If you have ever been in the unfortunate situation of receiving a call from a debt collector, especially a third-party collection agency, then you are all too familiar with the stress and fear that such calls can introduce into your life. Obviously you will never find a consumer who enjoys receiving collection calls and many collection agencies are known for their unsavory collection tactics. However, in the spirit of fairness it is worth pointing out that sometimes legitimate collection agencies are vilified due to the actions of illegal or phantom debt collectors.

While not all collection agencies behave badly, there are many bad apples in the industry who do routinely use scare tactics and even illegal methods in an effort to collect outstanding debts. However, there is a brand of criminal debt collectors who are much worse. Phantom debt collectors, as these criminals are commonly called, are illegitimate "companies" who actually make up debts that were never really owed in the first place and try to frighten people into paying these phony debts.

How Phantom Debt Collectors Operate

Simply put, phantom debt collectors are scam artists - often very skilled scam artists. These scam artists will call unsuspecting consumers and try to convince them to pay debts which are not actually owed. Often these phantom collectors are armed with information acquired through identity theft so, even though they may reference an account which you recognize, the scam artist will try to convince you that the loan is due or that you owe more than your legitimate balance. Additionally, while all phantom debt collection scams are a little different, these scam artists will always try to convey a sense of urgency and will generally threaten serious consequences if you do not pay immediately via a credit card, debit card, or wire transfer. Obviously these practices are 100% illegal.

Recognizing the Difference

Unfortunately the phantom debt collection scam is probably not going away any time soon. In fact, the CFPB recently shut down a massive phantom debt collection scam which was utilizing robo-calling technology (enabling them to prey upon thousands of victims) in April of 2015. Due to the fact that phantom debt collection scams have become so common it is important to understand how to protect yourself from these would-be-predators. Here are 3 tips.

1.      Debt Verification
When a collection agent calls you regarding a debt that you are not sure whether or not you owe remember that you have the right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to request a verification of the debt. If the person on the phone refuses your request then the call is likely a scam.

2.      Call Your Creditor Back Directly
Received a call from someone claiming to represent a creditor with whom you do have a relationship? Remember you can always hang up and call the creditor back directly at the number on your statement to ensure that the person you were speaking with is truly affiliated with your creditor.

3.      Check Your Credit Reports
If someone calls you attempting to collect a debt that you do not recognize then pulling a copy of your 3 credit reports is a wise idea. You can pull your three reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com or, if you have already accessed your free reports, you can always get a copy of your 3 reports + 3 scores online from a reputable credit monitoring service like those found here. When you pull your reports you should verify whether or not the account which was mentioned to you over the phone actually appears on your credit. If the account does not appear on any of your credit reports then the call could possibly be a scam. 


Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over 13 years of experience, the credit blogger at HOPE4USA.com, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars up and down the East Coast. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.