Are public records helping scammers?

Posted at 7:59 PM, Aug 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-21 10:26:30-04

There is a lot of personal information about us that is just floating around cyberspace. Now it seems like scammers have figured out a way to use that against us.

Several viewers let us know they've received an email claiming they owe money after taking out loans from cash advance companies. They have the usual instructions to wire money, or face court cases, garnishment or worse.  That's typical language from a scammer who's trying to scare victims into handing over money. 

What is odd and down right scary about the recent scam is that the emails have personal information about the recipient. Some include first and last names, others include physical, email and IP addresses. In a particularly concerning email, the last four digits of the recipient's social security number was included.

These are not garden variety scams. They are designed to have enough information about you to make you believe that you actually owe the debt, and they are doing a good job. 

We wanted to find out how a scam artist could possibly have that much information about someone they don't know.

We contacted one by email and asked what they wanted. After a few emails back and forth they responded that they wanted several hundred dollars wired to them. Even sending a Western Union slip as an attachment. But when ABC15 demanded proof of the debt, the person sent an email which included address and email address of someone with Let Joe Know producer Courtney's first and last name, who lived in Lancaster, Texas.

Obviously, the particulars were wrong for her but after a quick search of public records we found that they were spot on for another person with the same name. 

It suggests that scam artists are scouring public records to find potential targets and hoping that they hit the right one. It's scary and it's sad, but these people are getting smarter and working harder to steal your money.  We have to work just as hard to keep it.

That means being vigilant about knowing exactly who is calling, emailing and contacting you on social media.  When it comes to debt collecting, there are very specific rules that must be followed on the part of the collector. You have a right to know who you owe, when the debt was made and to request promissory notes and contracts to show that you actually signed for a loan. Find out more about your rights here. Check your credit reports, and directly contact the business that claims to be contacting you.

Whatever you do, don't pay anyone demanding anything by phone or email, until you have verified who they are and that the debt is yours, no matter what information they claim to have about you.