(WMC TV) - A poor economy is rich for scams, especially one in which the bad guys pose as a collection agency.
U.S. postal inspectors busted Timothy Arent and an unidentified accomplice under hidden camera at an undisclosed post office. Inspectors said the two were picking up checks from people who thought they were paying off a debt.
Inspectors said Arent and his buddy were actually scamming those people, including a couple we'll call "Chris" and "Erin" in an elaborate debt collection scheme.
"I got a call on my cell phone from a police officer who said he had a bench warrant for my arrest if I didn't call a certain law firm within the hour to pay an unpaid debt," said "Chris."
The so-called police officer was Arent.
Inspectors said Arent illegally obtained lists of people who recently paid off debts. He would then call them and intimidate them into thinking they owed more.
"They had paid their bills," said Postal Inspector Shelley Carosella, "and they were targeted because they had demonstrated the ability to pay."
Under federal law, debt collectors -- real or fake -- are prohibited from saying you will be arrested if you don't pay your debt.
Debt collectors cannot lie or falsely claim they are either a law enforcement officer or an attorney.
They also cannot harass or abuse consumers, regardless of the amount of debt.
If you are harassed by a debt collector -- AND YOU DO NOT OWE THE DEBT -- get the collection agency's name and address, then send it my "drop dead" collection letter.
Here's the 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 (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 federal law, the agency CANNOT continue to contact you if you send them this letter. If it does continue to harass you, it will be subject to a civil lawsuit and penalties. Make sure you send it CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED.
Inspectors eventually arrested and charged Arent. He's serving a 12-year prison sentence.