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How Can I Tell if a Debt Collector Is Real? Tips for Avoiding Vishing Scams


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Our credit scores can determine more about our future than our education, salary, and connections. So, when creditors call demanding prompt payment, Americans are quick to action. The problem is, not every call you receive from a debt collector is legitimate; many of these calls are part of a scam called vishing.

Here’s what you need to know.  

What are vishing scams?  

We’ve talked a lot about phishing here at InfoArmor, but other attacks can pose just as significant a threat. One of these is vishing, also known as voice (or VoIP) phishing. Vishing is very similar to phishing, although fraudsters try to trick you into revealing personal data via a phone call and not an email.

This can occur in myriad ways, like callers pretending to represent the IRS, police officers, a company you do business with, tech support, or even creditors.

Tips for protecting yourself from fraudulent debt collectors

Debt collectors can be intimidating, especially fake ones! Many fake debt collectors target people who have taken out loans in the past, even if they’ve paid them back. Here are a few tips for identifying and dealing with fraudulent collectors. For more information, visit the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

  • Remember that if you owe the IRS money, they will never call you without first sending you a bill in the postal mail. Nor will they ever ask for credit card information over the phone or require you pay in a certain way
  • Request the caller’s name, company, street address, telephone number, and professional license number, which many states require debt collectors to have
    • You can research this information to determine their authenticity and even contact your state attorney general for more assistance
    • Do NOT cooperate in any way if the caller refuses to provide you with this information
  • You can decline to discuss any debt until you receive a written “validation notice”
  • A caller is fraudulent if:
    • The caller threatens you with criminal charges or physical harm
    • The caller  refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number
    • The caller struggles to provide you with information about the debt they are trying to collect, or you do not recognize the charges they reference
    • The debt collector demands you provide sensitive information like your Social Security number, bank accounts, or credit card numbers

The bottom line is this — trust your gut! If you feel like something is off about the call, it probably is.

What to do if you think the call is from a fraudulent debt collector

If you believe that a call is from a fraudulent debt collector, it’s imperative you take the following steps:

  • Stop talking with the caller and hang up the phone
  • If you were given a number to the creditor’s business, call it from a different phone — vishers can hijack your line after making contact
  • Pull your credit report and see if the debt is legitimate
  • Call the reported creditor directly and inquire about the charges
  • Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or contact your local attorney general’s office
  • Make notes about the conversation, including the date and time the call occurred, as well as other pertinent details

Vishing isn’t the only scam fraudsters use to trick people into revealing their personal information. However, it is one of the most effective. Vishing is particularly convincing because there’s a person on the other end of the line intimidating you in real time, and that makes it easy to make a mistake that could jeopardize your identity. Just remember to trust your gut, do your homework, and stand your ground.

To learn more about other threats and receive actionable steps you can take to protect your identity, check out our free ebook, Phishing for Dollars: How Identity Theft Is Leaving Businesses and Their Employees on the Hook.


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