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Posted by: Kevin Ahrenholz

Consumers in debt need to be aware of a scam that is taking place in this country by offshore criminals in the Far East, perhaps India.  This may be some of the fallout from the disclosure of personal information at Target in recent weeks.  Anyone who used a credit card at Target between certain dates in November and December may be at risk for having their personal information accessed and provided to offshore criminals who perpetrate these scams.

One such scam involves someone from the Far East with a thick accent placing a call to a consumer who might be in debt to a credit card company or some other lending institution.  The caller knows the name of the creditor, the amount of the balance, as well as information about the consumer.  All of this could have been accessed from the personal information such as name, address, and social security number which might allow someone to pull a credit report to determine the names of the consumer’s creditors.  The consumer is advised that they have a debt of some amount, perhaps near $10,000 to a particular creditor, but the caller claims to be a lawyer from Washington, D.C., or some other metropolitan area.  The phone number they are calling from will have an area code that matches the city they claim to be calling from.  This is a masking technique that anyone can produce using certain telephone vendors.  Anyone can purchase a Washington, D.C., area code and mask their calls as coming from that number .  In essence, someone from India could be calling you, appearing to be calling from Washington, D.C.  In some instances, the caller claims to be Attorney Michael Shaw from Washington, D.C. from the phone number 202-239-6225.

This “lawyer” will then tell the consumer that they may settle their debt for $900.  They are instructed to purchase a Green Dot money card from Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart or perhaps other vendors who sell these Green Dot credit cards.  The consumer is then advised to load money onto that card, and then call the “lawyer” from Washington, D.C., with the pin number of that Green Dot card so that the “lawyer” can access the $900 on the card for purposes of settling the debt.

Once the consumer gives the pin number to the “lawyer,” the scam artist from overseas will withdraw everything off the card.  For instance, if the consumer puts $2,000 on the Green Dot card but only authorizes the “lawyer” to take $900, the scam artist will withdraw the entire $2,000 amount.

The overseas scam artist will then call the consumer back and tell them that the settlement has now been declined, and that the consumer will be receiving a $900 refund in the mail.  A day later, the consumer will be called again by this same individual who will tell the consumer that the settlement has now been “approved” and they need to redo the transaction because the refund check has already been issued.  This time the scammer will tell the consumer that there is an additional $200 document fee, and so they will need to withdraw $1,100.  This process will repeat itself as many times as the consumer will allow it with different stories and excuses for why refunds will be issued and why new charges need to be taken from the Green Dot card.  Needless to say, no refund checks are ever sent, and some consumers have been known to lose over $5,000 by the various transactions conducted through this scheme.  In some instances, the consumer may be threatened by the caller, claiming that they will be turned over to the police with a warrant issued for their arrest for not paying their bills. The more the consumer protests, the more aggressive the threats become. In some instances the caller may call dozens of times everyday, harassing the consumer, without any threat of recourse due to his offshore location.  The best strategy is to screen your calls and do not engage this person at all. His attention will soon go to other potential victims if his calls are not being taken.

There are likely several variations of this scam, and consumers, particularly those in debt whose personal information may have been accessed through Target last month, need to be aware of these types of transactions.  In summary, consumers should be very cautious about engaging in any wire transfers, Green Dot transactions, or credit card transactions where debts are offering to be settled.  In addition, personal checks, money orders, and cashier’s checks can easily be counterfeited, and should not be relied upon by a consumer.  If ever you need to contact a creditor, or have been contacted by a creditor for purposes of settling a debt, the best approach is to get everything in writing with signed settlement documents and agreements prior to sending any funds.  Seeking attorney representation in this instance is always a good idea.

Posted on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 and filed under News and Press.
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