed names and tactics to keep plying his trade. The story is expanded on mystery call site WhoCalledUs and others. There is at least one other kingpin story like this I've seen but cannot corroborate. Further reading: http://whocalled.us/lookup/5598235337
Having only theories and not confirmed business entities to prosecute on U.S. soil is frustrating. For the moment, consistent use of appropriate complaint channels is required. The FTC and attorneys general are always good venues, and I understand the FBI is keeping an ear to this issue as well. Given the international nature of this fraud traffic, it will take coordinated effort and a critical mass of complaints to wring some justice from this vile offshoot tendril of the debt industry.