A debt collection scam reported in Miami-Dade County, Fla. involves e-mails that appear to come from the state attorney's office. The identities of the people behind the scam are unknown but the operation has been linked to a phone account in Thailand, according to prosecutors, and the e-mails may have originated in Eastern Europe or India, making it unlikely that U.S. law enforcement will be able to arrest anyone or refund lost money.
The tactics include threats of arrest and the use of a law firm called "Morgan & Associates." In one e-mail sent to a Miami-Dade resident, a person identifying himself as "Joseph Foster" states that $750 is due to be paid to "Cash Advance Inc."
The e-mail includes legal jargon and court case numbers and threatens to notify employers and press legal charges. It states that the debt could be raised to more than $6,000 if the money is not paid. The e-mail also is filled with grammar and spelling mistakes.
The state attorneys office cautioned consumers it never communicates important information by e-mail and would never be involved in debt collection. The office recommends that consumers always ask for documentation to prove a debt exists.
Law enforcement agencies regularly caution consumers about paying bogus debts to callers or e-mailers.
In one of the higher profile cases in recent years, federal authorities in April 2012 stopped an operation that collected more than $5 million in phony debts, Collections & Credit Risk reported, with most of the money sent to India.
The scheme involved more than 2.7 million calls to at least 600,000 different phone numbers nationwide, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The callers claimed to be federal agents but were based in call centers in India.
Kirit Patel, of Tracy, Calif., and two companies he controlled were charged with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A federal grand jury in Sacramento, Calif. later charged Patel, 68 at the time, with 21 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud for the illegal collection scheme.