Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, is aware of a recent increase in the number of calls to members of the public by fraudsters requesting payments for a “phantom” debt.
New phone scams and how to avoid them
The phantom debt fraud scam involves being cold-called by someone pretending to be a debt collector, bailiff or other type of enforcement agent. The fraudster may claim to be working under instruction of a court, business or other body, and say that they're recovering funds for a debt, however this debt simply doesn't exist.
The fraudsters are asking for payment, sometimes by bank transfer, and if refused, they threaten to visit homes or workplaces in order to recover the supposed debt that is owed.
In some cases, the victim is also threatened with arrest. From the reports Action Fraud has received, this type of fraud is presently occurring throughout the UK.
It's important to recognise that there are key differences between the various bodies who seek to settle debts or outstanding fees in England and Wales.
These differences range from the type of debt they will enforce, to the legal powers they possess. To find out more, have a look at the helpful information and links on the Step Change Debt charity website.
• Make vigorous checks if you ever get a cold-call. Bailiffs for example, should always be able to provide you with a case number and warrant number, along with their name and the court they are calling from; make a note of all details provided to you.
• If you receive a visit from a bailiff, they must always identify themselves as a Court Bailiff at the earliest possible opportunity. Ask to see their identity card, which they must carry to prove who they are. This card shows their photograph and identity number. They will also carry the physical warrant showing the debt and endorsed with a court seal.
• If you work for a business and receive a call or visit, be sure to speak with your manager or business owner first. Never pay the debts yourself on behalf of the business you work for; some fraudsters have suggested employees make a payment, saying they can then be reimbursed by their employer when in reality the debt doesn't .
• Exercise caution believing someone is genuine because you’ve found something on the internet; fraudsters could easily create fake online profiles to make you believe them.
• Double check with the court, company or public body they claim to work for to confirm whether the call is legitimate; if you use a landline make sure you hear the dialling tone prior to dialling as the caller could still be on the line and you could potentially speak to the fraudster(s) to confirm the non-existent debt. Also be sure to independently search for a telephone number to call; never use a number provided by the caller without carrying out your own research.
• Do not feel rushed or intimidated to make a decision based on a phone call. Take Five and listen to your instincts.
• If you know you have a debt, keep in regular contact with your creditor. Make sure you understand what type of debt you have – this will help you to understand who might be in contact with you regarding any repayments or arrears.
You can report suspicious calls like these to the Action Fraud website or by calling 0300 123 2040.
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