Consumer Ally Warns About Phony Debt Collector Calls

debt collector
Harassing calls from debt collectors are bad enough, but when you don't even owe the debt, that's a whole lot worse.

Susan McCafferty, a 63-year old resident of Harvey, La., and a Consumer Ally reader, says she's been getting those kinds of calls. And, it seems, so are others.

As countless consumers struggle to pay bills, debt collectors are resorting to increasingly belligerent methods. Some of these aggressive debt collectors are literally barking up the wrong tree, hounding consumers for debts they never incurred.Some are even posing as government officials to trick or frighten consumers into paying.

About a month ago, McCafferty began receiving harassing calls from a debt collector who claimed she owed $300 for a cash advance loan she'd failed to repay. The caller, who identified himself as "Shane Johnson," said his firm bought the loan from a company called "Cash Advance." McCafferty, who works as a cook for the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, had recently applied online for a $300 payday loan from CashNetUSA, which she'd already paid back. "I never did business with Cash Advance," she told Consumer Ally. "I know I don't owe them nothing and I told him so."

But Johnson, whom McCafferty said speaks with what sounded to her like an Indian accent, refused to believe her and upped the ante by claiming to work for "the attorney general." When McCafferty demanded to know which attorney general, he refused to say. Whenever she persisted in trying to find out who he really was or represented, he always hung up -- but always called back.

This scam artist also tried to frighten McCafferty into paying up, saying he intended to file a lawsuit and have her hauled into court. And once she lost the case, he said, she'd immediately be subject to an $8,000 penalty. He also threatened to have her arrested and thrown in jail, but the feisty 63-year-old wasn't intimidated.

"I told him 'you can't scare me. I work for a correctional facility, so I'm already in jail all day!,'" McCafferty told Consumer Ally. "My husband said they picked on the wrong old lady!"

Despite her refusal to pay, Johnson continued calling her at home as well as work. "He called so much the other day my boss had to take the phone off the hook," McCafferty said. "I'm just lucky he hasn't fired me. He calls all day."

When she stopped taking his calls, Johnson also managed to track down the phone numbers of her children, and began harassing them to get to McCafferty. "He called my kids and told them I was a witness to an accident, and he was trying to get in touch with me," she said. "He also left voice mails for my son, saying he worked for the district attorney."

Whoever "Shane Johnson" really is, McCafferty isn't his only victim. According to a Google search, his number 760-483-3164, based in California, is a notorious source of harassing calls from a bogus bill collector who usually goes under the name of "Frank Jackson."

The complaints against him, reproduced here intact with grammatical errors, sound familiar:
  • got a call from this number stated law office but would not gave no name stated money is owed from a pay day loan (which i have never gotten or even applied for one). man was foreign voice said police would come to my home with papers and serve me or at my job (which he stated i would lose) and that they are going to arrest me.
  • Caller identifies himself as Frank Jackson. Says my social security number is being sued. Will not answer questions who, why, etc., Says he wants to speak to my lawyer. Called three times at once, two on work number and one on cell phone all at same time. I requested info be mailed or served. Says he will not. Won't stop calling.
  • I have been receiving calls from this Frank Jackson as well He says he is from a law firm. He will not give me the name of the business he just keep saying he will serve me with papers and I better meet him in court. He has threatened me with loosing my job and everything.

Consumer Ally called the number on different days from different phone numbers, but it just rang and then disconnected.

So how did Johnson/Jackson get her information? McCafferty suspects it happened when she applied for the payday loan, which allowed CashNetUSA to sell her personal information. Sure enough, if you read CashNetUSA's privacy policy, it states the company "may share or sell Your Information," to collection agencies unless you opt-out, which McCafferty can't recall doing.

McCafferty contacted the Louisiana Attorney General's office earlier this week to file a complaint, but was told they can't take any action unless they have an address for Johnson, which he refuses to provide.

Although she realizes there's probably nothing she can do to stop the calls, she hopes her story will serve as a cautionary tale to others. In the meantime, she's decided to fight fire with fire. The last time he called, she told him she'd hired a lawyer, after which he hung up. She's also started calling him back, resulting in more hang-ups.

"I gave him a taste of his own medicine, but I wish I could give him a little bit more," she told Consumer Ally. "He's not getting nothing from me. He needs to go out and work like everyone else to earn a decent living."

If you get calls like this, contact your state attorney general (scroll down the Consumer Ally Consumer Guide to find yours) and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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