Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch today warned consumers about a collection scam involving individuals impersonating law enforcement officials, including claiming an affiliation with the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) Unit.

"These predators most often allege that they are attempting to collect a debt related to an Internet payday loan obtained by the consumer that was never repaid. Consumers reporting incidents to our Consumer Protection Unit say that they have never obtained such a loan or that they paid off the loan years ago," Lynch said in a news release. "The scam artists have most recently identified themselves as representatives of our BCI Unit, but they may be claiming additional phony ties to law enforcement."

When questioned, the individual making the phone call refuses to disclose the full name or address of the collection agency he supposedly represents. Lynch warned that, in some cases, the scammers have been able to provide consumers with information such as the consumer's Social Security number, home address, e-mail address and names of family members.

"Since the callers are able to provide valid personal information, consumers may become confused and believe that they are being contacted in regard to a legitimate debt," Lynch said in the news release. "Law enforcement is not in the business of debt collection."

If the initial collection attempt is unsuccessful, the scammers at times make repeated calls, even months later, identifying themselves as law enforcement officers or officers of the court. Often, they threaten victims with arrest for fraud or some other fictitious crime unless the consumer agrees to immediately wire money via Western Union. The scammers then try to frighten and confuse consumers into compliance by using legal terms or by stating that a lawsuit has been filed against the consumer, or is in the process of being filed.

Lynch also said that his Consumer Protection Unit has received information that points to the scammers' use of "spoofed numbers" in their attempt to collect money from innocent victims.

"We received information from a consumer that the number on the caller ID appeared to be a North Providence number," Lynch said. "But further research showed that the call did not originate from Rhode Island and, in fact, possibly was made from outside the United States."

Lynch said that among the many calls his office is receiving on this particular scam is one in which a consumer asked to speak with the BCI Unit about an outstanding debt. According to the caller, a person claiming to be from the BCI Unit had repeatedly called her, both at home and at work. When the consumer asked for validation of the debt and a physical address to which to send correspondence, the scammer provided her with the address of the Attorney General's Office.

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