I can tell you from personal experience: These phone fraudsters are good.
I’d just started writing a new article for CreditCards.com on tax scams and fraud when my phone rang.
As a rule, I don’t answer my phone unless I recognize the name or number on caller ID. I live in Florida, so when caller ID showed the call was from Miami, I wondered whether one of my friends from South Florida was on the phone.
If it’s someone I know, I’ll grab the phone as they start to leave a message.
Instead I heard this when the answering machine picked up:
“Hello, this is Amy O’Neil with the private servicing division of Accufile. I am calling in regards to a formal complaint that requires your immediate attention. I have documents that are scheduled to be delivered to your residence or place of employment. We will only make two attempts to deliver these documents. Please have valid identification to ensure the proper delivery of the documentation. If you or your attorney has any questions regarding this matter, you can contact our client directly at 800-340-5219. Again, that’s 800-340-5219.”
I admit, my heart skipped a beat when I heard the words “formal complaint” and “attorney,” and I started to rack my brain, trying to figure out what the complaint might be regarding.
Then I searched the Web for Accufile. There’s a legitimate company called AccuFile involved with libraries and research, so that made no sense. Then I searched the number that came up on caller ID — 786-522-1527 — as well as the 1-800 callback number.
I quickly found there were plenty of complaints about dear ol’ Amy O’Neil and her friends at Accufile. (Look her up in a search engine: Whether you spell it as Amy O’Neill or Amy O’Neal, they’re the same fraud.)
Many people received the same call I did, implying they were facing legal action. Others were told the caller was from T&H Financial, which was trying to collect a years-old debt. Some were told the sheriff’s office was heading their way to arrest them. In some cases the caller used the person’s name, or had their Social Security number or other personal information.
The calls came from various phone numbers and had various callback numbers.
On one forum, a woman last year reported the company claimed it was trying to collect on a Sprint bill from 2003. They told her if she didn’t pay up she’d owe $2,500 in court costs, but if she paid immediately it would cost $250.
I spoke to John Breyault, a vice president at the National Consumers League (NCL). NCL runs the website Fraud.org, which fields fraud and scam complaints. Breyault says Accufile and Amy seem to be running a “refund and recovery” scam.
“The predominant version of the refund and recovery scams involved a fraudster contacting consumers claiming to be collecting unpaid debts. If consumers questioned the debt, they reported frequently being threatened with jail time, legal action, or other consequences,” says a recently released report from Fraud.org.
Those kinds of scams were the fastest-growing type of telemarketing scam the past two years, according to Fraud.org. They represented 10 percent of the more than 10,000 complaints filed at Fraud.org last year.
And the phone is fraudsters’ favorite way to make contact. More than 40 percent of the complaints filed at Fraud.org involved phone fraud.
Refund and recovery scams are aimed at getting cash out of you. “It’s all an effort to try to get you to pay now without doing your due diligence,” Breyault says.
Most scammers will try to get you to send money via wire transfer or a prepaid card.
If someone says you owe them money, Breyaul recommends you tell them to put the request in writing. Never send immediate payment.
In most cases your best bet is to ignore the calls and report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“If you ever respond to the call and call back, they know they’ve got a live one on the line,” Breyault says. They’ll continue to call you or sell your information to their buddies in the cybercriminal world.
“If you do pay, chances are they’re going to find another reason you owe money,” and hit you up again and again, he says.
I don’t want to be on the fraudsters’ short list of phone numbers to call, so I’ve come up with ways to make sure I’m not a phone scam victim.