Payday loan scammers pretend to be government officials

Payday loan storeCallers posing as California government officials demanding payment for fictitious payday loans have generated a flurry of complaints to a consumer protection agenciy across the country in Massachusetts.

Barbara Anthony, undersecretary of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, posted a warning about the scam on her department's blog, prompting targets of the scam to call there to complain.

In the scam, the caller claims to be from the California Department of Consumer Affairs -- sometimes claiming to be a lawyer -- and tells the victim he or she owes money on an old payday loan. Then comes the threat: Pay up you'll be subpoenaed. All big warning signs, Anthony says.

"First of all, government agencies do not operate that way," Anthony told Consumer Ally. "You are never going to get a call from the Consumer Office of Affairs chasing you for consumer debt."

Scams revolving around payday loans are nothing new. WalletPop reported earlier in May that people in Ohio were being targeted in a similar fashion by callers claiming to be from a legitimate collection agency..

The Massachusetts complaints started last week, Anthony's communications director, Jason Lefferts, said. They've picked up this week.

The first complaint came from a consumer in Maryland last Thursday. On Monday, another complaint arrived from someone in Minnesota. The Minnesota consumer said she was ready to make a payment, but before she did she asked the name and bar registration for the California lawyer. Once she researched the lawyer's name, she realized he was a fake.

Some people who complained actually took out payday loans in the past. Anthony said it is possible that whoever is responsible for the calls has a list of people who were late on payments on credit cards or payday loans.

"If you're in the underworld of this kind of business, you can get lists of people with all different kinds of classifications," Anthony said. "It's not hard to get lists of people who may have had pay day loans."

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation collects any information about the caller and encourages consumers outside the state to file with their attorneys general on this new information.

"You think you've seen everything when you've been in this business long enough, but this is a new one," she said. "I think it's really important to get the word out that consumer affairs offices do not call about debt collecting. There's no way this would be a legitimate."
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