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Refunds sent to scam victims of fake debt collectors, but experts warn illegal collection schemes are ongoing

Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 7:53 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Checks are in the mail to pay back thousands of people across the country who lost money to a fake debt collecting scam. Hundreds of the victims who will be receiving money are right here in Ohio.

Our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad explained how the Federal Trade Commission was able to get four million dollars in funds back to people.

Jon Miller Steiger with the FTC says the fake debt collection calls went out more than five years ago in 2015 and 2016.

“We sued these guys in federal court and we were able to get full refunds for people that they dealt with,” he said.

He says the refunds are made of money coming directly from the debt collectors.

Steiger says in a case they call the Stark Law, debt collectors illegally collected an average of $375 from their victims.

You can see on the agency’s interactive map that 342 of the victims were Ohioans.

“These guys were collecting debt that didn’t exist, what we call phantom debt,” Steiger said.

Checks are in the mail to pay back thousands of people across the country who lost money to a fake debt collecting scam....

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Monday, April 26, 2021

The good news is of course that the money is headed back to Ohioans.

The bad news is, experts say there are still similar scams going on and you need to protect yourself.

“You should be skeptical when someone calls and says that you owe money,” Steiger said.

Steiger says legitimate debt collectors are not allowed to make abusive calls including threats to have police arrest you.

“When you owe a private debt you are not breaking the law if you don’t pay it back right away,” he said.

He says the bad guys will try to rush you, but just remember not to panic if you get a call from someone saying you owe money.

“You will always have time to investigate a debt,” he said.

It’s also important to realize that victims receiving refunds in the Stark Law case are very lucky.

Steiger says there’s never a guarantee that you will get your money back from a scam, and even if you do, it clearly takes years and years.

“Without a doubt, the best thing you can do is protect yourself and your family from paying money to these schemes in the first place,” Steiger said.

The FTC says those who receive checks should deposit or cash their checks within 90 days, as indicated on the check. The FTC never requires people to pay money or provide account information to cash a refund check.

Recipients who have questions about the redress payments, or who did not receive a payment but believe they are eligible should contact the refund administrator, Epiq, at 800-858-3430.

You can learn more about consumer topics and report scams, fraud, and bad business practices online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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