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Is that a debt collector or a scam artist on the phone?

There are a lot of scams floating around out there, and some of the most realistic are the ones purportedly from debt collection agencies informing consumers that they risk being sued or arrested if they don't pay their alleged debts off immediately.

Few things are as frightening to otherwise law-abiding citizens as the idea of going to jail, and scammers know this very well. This knowledge enables them to brazenly separate consumers from hundreds or thousands of dollars of their own money for debts that they may never even have owed.

To make sure that a debt collection call is legitimate, consumers must be a little bit savvy. Don't be cowed or browbeaten into making any payments, especially if it is allegedly for online payday loans — a favorite scam target.

-- Verify the legitimacy of the debt. A legitimate debt collector must comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which states that debt collectors have to provide debtors with written "validation notices" within five days of their initial contact. These notices include the creditor's name, amount owed and process of disputing the debt if consumers believe it is inaccurate. Only allow them to send it through the mail and not via email.

-- Beware of "spoofing," where scammers impersonate legitimate collection agencies, law firms or even police department to shake consumers down for payments. Get the agency's name and mailing address and do a little online sleuthing of your own.

Legitimate debts can pile up fast, but that's no reason to fall victim to a scammer. If your debt load has spiraled out of your control, it may be time to consider seeking legal advice about filing for bankruptcy protection.

Source: Credit.com, "3 Strategies for Dealing with Debt Collection Scammers," Gerri Detweiler, accessed Oct. 07, 2016

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