Phantom Debt Collectors

Consumers across the country report that they’re getting telephone calls from people trying to collect loans the consumers never received or on loans they did receive for amounts they do not owe.  Others are receiving calls from people seeking to recover on loans consumers received but where the creditors never authorized the callers to collect them.

The FTC is warning consumers to be alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors.  It may be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one.

A caller may be a fake debt collector if he/she:

  • is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize;
  • refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number;
  • asks for personal financial or sensitive information; or
  • exerts high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of protections provided by the Fair Collection Practices Act.
  2. Ask students to prepare a list of steps they should take if the harassment continues.

Discussion Questions

  • If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector, why is it important to ask the caller for his name, company, street address, or telephone number?
  • If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector, should you stop speaking with the caller? Why or why not?

Scams, Frauds, and Consumer Complaints

Based on a recent study, chip-enabled cards used without appropriate technology and tax ID theft are the fastest-growing and most costly consumer complaints.  People are often contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS, a utility company, or a tech-support company, and asked to send money or provide personal information. This is a common danger sign of fraud as reported in a recent study of consumer complaints by the Consumer Federation of American and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

This report identified the following as the top ten most common sources of consumer complaints:

  1. Motor vehicle misrepresentations in advertising along with sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
  2. Home improvement, such as inferior work, and failure to start or complete the job
  3. Utility service problems and billing disputes
  4. Credit and debt concerns, such as billing and fee disputes, mortgage fraud, credit repair, debt-relief services, predatory lending, abusive debt-collection tactics
  5. Retail sales problems related to deceptive ads, defective goods, problems with gift cards and certificates, rebates and coupons
  6. Services with poor or incomplete work, lack of licensing
  7. Landlord-tenant concerns, such as unsafe or unhealthy conditions, lack of repairs, and unfair eviction
  8. Furniture, appliances, and household products that are faulty or not properly repaired
  9. Health products and services with misleading claims
  10. Fraud and scams, such as phony sweepstakes, work-at-home schemes, deceptive online sales

Two additional recently reported scams are the “grandparent scam,” in which a phony grandchild calls an older person claiming to need quick cash for an emergency.  With the CEO scam, employees are contacted with what appears to be an email from their company asking them to wire money to a foreign supplier for a deal that needs to close immediately with a promise to be reimbursed.

For additional information on current frauds and scams, go to:

Link #1

Link #2 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students present a talk with actions that might be taken to avoid consumer scams.
  • Have students create a list of common consumer complaints among their friends.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why are people often victims of consumer frauds?
  2. What are common suggestions for avoiding various consumer scams and frauds?

Beware of IRS Imposters

You get a call from a scammer pretending to be with the IRS, threatening you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay taxes you owe right now.  You’re told to wire the money or put it on a prepaid debit card.  The scammer might threaten to deport you or say you’ll lose your driver’s license.  Some scammers even know your Social Security number, and they fake caller ID so you think it really is the IRS calling.  But it’s all a lie.  If you send the money, it’s gone.

The Federal Trade Commission advises that if you get illegal sales calls, robocalls, or fake IRS calls, it’s best to ignore them.  Don’t interact in any way.  Don’t press buttons to be taken off the call list or talk to a live person or call back.  When you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail.  The IRS won’t ask you to wire money, pay with a prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.  If you get fake calls, file a complaint with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov. You also can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.  If you’re concerned there’s a real tax problem, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to make a list of steps that taxpayers can take to protect themselves from tax scammers.
  2. Why do scammers prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English?

Discussion Questions

  1. What can the IRS and other governmental agencies do to catch and punish criminals impersonating IRS agents?
  2. How can taxpayers protect themselves from scam artists?
  3. What should you do if you believe you owe federal income taxes?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

5 Ways To Become An Informed Medicare Consumer

Each day, you make important choices about your finances, health, privacy, and more.  Medicare has 5 things you can do to help you become an informed Medicare consumer.

  1. Know your rights. As a person with Medicare, you have certain rights and protections designed to help protect you and make sure you get the health care services the law provides.
  2. Protect your identity. Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes.  Keep the following information safe:
    • Your name
    • Your Social Security Number (SSN)
    • Your Medicare Number (or your membership card if you’re in a Medicare Advantage or other Medicare health plan)
    • Your credit card and bank account numbers
  1. Help fight Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud takes money from the Medicare program each year, which means higher health care costs for you.  Learn how to report fraud.
  2. Get involved with other seniors with the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). The SMP educates and empowers people with Medicare to take an active role in detecting and preventing health care fraud and abuse.
  3. Make informed Medicare choices. Each year during the Fall Open Enrollment Period (October 25-December 7), review your plan to make sure it will meet your needs for the following year.  If you are not satisfied with your current plan, you can switch during the Open Enrollment Period.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to prepare a list of medical expenses that Medicare does not cover.
  • Ask students to check out the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) videos for tips on preventing Medicare fraud and see how seniors are learning to stop, spot, and report fraud.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it vital to fight against Medicare fraud?
  2. Why is it important to review your health care plan during the Fall Enrollment Period?