New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a consumer alert based on complaints received by his office from consumers who were recently contacted by scam artists posing as an attorney from the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
The consumers received a notice, written on doctored New York State Attorney General letterhead, that claimed to be a “District Court Final Warning” letter. The notice uses confusing legalese to give the impression that the Attorney General is investigating the consumer for the failure to pay a past due debt. These false claims may include “Collateral Check Fraud,” “Theft by Deception,” and “Violation of Banking Regulations.”
The letters also threaten criminal action and arrest if the debts are not paid.
This alert comes just one week after consumers reported receiving unsolicited phone calls from a scammer posing as an attorney from the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
“Now more than ever, New Yorkers must be on guard when it comes to suspicious notices regarding debt collection or pending litigation: We have recently seen an uptick in the number of consumers targeted by scammers impersonating attorneys from my office,” said Schneiderman. “Keep in mind that government agencies will never threaten you harm over failure to pay a debt and will never solicit personal information over the phone. If you believe you have been contacted by a fraudster posing as a government official, please report it immediately so that we can bring these scammers to justice.”
Scammers are reportedly contacting consumers by letter, often received as a PDF attachment to an email, which appears to be signed by an actual New York attorney. The letter sometimes pressures the consumer into sending payments via “FTC regulated vouchers” or PayPal. The letter also directs consumers to call a New York number with a 347 or 646 area code or another number that appears to be based in another state. Yet these numbers may actually connect consumers to someone outside of the United States.
Consumers who have called those numbers have been verbally threatened with arrest, the loss of their job, or worse. In at least one case, the consumer was told to go to another location and call for additional instructions on how to repay the fake debt. The letter may also contain a phony email address at the New York State Department of Financial Services, such as email@example.com, or a fake email for another government agency, and use a return address of the New York Civil courts.
Last week, Attorney General Schneiderman issued an alert regarding a separate scammer falsely purporting to be Attorney Sam Wilson from the Attorney General’s Office in order to threaten consumers with a lawsuit and possible arrest. The scammer instructed consumers to call 347-779-0198, a number that is associated with other phone scams nationwide, to communicate about the litigation.
Attorney General Schneiderman is warning the public to be wary of threatening debt collection notices that appear to be from his office, or from any government agency or official. In addition, he is urging New Yorkers to be vigilant consumers and to report instances of fraud to his office. Consumers who believe they have been victims of any debt collection scams are urged to file complaints or call 1-800-771-7755.
The Attorney General’s Office also offered the following tips to help consumers avoid government imposter debt collection scams:
- Legitimate government agencies will never threaten arrest, job loss, or any other harm for failure to pay a debt;
- If you owe money, you should receive a notice in writing that identifies the debt collection agency, the amount of the debt, and the name of the original creditor. The notice should also provide you with an opportunity to dispute the debt;
- Do not call the phone numbers on any notice that appears to be suspicious. Hang up on suspicious phone calls you receive and do not provide an unknown caller with personal financial or other sensitive information;
- If you receive unsolicited email from an address you do not recognize, do not reply, open any attachments, or visit any links associated with the email.