MEMPHIS (WMC-TV) - Mistaken identity or stolen identity, it doesn't matter.
A debt collector hounding you on the phone shouldn't have your Social Security number. He shouldn't intimidate you with the threat of a sheriff's deputy on your doorstep, either.
But the one that called Clay Layton did.
"They threatened me...'We're coming after you with everything we've got,'" he said.
A voice message left on Layton's answering machine said Layton is "...currently the subject of an on-going investigation" of an unpaid debt.
The caller accurately cited the last four digits of Layton's Social Security number, then said if Layton did not call to settle the debt, it could result in "...a summons issued at your residence."
The Action News 5 Investigators will not identify the name of the company Layton's mystery caller represents because it's too close to the name of a legitimate law firm in Massachusetts.
But after tracing the number left on Layton's answering machine, Action News 5 discovered it's registered to a debt mediation firm in Amherst, New York.
Several people have blogged about the firm's calls on an online complaint forum. Many alleged the calls involved threats and intimidation, even if the people who received the calls don't actually owe the debt.
Some said the caller is usually a "Mr. Anthony" who "...sounds a little suspicious."
We called the number -- and got "Mr. Anthony" (James Anthony, who identified himself as a "supervisor) -- on the line.
He told us his firm has Layton's Social Security number because Layton is delinquent on an Internet "pay-day" loan from cashcentral.com for $1,380. Anthony said Layton took out the loan in 2006 while he was a student at Concord University in West Virginia.
Layton never was a student at Concord University.
In 2006, he was 18, fresh out of high school and living with his father in Houston.
"No job. No debt or assets. Nothing," he said. "I do not owe this debt."
But when Layton called the number left on his machine, he said the person who took his call recited his entire Social Security number and insisted he pay the debt, or he will be sued.
"It's going to come from a Shelby County Sheriff's deputy, and it's going to be delivered on your doorstep," Layton described.
Randy Hutchinson, president of The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, said at worst, someone has stolen Layton's identity. But a check of his credit report revealed there are no unusual accounts, including the alleged "pay-day" loan.
Hutchinson said at best, it's a legitimate debt collector with a bad case of mistaken identity and unethical solicitation practices. He said even so, the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act requires collection agencies to provide written proof of a consumer's delinquent debt.
"They are required (to provide written proof)," Hutchinson said. "There are some time frames and steps they have to follow. They have to tell you exactly what the debt is, what the time frame was, then who the original creditor was.
"It is also illegal for them to threaten to arrest you."
"We don't send sheriffs to come out and look for you," insisted Anthony.
He told us his firm has not provided Layton written proof of his debt because it does not have an accurate physical address for him.
"If he wants to give us a call, I am more than glad to send him any documentation which he seeks," offered Anthony.
"I ain't giving them nothing," replied Layton.
Here's what you should do if you are solicited by a debt collector AND YOU DO NOT OWE THE DEBT IN QUESTION:
* If the caller reveals an account number or your Social Security number, pull a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) IMMEDIATELY after the phone call. Federal law entitles you to one free report each year from each of the bureaus. You can go to each of their sites by name or link to them from www.annualcreditreport.com.
* DO NOT NEGOTIATE. Immediately request written proof of the debt and invoke the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by name.
* If the caller is persistent or argumentative, request his/her company's name and address. If the caller will not comply, hang up.
If the caller does provide the name and address, send the company via certified mail a "drop dead collection letter" invoking the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. Use this template:
(NAME OF AGENCY)
(ADDRESS OF AGENCY)
(CITY, STATE, ZIPCODE)
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., this letter serves notice that you CEASE & DESIST any further contact with me in regards to the billing of (CREDITOR'S NAME), (ACCOUNT NUMBER).
I do not owe the debt in connection with that account. Let it be understood that any further contact from you regarding this account will result in legal action.
(YOUR NAME … INCLUDE SIGNATURE ABOVE)
Under the federal law, the agency cannot contact you anymore if you send them this letter. If it does continue to harass you, it will be subject to civil penalties.
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