Officials with the Sweetwater Police Department say area residents should remain vigilant as they investigate reports of a possible phone scam where callers are identifying themselves as payday loan representatives, asking for payments on loans taken out by those they are calling. According to Sweetwater Police Officer Armando Renteria, a local resident received a call in which a person — with a foreign accent — claimed to be collecting for a payday loan company that she had a loan with, wanting immediate payment on the loan.
"The person had all of her information already, including her social security number, and said that she needed to pay on the loan she had taken out, when she had already paid the loan off."
The caller claimed to be from American Credit Legal Services. Some of the common characteristics of these fake collection calls are:
• Invariably the so-called collectors have moderate to heavy Indian accents. Presumably they are operating out of one of the thousands of offshore call centers in India.
• They start the call in most cases by telling the victim that they need to call their lawyer and appear in court the next day.
• These “collection agents” usually claim to be from some government agency, even claiming to be prosecutors in many cases. For some reason, they usually claim to be associated with the state of California.
• These fraudsters have a good bit of personal information on the people they are calling. They usually have some combination of Social Security Number, bank account and date of birth for the victim.
• They usually ask for a relatively large sum of money.
• In some cases, through coincidence or otherwise, they actually claim to be representing a payday loan company that the victim actually owes money to.
According to Officer Renteria, the callers hack into the online records of payday loan companies to obtain information on accounts. "I strongly suggest that residents do not go online to apply for payday loans, as the victim who received the call had applied for the loan online."
"The callers appear to have a great deal of information and are targeting payday loan customers. They sometimes even have names of family members," said Officer Renteria. "They also give false American names such as Kevin White, Robert Connor, Zack Wilson, Jessica Bush, Andy Hunt, etc. when they are clearly not from this country."
Some phone numbers that are common among the identity thieves include the following:
According to the Doug Zloto, resident agent in charge of the Saginaw Resident Office of the U.S. Secret Service Department of Homeland Security, the international ring of identity thieves obtain information victims provide on online payday loan applications. "Using the information you provided on the application, the identity thieves contacted you claiming to be law enforcement and/or members of the legal profession. At some point during this conversation, the thieves threatened you with arrest, incarceration and/or a large lawsuit if you did not immediately pay money with a debit/credit card. Let me assure you that it is highly illegal to threaten and extort money from individuals."
Zloto offered tips to victims of these identity thieves.
Stopping the calls
The identity thieves are calling you from a call center overseas. They are using computers to make it appear that the calls are originating in the United States. Everything they are telling you is a lie except for the fact that they have the information you provided on your loan application. The next time they call will be the absolute last time you speak with them. Tell them the following.
1. You spoke to law enforcement.
2. You know they are a scam.
3. You are not going to pay them any money.
4. You want your money returned.
5. Stop calling.
6. Then hang up.
If they call after you have made the above statement, do not answer the phone. If the calls last for more than two days, contact your phone company and change your telephone number.
If the thieves are calling you at work, just put them on hold. Do not engage them in a conversation. Investigators have found that if you stop talking to them, they will stop calling.
Dispute the charge
Contact your bank and/or the pre-paid debit card company that issued the card you used to make the fraudulent payment. You will need to find out the name of the company that took the funds off of the card. Once you determine the company, you need to dispute the charge. Advise the bank/pre-paid company that you are a victim of identity theft and the company in question illegally took the money from your account under extortion and false pretenses.
If you used a bankcard associated with your bank account, you will need to advise your bank that you are a victim of identity theft and will need to close the bankcard so no additional funds can be removed without your permission.
If you paid with a Western Union Moneygram, please advise Western Union of the fraudulent charge and attempt to determine who and where the money was picked up. You will need to send all the information you have collected on the Western Union to the Secret Service.
Visit the Federal Trade Commission website www.ftc.gov  to find out ways you can protect yourself from further identity theft and to file a quick report with them.