Saturday, June 20, 2015

Consumer Alert -- New Kind of Scam

We've all received the phishing emails going around -- "your account with XYZ Bank has been frozen due to unusual activity -- click here fore more information."  Variants include purchase confirmations from ABC company for high-end items, unsolicited resumes from job-seekers, and many other enticements to get you interested -- or alarmed -- enough to follow a link or open an attachment.  They are often easily identified for what they are, because you've never had an account with XYZ Bank, or never ordered anything from ABC company.  (Or perhaps that's the draw, though -- playing on a fear of identity theft and someone else using your name to run up bills?)  However, I've become aware of a new type of scam showing up in email boxes, which I suspect is related to bankruptcy filings.

The hallmark of these new scam emails is their uncanny factual accuracy.  The messages contain an accurate name, last four digits of the recipient's social security number, employer's name, and a legitimate creditor and amount -- one that has been listed is a recent bankruptcy filing.  The amount of accurate information contained in these emails certainly lends to their authenticity, but they most assuredly are not.

I have been contacted by two separate bankruptcy clients who have received emails such as these within the past month, shortly after discharge of their bankruptcy.  Each were aware that creditors cannot continue collection activities on discharged debt, and contacted me with their concerns.  After reviewing the offending messages, I surmised that the scammers must have harvested information from the public filings contained on the bankruptcy case dockets.  Like most court proceedings, bankruptcy courts are open to the public, which is one reason why all filings must contain no more than the last four digits of a debtor's social number. 

But as with most email scams, the giveaway is in the language.  Here is a short example:

"We have sent you this warning notification about legal proceedings on December 8th, 2014 but you failed to respond us back on time. Now it's high time, if you failed to respond us in next 4 HOURS, then we will register this case in court house. Consider this as a final warning. And we will email/fax this issue to your current employer to make sure they take strict actions against you. Your salary wages will be garnished. This includes your Social Security/ Disability Benefits if you get from government."

The "notice" fails completely as a legally accurate threat -- or as a primer in English.

The takeaway from this is that, while bankruptcy remains the most certain method of ridding oneself of oppressive and overwhelming debt, the transparency of the process can lead to abuse by illegitimate collection activity.  You should know that past creditors may not attempt to collect on discharged debt.  If you receive one of these emails from an alleged creditor, you should contact your bankruptcy attorney for guidance.


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