The North Carolina Attorney General shut down payday lending through storefront locations in this state several years ago but some overseas and tribal payday lenders continue to make loans online. To further complicate matters, people who apply for a payday loan online, or even request information, can find themselves targeted by scammers.

Some people who merely visit a payday loan website and provide their phone number or email address are being targeted.

Phony debt collectors call and email, insisting that the consumer owes money. They harass and threaten the consumer, and may even claim to be with law enforcement or the government. They’re hoping the consumer will pay just to make the calls stop.

In the recent past, scammers have used the names of reputable companies to get consumers to respond to the threats. Now it seems they have crossed into the arena of state and federal agencies.

A recent client appeared in the Fort Bragg Legal Assistance Office with what appeared to be letters from a United States District Court judge and the North Carolina Attorney General. The letters were on what purported to be letterheads of each office and contained signatures and titles of these offices at the bottom. Between the letterhead and signature block appeared a collection letter, complete with threats that a “doorstep collector (is) being instructed to visit your property” as well as threats of legal action and further increases in charges.

This client called the telephone number provided in the letter, which was an out of state area code, and was told the person was an attorney general from another state. The client was then instructed to go to the store to purchase green dot cards to send in for payment.

This case has many red flags to be aware of.

First, government agencies, like the attorney general, the IRS, and most certainly federal court judges, do not send letters to individuals trying to collect a debt on behalf of a different individual or entity. (If you owe a state or federal agency a debt, you may receive a letter from someone collecting on behalf of the state or federal agency, but you can confirm whether this is a valid debt or not.)

Upon closer review, these scams often list the correct address of the agency in case you pull it up online, but list a different telephone number, for example, one that is an out of state area code.

They also seem to frequently have misspellings and bad grammar, although that is not a guarantee. And it is a big clue when they misspell the name of the individual, for example in this case, Attorney General Roy Cooper was spelled Roy Coopper. Most of us do not frequently misspell our own names.

In addition to the above, there were two additional tip-offs in this case.

First, when the telephone number was contacted, the individual identified themselves as an attorney general in another state. Other states do not “collect” debts for individuals or companies in this manner. Scammers often set up untraceable phone numbers that are actually being monitored from somewhere overseas.

Second, the scammers instructed the consumer to make payment in an untraceable manner, for example, green dot/gift cards or non-bank wire transfer payments. Most legitimate collection attempts will want to document the method of payment with a check or credit card to prove the transaction.

Taking out a payday loan is always a bad idea and now it’s even riskier. Don’t let anyone bully or intimidate you into paying money you don’t owe. There are laws that control legitimate debt collection practices. Report debt collection scams to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a consumer complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.

If you have further questions regarding consumer protection issues and would like to speak to an attorney, please call the XVIII Airborne Corps Legal Assistance Office for an appointment at 396-0396/6113.