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Attention Grandparents: Watch Out for Phony Debt Collectors

Our grandparents kept an eye out for cheaters. (No, not that kind!)

Back in the day, if a salesman knocked on the front door, they waved them off. Before caller ID, they hung up on fraudulent callers (i.e. telemarketers). But a call from a phony debt collector? They might have fallen for that one. Especially if the debt collector said they were responsible for a grandchild’s debt!

Consider this scenario: A fake caller, impersonating a debt collector, contacts you. They want to collect on a debt your grandchild (supposedly) failed to pay. They ask you to immediately wire money, send a prepaid credit card or give your credit card number. And if you won’t – or can’t – pay? That’s when the threats begin:

“Your grandchild will be arrested.”  “He’ll lose his job.”  “We’ll suspend her driver’s license.”

Unless you co-signed a loan, you are never responsible for someone’s debt. In fact, debt collectors can’t legally tell you that someone – anyone – else even has a debt.

If you get one of these calls, stop. Don’t be rushed into sending money. Don’t give or verify any personal, bank account or other financial information. Hang up if the caller threatens you. Debt collectors cannot do that. It is not legal. Once you are off the phone, report the call to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your state Attorney General.


How to Avoid Fraud

What to Do

Know who you are dealing with. – Try to find a seller’s physical address (not a PO Box) and phone number. With internet phone services and other web-based technologies, it is difficult to tell where someone is calling from. Do an online search for the company name and website, and look for reviews. If people report negative experiences, you will have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, a deal is good only if you get a product that actually works as promised.

Know that wiring money is like sending cash. – Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it is nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. Never wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to anyone who claims to be a relative or friend in an emergency and wants to keep the request a secret.

Read your monthly statements. – Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name. Dishonest merchants bill you for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services without your authorization. If you see charges you do not recognize or did not authorize, contact your bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.

Give only to established charities. – In the aftermath of a disaster, give to an established charity, rather than one that has sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably do not have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity.

Talk to your doctor before you buy health products or treatments. – Ask about research that supports a product’s claims — and possible risks or side effects. Buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies. Otherwise, you could end up with products that are fake, expired, or mislabeled — products that could be dangerous to your health.

Remember, there is no ‘sure thing’ in investing. – If someone contacts you with low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, that guarantee big profits, that promise little or no financial risk, or that demand that you send cash immediately, report them to the FTC at


What Not to Do

Don’t send money to someone you don’t know. – Not to an online seller you have never heard of — or an online love interest who asks for money. Do business at websites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card. If you think you have found a good deal, but you are not familiar with the company, check it out. Type the company or product name into your search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” See what comes up — on the first page of results as well as on the later pages. Never pay fees first for the promise of a big pay-off later — whether it is for a loan, a job, a grant or a so-called prize.

Don’t agree to deposit a check and wire money back. – By law, banks have to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. You are responsible for the checks you deposit: If a check turns out to be a fake, you are responsible for paying back the bank. No matter how convincing the story, someone who overpays with a check is almost certainly a scam artist.

Don’t reply to messages asking for personal or financial information. – It does not matter whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. Do not click on links or call phone numbers included in the message, either. It is called phishing. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into revealing sensitive information. If you got a message like this and you are concerned about your account status, call the number on your credit or debit card — or your statement — and check on it.


Report Scams

If you think you may have been scammed:

If you get unsolicited email offers or spam, send the messages to [email protected].

If you get what looks like lottery material from a foreign country through the postal mail, take it to your local postmaster.

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