FAIRVIEW PARK, Ohio — More often than not, online and over-the-phone scams involve attempts at quick cash by the perpetrator. However, Fairview Park police recently came across a case that reportedly spanned several months.
In late February, a Fairview Park resident came by the police department to report that he had received several suspicious phone calls purported to be from a well-known rental car company. The caller told the resident that he had rented a car in another state and that the rental vehicle had been damaged, the police report states.
The resident told the responding officer that he initially flagged it as a scam since he had never been to that particular state nor had he rented a car recently, the police report states. The resident also reported receiving letters stating that he owed money to the rental car company.
Months later, the resident said he started receiving phone calls from someone purporting to be from a crediting agency or debt collection agency acting on behalf of the rental car company. The caller reportedly told the resident that he owed $950, according to the police report.
Sue McConnell, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Cleveland, said the report contains several hallmarks of an imposter scam as well as a debt collection scam. In many cases, the suspects will claim to be from well-known and reputable companies in an effort to come across as more legitimate.
“You need to be very careful and very leery if you get a call from someone claiming that you owe a debt of any kind and threatening you in any way,” McConnell said. “They can sound very legitimate. They may get people involved in the call who claim to be attorneys or collections agencies, maybe even police officers; anything they can use to convince you that you owe this money and you need to pay it now or suffer the consequences.”
According to the police report, the responding officer called and verified with the rental car company who determined that it had no record of the resident renting a car from the company — let alone damaging one.
The officer then called the debt collection agency that the caller claimed to represent. When the officer asked the caller for an address that he could send a search warrant, the caller’s “supervisor” began arguing with the officer and refused to provide that information, according to the police report.
The officer noted that the trip down the rabbit hole led him to believe the “debt collection company” was attempting to extort the resident.
“If they claim to be a collection agency, realize that they have to operate under federal laws,” McConnell said. “There are rules that they have to play by and definitely get written verification of this debt.”
Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act(FDCPA), debt collection agencies are required to adhere to regulations that limit when, how and how often debt collection agents are permitted to contact debtors. Restrictions include: hours for phone contact; ceasing communication upon request; calling or engaging with a consumer excessively with the intent of annoying or harassing the consumer; communicating with consumers at their place of employment; communicating with a consumer after he or she requests debt validation; threatening arrest or action; abusive language; and reporting false information on a consumer’s credit report, among others.
McConnell said clear and flagrant violations of these well-known legal restrictions can often be signs that the caller is not from a legitimate debt collection agency.
“If you are given the name of a collection agency, research that name online and call that agency directly and see if they have a client that is trying to contact you,” McConnell said. “You may find out right away that it’s fraudulent.”
McConnell said it is common for scam artists to pose as representatives of different companies if they don’t succeed at first.
“One way to get money from somebody is to call them claiming that you owe this debt. If you don’t fall for it, they’ll call back posing as a collection agency or they call back posing as a law enforcement officer,” McConnell said. “Unfortunately you have to be so skeptical. If you get a call, the scammer is hoping that you will be caught off guard and you’ll be so intimidated and so worried about your credit and everything else that you’ll say ‘what do I have to do to make this go away?’”