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They Have Your Numbers

Fake FDIC debt collectors are the latest phone scammers; here's how to protect yourself

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) may inherit bad loans when a bank fails, but the agency doesn't call consumers to collect them.

So don't fall for a fast-growing phone scam in which a self-described "FDIC representative" tells you you're delinquent on a loan — and you need to settle up immediately to "avoid a lawsuit and possible arrest." The callers are actually scammers trying to get you to divulge your bank account and credit card numbers to satisfy the supposed debt. Or they may want you to wire them money.

If you receive such a call, don't just hang up and forget about it. You'll want to take steps against identity theft. That's because these fraudsters usually have your name, birth date and Social Security number, which they quote to you to make the shakedown seem legitimate. Even if you don't cooperate and give additional information or money, they've already got enough to impersonate you.

The fake FDIC calls, which came to light in September, are a new variation on an established debt collection con. A year or so ago, scammers pretending to be lawyers began pulling a similar ruse, quoting personal information and threatening arrest unless victims paid up to $1,000 to settle alleged payday loans. Officials think that the fraudsters may have gotten hold of the personal information through data security breaches or theft of loan records.

Adding further confusion is the fact that legitimate debt collectors may call you up and quote confidential information to establish their bona fides.

So here's how to respond if you get a call demanding payment on a home loan or any other debt.

  • Do not provide or confirm any sensitive data over the phone.
  • Ask that written documentation of any alleged debt be mailed to you — under the law, creditors are required to do this.
  • If you suspect the caller is a scammer, consider protecting yourself against identity theft by placing a fraud alert on your credit report on file at one of the three credit-reporting bureaus, which will share your request with the others. Contacts for the three are:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-397-3742; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289. Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.

A fraud alert, which is free, lasts 90 days but can be renewed in 90-day intervals indefinitely. With an alert in place, lenders that get a request to open credit in your name are supposed (but not required by law) to contact you by phone to verify that you made the request.

  • For greater security, you may opt for a credit freeze, which prevents anyone from looking at your credit report unless you allow access by "thawing" your account. Each freeze and each thaw usually costs around $10 unless you can show you've been a victim of identity theft.
  • Pay close attention to your credit reports for several months after receiving a debt collection phone call to ensure that no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.

Sid Kirchheimer is author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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