PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s a stressful time as Americans face the fear of catching COVID-19 while struggling to pay bills and prioritizing how to spend their money.
As of Tuesday, nearly 153,000 Rhode Islanders were out of work.
To make matters worse, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that debt collection scams are on the rise. Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Paula Fleming said the BBB’s Scam Tracker received almost 17,000 reports of fraud last year.
“The scammer calls and tells you that they work for a loan company or a law firm or some cases even a government agency, which instills fear,” she said.
Fleming suggests not taking calls from someone seeking money and claiming to be from one of those agencies.
“If the claim is saying they’re collecting an overdue payment, they may make threats actually to sue you or have wages garnished, if that’s possible, or even someone coming to your home and arresting you,” she explained. “People are acting out of fear.”
If you receive one of these calls, Fleming warned not to give out any credit card or Social Security information.
“You have to be cautious on who you are providing information to over the phone,” she added.
Fleming also said to be wary of calls or emails promising quick ways to earn money or relieve debt.
“That is another area where people have to protect themselves,” she said.
In the meantime, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha noted there’s a legal process that debt collectors need to go through.
“There are rules you have to follow, regulations you have to follow,” he said. “When you ignore those rules, when you’re collecting the debt unlawfully, that can be an unfair debt collection practice and that can lead to some civil sanctions.”
“One of the things that I asked the consumer unit to do when I took office was if we can answer a question and help, we need to do that, obviously, but if we can’t, we need to find an agency that can,” he said. “We’re not just going to give a consumer a number and to tell them to call someone at a state agency. We will make sure there’s a connection there to follow up on.”