If you want to turn the tables on someone who calls on the phone who you suspect is a scam artist, tell the caller that you are recording the conversation. Better yet, wait until after the pitch is complete before making your announcement.
That’s a suggestion we received last week from William Lund, superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. He suggested that, at the very least, it would bring the call to a rapid end. At best, it might provide incriminating information that could help authorities track down and prosecute telephone fraud artists.
“Recordings are the only things that make these collectors nervous,” Lund told us. He said a recording negates charges of “my word against yours.” Also, it is far more reliable than one’s memory which could be clouded by a less-than-friendly discussion.
Lund said recording could be useful in cases where a caller threatens legal action to force a Maine consumer to hand over money, claiming the consumer has not paid an outstanding debt. He said a threat of legal action is almost always an empty one, since authorities will not act on complaints from unlicensed, out-of-state payday lenders. In civil court, such firms must be represented by a local company employee (there are none) or an attorney. Not many lawyers will stand up to represent unlicensed, out-of-state payday lenders.
On that point, Lund says Maine law is clear. If a lender is not licensed to do business in Maine, that lender cannot collect interest on a loan. While that provision of the law is not a loophole to avoid paying back a legitimate debt, Lund said, “Neither should Maine residents be scared by illegal phone calls.”
Superintendent Lund is not a fan of internet-based lenders. He said they collect too much personal information when making loans, including data on a borrower’s workplace and family members. “All this information is used — and misused — in the collection process,” he said, adding that a borrower’s stress level can soar through threats of disrupting a workplace or pestering elderly parents.
Lund suggested turning the process around on unlicensed collectors. As soon as they state their business, tell them you’re recording the call. Maine law states that recording calls is legal, as long as one party knows the recording is taking place, so you don’t have to tell the caller right away. If you catch the caller violating the law and he or she slams down the phone, you can stay on long enough to identify yourself for the recording and note the time and date; you’ll have a piece of evidence that speaks for itself.
Scammers often use automated calls to generate lists of working phone numbers. You might be urged to press a number to prevent further calls, but that’s just part of the scam; pressing a button just verifies that the scammer has reached a working number. If you don’t want to record the call, don’t press anything; just hang up.
Recording calls won’t make them stop all at once. You can help by reporting the number you see on caller ID. Even though many of those numbers are “spoofed,” Federal Trade Commission regulators say that if they get enough reports they can trace certain calls. File complaints at www.ftc.gov/complaint. See who’s licensed to make collections in Maine and get other information about your credit at the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (www.credit.maine.gov).
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.