What are 'zombie' debt collectors, and how do you fight them?

Posted at 2:46 PM, Jan 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-31 15:00:17-05

People all over the country are answering their phones to find a threatening debt collector on the other end.

One man is dealing with these callers, and what he learned is helpful advice for all of us.

Frightening Call from "Law Firm"

Sam Powers received a frightening call on his cell phone, claiming someone was filing a civil complaint against him.

"When I first listened to the call, my heart went in my throat and I said 'Oh my gosh, what did I do?'" he wondered.

The woman on the phone said she was with a law firm, and told him that "failure to respond may result in immediate legal action." Powers didn't know what to do.

"I got a little information online, but I couldn't find this law firm, couldn't find any information at all."

We checked the number that called him, and found no company connected to it.  We found only complaints about similar threatening calls.

An attorney who specializes in debt calls calls these "zombie debit collectors,"and says they try to scare hard working people into paying debts that may not be theirs.

Brian Parker, a Michigan attorney who specializes in debt collections, says these calls are very common. "If you think about it, the best people to go after are those with a good credit report. They prey on those with no debt, because those are the people that are going to be able to pay."

What You Can Do

The good news is you don't have to talk to a debt collector on the phone. You have the right, under law, to demand that they send it to you, in the good old fashioned us mail.

The FTCs "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act" states that:

  • A debt collector must tell you the name of the original creditor.
  • They must tell you that you have the right to dispute the debt
  • You have the right to demand written verification, and tell them nothing over the phone.

CLICK HERE for a consumers' guide to the law.

Powers now realizes they may not even have his personal info. "They said something was tied to my name and Social Security  number, but they didn't say my name or Social Security number."

So if you get a debt collection call like this, demand it all in writing. Then hang up. Do not negotiate over the phone or agree to pay anything.

They may or may not be legitimate collectors.  The "law firm" may just be a boiler room full of telemarketers, looking for suckers.

And whatever  you do, the most important thing is to never give them your Social Security number over the phone.

That way you don't waste your money.

“Don't Waste Your Money” is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. (“Scripps”).

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