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How to spot a fake debt collector

10 area codes to be wary of and other tips to avoid spam callers.

In 2018 alone, nearly 90,000 Americans reported getting a spam call from a fake debt collector. And these days, putting your number on the Do Not Call Registry is often not enough to keep the calls from coming. But you might want to look out for a few telltale signs that it’s not legit and avoid giving out your personal information.

Most commonly used area codes by fake debt collectors

You don’t need to pick up the phone to spot a fake debt collector. You can often tell a call is spam just by looking at the phone number. Fake debt collectors and other scammers often disguise numbers they call from as a private individual to avoid being blocked.

According to Whitepages, these are the most commonly used area codes used by spam callers:

Area codeComing from
954Fort Lauderdale
484Eastern and Southeastern Pennsylvania
202Washington, DC

Check out our list of 50 verified debt collectors

If you get a call from one of the debt collection companies on our verified list, it could be real cause for concern. But before giving out any personal identifying information, hang up and call the company back to make sure it’s legit. Sometimes scammers pose as legitimate operations to gain your trust.

How do I know if they’re legit or a scam?

Consider following questions if you’re not sure whether you’re speaking to a reputable debt collector:

  • Who’s calling? Take into consideration the company the caller works for, their contact information and where the debt originally came from. If they can’t give you that information or you don’t recognize the names of any of the companies mentioned, you might be talking to a debt collection scammer.
  • Why are they calling? Even if you have an account with the creditor the caller mentions, ask for more details. If you can log in online and check to verify the information they’re giving you, do so before continuing the conversation.
  • Are they speaking fast? One telltale sign of a scammer is that they don’t let you get a word in. If you’re talking to someone who won’t answer your questions or is speaking in a threatening manner, hang up.
  • Are they asking me about personal information? Many legit companies won’t ask for information like your Social Security number, date of birth or credit account numbers over the phone — especially if it’s your first point of contact.
  • Can they provide a validation notice? Collectors are legally required to provide a validation notice saying how much you owe within five days of calling you. You can request validation or verification of the debt to make sure it’s legitimate and that you’re the person the collection agency is actually looking for.
  • Are they threatening me with jail? It’s illegal for debt collectors to threaten borrowers with jail time. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends hanging up and reporting anyone who does.

Afterwards, consider checking your credit report and credit accounts to make sure none of your bills are actually in collections. If you notice a problem or an error, reach out to your creditors as soon as possible. Or if your account really is in collections, reach out to the debt collection company.

Be wary of local numbers

In addition to the area codes listed above, you might have gotten debt collector calls from a number that looks a lot like yours. The FTC calls this neighbor spoofing, where a scammer uses technology to make it look like up to the first six digits of your phone number.

The idea is that you’ll be more likely to answer if you think it’s someone in your area. Typically, it’s not. If you get a call from a number suspiciously like yours, you might want to let it go to voicemail.

How do I stop these numbers from calling me?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to absolutely stop receiving these calls. However, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the number of debt collector scam calls you receive.

Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry

You can register your phone to block all telemarketing calls at or by calling 888-382-1222. While it won’t block calls from companies that use number mimicking software, it’s illegal for telemarketers to contact you.

Use a call blocking app

Apps like Robokiller go a step further than the Do Not Call Registry by preventing numbers that appear to be spam from coming through. Some even have recordings you can play to waste spam callers’ time. But it’s not always free — you might have to pay a monthly or annual fee to use the service.

Report to the FTC

You can file a report against fake debt collectors to the FTC through its website. This might not prevent you from getting spam calls directly. But reporting these callers to the FTC gives them data they can use to fight fake debt collectors. You might not see results right away, but it could help us all fight spam and scam callers in the long run.

Before you sign up with a debt relief company

Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.

Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:

  • Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
  • Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.

Top 10 states for fraudulent phone calls

You might want to be extra cautious of scam callers if you live in one of these states. They have the highest volume of complaints about telemarketing scams, according to the FTC.

  • West Virginia
  • Nevada
  • Montana
  • Arizona
  • Oregon
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico
  • Florida
  • Minnesota
  • Washington

Bottom line

Fake debt collectors might be one of the most common types of scam callers. But you can avoid them by letting calls from suspicious area codes go to voicemail and using call blocking apps. Avoid giving out information to anyone calling from an unknown number and verify that the company is legit.

And if you actually do have bills in collections? Check out our guide to debt relief to learn about your options.

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