Fort Wayne police are seeing a spike in local reports of a debt collection scam that has already popped up around the country.
A typical case involves a series of harassing phone calls from someone threatening potential victims with arrest if they do not pay an alleged debt.
One of the most common themes is Pay now or we send the police, said officer Raquel Foster, a police spokeswoman. Thats what your perpetrators are relying on is to scare you.
Fort Wayne police received two reports of this scam in July and at least three this month.
In all these cases, the people targeted did not owe the money the callers were trying to collect. In some cases, callers asked for payment in prepaid debit cards. And in a couple of cases, callers have left messages claiming to be law enforcement officers, police said.
One case from Sept. 6 showed how far one scammer was apparently willing to go.
That afternoon, a man reported a stabbing and sent police rushing to a house in the 7200 block of Linda Drive, near St. Joe and Rothman roads.
He had told emergency dispatchers that his wife had cut him on the arms and legs with a knife. He said she still had the knife and urged officers to shock her with a Taser, according to a police report.
When officers arrived, they encountered a woman in the front yard. She was home alone, and officers eventually determined the stabbing report was bogus, police said.
The woman told officers she had just phoned the police about harassing calls from a man with a foreign accent. The man, who knew her Social Security number and other personal information, had insisted she owed $530 to a payday loan company. Just before making the report to police, the woman received a call from the man who said she had 20 minutes to pay or police would come to her house, the report said.
An officer dialed the out-of-state number the man had called from, and the person who answered sounded like he was in a call center. He would not give his name or say who he worked for. During a second call, the man said he had a gun and threatened to shoot the officer if he saw him on the street, the report stated.
Foster said this was the only false report of its kind. Still, she said, it was a waste of resources and put the public at risk, with squad cars hurrying to the house.
We were running hot to that call when there was no need to, she said.
She encourages residents to report calls from fake debt collectors but warns that Fort Wayne police cant do much, in part, because the numbers scammers use are difficult to track.
Thats why they call them phantom debt collectors, she said.
Federal authorities, however, have built a case against an operation that allegedly used callers in India to collect phantom payday loan debts. In that case, a California man and two companies he controlled were charged with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the FTC said in an April news release. The scheme involved more than 2.7 million calls to at least 600,000 numbers across the U.S. In less than two years, more than $5.2 million was fraudulently collected, according to the FTC.