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Miami-Dade State Attorney warns of debt collection scam

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Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is warning residents about a recent e-mail scam filled with legal-sounding jargon - but with notable grammar and spelling mistakes - threatening the arrest of the recipient if they do not send $750 immediately in order to pay off an alleged debt, according to public information officer Ed Griffith on Tuesday.

The bogus e-mails contained a fake court case number, threaten an impending arrest and attempt to acquire valid credit card information from consumers.

“I’m outraged that thieves would hope to use the prosecutor’s office as a tool to get cash from terrified victims,” Fernandez Rundle stated. “We have already spoken to victims who almost fell for this scheme. Only luck and good judgment saved them.”

According to Fernandez Rundle, the scammers use the false identity of “attorney” Joseph Foster from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Inclusion of an official agency such as the state attorney’s office and the use of a fake name is a recent revision of e-mail and phone scams that include threats of arrest to collect debt that consumers do not owe.

Preliminary investigation reveals that the false e-mails may have originated in Thailand, making it unlikely that U.S. law enforcement will be able to arrest the scammers or get a return of lost monies, according to the state attorney’s office.

Victims in the Miami-Dade debt collection scam have reported that the fake debt collectors maintained a familiarity with their personal information and have additionally associated themselves with the “Morgan & Associates” law firm.

Return calls to a telephone number contained in the e-mails reveal possible use of VOIP technology. These phone numbers have since been disconnected.

In similar scams, fake debt collectors speak English with a foreign accent and call themselves “Affidavit Consolidation Services,” “Cash Advance Inc.,” “Criminal Bureau of Identity,” “DNR Recovery,” “U.S. National Bank,” “US Justice Department/Payday Loan Division,” “Federal Investigation Bureau,” “United Legal Processing” and other phony names.

The fake collectors refuse to disclose their real names or addresses and are believed to be operating from homes, automobiles, and foreign countries. As these scammers have kept themselves well hidden, law enforcement authorities have been unsuccessful in locating or shutting them down.

Fake debt collectors typically pose as lawyers, law enforcement officers, investigators, and bankers while attempting to collect on phony debt. They threaten consumers with immediate arrest for “bank fraud” or other crimes unless a credit card number is provided or funds wired immediately. They scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legal phrases such as “We are downloading warrants against you” or “We are filing an affidavit against you.” Consumers that do not immediately fall for the scam are warned, “Only God can help you now.”

Fake debt collectors almost always call consumers at work - sometimes several times a day - advising their supervisors, “Your employee has committed fraud and is about to be arrested.” Such threats have been unsettling to consumers and employers. Because the scammers make a special point of calling at work, employers should realize that their employee is an innocent victim of a criminal enterprise and cannot stop the calls voluntarily.

According to Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office never communicates important information via e-mail and would never be involved in a debt collection action. The office strongly recommends that consumers never electronically respond to situations that demand immediate action with threats of punishment or even open unsolicited e-mails from unfamiliar senders. Consumers should also ask for documentation that proves an alleged debt exists.

“More potential victims are calling our office now that this scam has become public,” Ed Griffith, public information officer, told Examiner. “A new twist on an old scam, consumers should be vigilant and not provide personal information or credit card numbers to anyone they haven’t first contacted themselves.”

For more information on this debt collection scam or to report possible fraud, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office can be contacted through their Cyber Crimes Unit at (305) 547-0837.

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As a nationally recognized credit repair and identity theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

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