Scammers are using the name of prominent Twin Cities attorney Jeff Anderson in a scheme to collect money from unsuspecting consumers.
The Minnesota Commerce Department issued a warning about the scam Monday, saying the fake debt collectors are sending threatening communications via phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and even Facebook postings, trying to scare consumers into sending them money.
They all appear to come from the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, which is well known nationally for representing victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Some of the messages say the recipient has a debt that must be paid immediately. Others say the recipient is the subject of a lawsuit related to financial fraud.
"There is no debt or lawsuit, and the law firm has nothing to do with these communications," said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman in the news release.
The fake letters look official, even including the real law firm’s logo, according to Rothman.
But the communications include a nonexistent address in Washington, DC, and a phone number with a 202 (Washington, DC) area code. The number is likely “spoofed,” meaning the actual number is different, he said.
The Commerce Department and other agencies are trying to track down the scammers.
This case is another variation on "phantom" debt collection scams, which usually involve threats and intimidation to pressure consumers into sending money immediately.
Beware of these tactics
The department has several tips to protect yourself against similar scams:
- Be suspicious of anyone who asks you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay a debt. There is no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to send money that way.
- Ask the caller for his or her name, company, street address and phone number. If the caller refuses, the call is not legitimate.
- Research and verify any contact information given to you. For example, if you are told to go to a specific website, it could be fake. Instead of going directly to the website, search for it on Google and see if it is legitimate.
- Do not reply to emails, texts or Facebook postings from debt collectors. A legitimate debt collection business would not contact you in that manner.
- Ask for written proof of the debt, including a written “validation notice” required by federal law. The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and information about the consumer’s rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
- Do not provide or confirm any Social Security, bank, credit card or other personal information. Fake debt collectors are also in the identity theft business.
Report suspected fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or 877-382-4357. You should also contact the Minnesota Commerce Department’s Consumer Services Center by email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602 (Greater Minnesota).