Dear ABC News Fixer: On Nov. 15, I received a call from a company called Affirmative Litigation Group, claiming I owed a debt of $539.95 to a bank in Delaware, supposedly from 2007.
I have never had any accounts or credit cards with this bank. The guy refused to send me documentation to verify the debt. He could not give me an address of his company, and he told me his job was to verify my information so they could send me a summons for court! He said he would settle the debt if I paid $276. He also claimed they would get a restraining order so I could not communicate with the bank I supposedly owed money to.
A week later, he called again. Again, I asked for his contact information and the address of his company, because when I did online searches on it, the only thing I found were other people complaining. He eventually gave me a Web address which led me to the City of New York Law Department’s website. I called there and was referred to the office of the New York Inspector General, where I was informed that they had gotten other calls from consumers. I filed a formal complaint and gave them all the info I had.
The point of all this is just because someone claims to be a debt collector does not mean they are. You have rights, and they have rules to follow. If it seems fishy, ask questions. Identity theft prevention starts with us all using common sense.
- Joshua Herman, Surfside Beach, S.C.
Dear Joshua: Thanks for the heads-up. You told the ABC News Fixer you were certain you had no bad debts because you’d just looked at all three of your credit reports. And this supposed debt collector wasn’t following a basic requirement of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is to send you a written verification of the debt.
Our curiosity was piqued, though, so we decided to call the phone number you had for Affirmative Litigation Group. It’s a toll-free number somewhere in North America. As soon as we said the words “ABC News,” the line went dead.
So we called again, and this time a man identifying himself as Eric, head paralegal, picked up. Eric said his company specializes in “forceful recovery solutions” and he claimed you would be getting a summons in 2-1/2 to three weeks (you still haven’t gotten anything). He said the debt could be from a payday loan, a credit card or identity theft – he didn’t know.
When we asked Eric for his company’s Web address, he said it’s www.affirmativelitigationgroup.com – but as we typed in that address, Eric warned us that their website was down because “our server crashed.” Oddly, though, when we later searched for that domain name on GoDaddy.com, we found it didn’t exist -- but we could purchase it ourselves for $11.34.
(As an aside, we could see how you and others ended up at the New York City Law Department, because when you search for AffirmativeLitigationGroup.com in Google, there’s no website for the company but the third listing is for the New York City Law Department. The Law Department has now posted a notice on its home page alerting consumers that the calls aren’t coming from them, and Malachy Higgins, chief of administration for the department, told the ABC News Fixer he’s collecting complaints. CLICK HERE for more info.)
At this point in our call with Eric, he said he couldn’t give us any more info without a case number, so we called you back and got it. We immediately called Eric back and hilarity ensued:
First, we were put on hold for eight minutes, only to be hung up on; then we called back and got hung up on again; then we called back and were put on hold; when someone finally picked up and we asked for Eric, we got a puzzled reaction and were put on hold again; and then we got put on hold two more times and then Eric finally came back. Phones were ringing in the background and we could hear other reps on their calls.
We told Eric the case number you’d been given. He yawned and typed something in. “Actually,” he said, “there’s a note that pops up here that I can’t get his file, because his file has already been sent out.” He added that the computer notes say you were incarcerated in 2007 (not true, you told us) and that you are a “professional debtor” who doesn’t pay his bills (also not true). We asked Eric about the website not existing (he didn’t have an answer, except to say we must have typed it wrong), and when we repeatedly asked him where his company was located, he said he didn’t have time to talk anymore because “I have paperwork to process through.”
And then, click – Eric hung up on us, too.
We tried finding other business contacts for Affirmative Litigation Group and the closest we came was a listing for Affirmative Litigation at “123 Unknown Lane” with a phone number that does not work.
The only other footprints online were recent complaints from other angry consumers, saying they were getting calls threatening legal action over debts they said they didn’t owe. Our favorite post was from “JB,” who wrote that his caller claimed a restraining order was being filed against his mother-in-law: “Since my mother-in-law died over 10 years ago, I say good luck to them in trying to restrain her.”
Our take-away from this little exercise: You were smart to hold back your personal info and your money, and you were generous to want to alert others.
You are correct that federal law requires debt collectors – the real ones – to send you a “validation notice” within five days of their initial contact telling you how much you owe, to whom you owe it and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the debt. The Federal Trade Commission has additional rules HERE.
The FTC also offers these tips for spotting fake debt collectors:
- If you suspect a caller is fake, ask for their name, company, street address and phone number, and tell them you won’t discuss the debt until they send the required written “validation notice.”
- Stop talking with the caller. If you have their address, send a letter demanding they stop contacting you and keep a copy for your files.
- Never give out or confirm information such as your bank account, credit card number or Social Security number unless you know who you’re dealing with.
- If you think the debt may be legitimate but the collector is not, call the creditor directly. Ask the creditor who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect its debts.
- Report any suspicious calls at FTC.gov and to your state Attorney General.
- The ABC News Fixer
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.