As if having to deal with third party debt collectors is not enough, see the link from an article in the Baltimore Sun today about fake debt collectors. Now you have to check out the debt collectors before you make a payment. Here are some ways to protect yourself:
1. Call or email the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau before paying any money to a company that you have not dealt with in the past;
2. Call or email the University of Maryland Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland to see if they have any information on the debt collector. Peter Holland has done a wonderful job creating a program to protect debtors from predatory collectors;
3. If the caller claims that he/she is a collector for a company that you already are aware of, make the check payable to the company that you know, NOT THE COLLECTOR OR HIS/HER COMPANY;
4. If you can not find information from the three sources above, go on line and do a Google search. If there is no information, try another search engine;
5. When in doubt, get a name and number of a supervisor and a contact at the alleged owner of the debt, call to verify this information and only pay by check to the company that you know;
6. Do not give any credit card or bank account information over the phone, do not send cash and only use a form of payment that can be traced or guaranteed.
7. When mailing a check, get a street address so that you can send the check certified mail, return receipt requested; and
8. If you are paying in full with the check, make sure that the Re: clause on the check says “PAID IN FULL” on the check and make a copy of the check and envelope before you mail it.
This is not a complete list and there may be tax liability if you settle your bill by paying less than full, so you should contact a tax consultant before you act.