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A local woman recently was the target of a debt collector scam that included harassing phone calls over the course of three days, threats of litigation and demands for payment of a non-existent debt.
Jackie Haga said her mother became so distraught that she actually wrote the scammer a check, but the bank was able to stop payment.
Now, Haga wants to warn others about the scam, especially if they are on a fixed income or elderly.
Haga's mother received a call from a company calling itself Asset Recovery Associates. The caller, who identified himself as “Zach Thomas,” told Haga's mother that she had a debt that needed to be taken care of — a loan from CitiFinancial dating back to 1995.
Thomas told her that she had until 1 p.m. the next day to settle the matter or ARA would take legal action against her.
“My mother at this time did not know what was going on,” Haga said. “She was totally confused and also very upset.”
That evening, Haga called ARA. “Thomas” was unavailable, but she was referred to a man who called himself “Joseph Turner.”
Haga was immediately suspicious. “Would you believe all I had to do to get information about this so-called debt on my mother was to give him her phone number?”
“Turner” explained that the debt was $ 14,765, but ARA would settle for $ 8,830.48.
“I did not know at this time, but even this amount was negotiable,” Haga said. “It was told to my mother, the night before, that they would settle for $830. While I was speaking to Mr. Turner, he explained to me that the original amount of the so-called debt was $4,448.”
Haga told her mother what “Turner” said and tried to calm her down. She suggested her mother talk to CitiFinancial.
The next day, CitiFinancial told Haga's mother that they had no information about a debt she owed.
CitiFinancial called ARA and spoke with “Thomas,” who would not give them any information about the debt. In fact, he accused them of trying to scam him.
“The lady at CitiFinancial just hung up on him,” Haga said.
Later that day, Haga's mother went to her bank and asked them to pull a credit report. It showed no record of a debt, but the report did show that some company had made a hit on her credit report that same day.
Also, the bank told her that someone had called about her mother's account.
Haga said she continued trying to convince her mother this was a scam, and showed her a “rip-off report” on ARA issued by the Better Business Bureau.
“This company has different addresses and phone numbers,” Haga said. “I went to their [website] homepage and a customer service page that had a phone number and that was it. They had other pages, but they were all under construction.
In the meantime, “Zach Thomas” from ARA had called again, this time saying the debt was a car loan from 1993, signed by both Haga's mother and father.
“I hate to tell him this, but if he had my dad's signature from 1993, this was impossible,” Haga said. “My father passed away in March of 1993. It was also stated from Mr. Thomas that my current stepfather was a reference to the loan. My mother did not meet my stepfather until 1995. Figure this one out.”
Haga's mother again asked for ARA to send the information to her, and Thomas told her “he would not [provide any information] until they went to court,” Haga said.
“The next day my mother broke down from the pressure she was under,” Haga said. “My mother is 68 years old and her health is not good. She had not eaten in these past days or slept well, worried about what was going on.”
Haga's mother talked to “Thomas” again, and was told this time the debt was not a car loan, but for a credit card she and her father had.
“She just wanted this to stop, so she gave him a check over the phone for $1,500,” Haga said.
The next morning, Haga's mother and stepfather talked to a lawyer. He advised them about what was going on and told them to have the bank put a stop on the check.
The attorney told her to refer any phone calls from ARA to him.
“As far as we know right now, nothing has been taken from my mom's account,” Haga said. “I have also told her to close her existing account and to open another one.”
Haga said she isn't done with the scammers. “This is just the beginning. I want everyone who reads this to pass it on to everyone that you know.”