A debt collection telephone scam in West Virginia is targeting consumers by summoning them to court over unpaid credit card accounts - debt that in most cases apparently does not exist.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey stated Tuesday that the department's Consumer Protection Division has received complaints about such calls, including one from a resident whose husband was deployed with the military when the alleged credit card had been opened.

"These types of scams are troubling because these callers sometimes prey on consumers who may already be in dire financial straits, and they scare them into handing over money or personal information," Morrisey said in a statement. "It’s important to remember that any debt collection company must adhere to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and they cannot threaten to put you in prison over credit card debt."

While there are various ways to spot phony collection agencies, the most obvious is that you don’t have any outstanding debt to the company the callers claim to represent.

Also, if the caller refuses to provide a written notification of the debt’s validity or demands immediate payment through a pre-paid debit card or money transfer to prevent immediate arrest, it’s likely a scam, Morrisey's office warned.

"It’s important that if you do receive one of these calls, you do not panic," Morrisey said. "Get as much information as you can from the caller and then report the call to law enforcement and our Consumer Protection Division."

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