PHOENIX -- It is a scam that has a common thread and that thread is intimidation. The scammer will scare you into thinking you owe some kind of a debt that you should have taken care of years ago. But don't believe it.
"They’re asking for your Social Security number, your personal information and a lot of money, quite frankly," said Felicia Thompson with the Phoenix Better Business Bureau.
Thompson said this time of year fake debt collectors come out of nowhere.
"It's something that we continually see, folks out there using debt collection as a scare tactic to scare people who may or may not even owe a debt," she said.
Thompson said complaints about these self-proclaimed debt collectors have poured in to the BBB.
"We’re hearing from consumers from across the United States saying they're getting calls from people posing as civil unit, civil unit investigations, using fictitious law firm names threatening lawsuits, threatening jail time if they don't pay their debts," she said.
The BBB has tips about how you can protect yourself against debt collection scams.
First of all, ask the debt collector for something called official "validation notice" of debt. Debt collectors are required by law to provide in writing that the debt is valid.
Second, if you think the call is fake, ask for their name, company, street address and telephone number then confirm the collection agency is legit.
No. 3, do not give or confirm any bank account information, credit card or other personal information like your Social Security number until you have verified they're legit.
And finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if the caller uses threats, which is a very common ploy used by scammers to intimidate you.
Thompson adds, "You should not feel bullied, you should not be harassed, the bottom line is if you owe a debt, pay the debt but if you don't and you're being harassed, you can report that."
Sometimes the fake debt collectors will even say they are with the FBI or IRS and will tell you they're going to tell your boss or family about this debt, but they're only trying to squeeze money out of you.