Don’t let ‘zombies’ eat your wallet, experts urge

It’s scary season, and the Better Business Bureau is warning the public to be aware of debt collection scams.

As Halloween approaches, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers about one of the scariest types of scams: zombie debt, also known as debt collection scams.

Victims often report that scammers harass them for weeks or even months at home and at work, trying to get them to pay a debt they don’t even owe. These “zombie” or “ghost” debts seem to come out of nowhere, and BBB receives numerous reports throughout the year as crooks proverbially “put on a new disguise”, or rather change tactics, to steal your money. hard earned.

How it works

The scammer calls and says they work for a loan company, law firm, or government agency, and claims to collect an overdue payment.

After responding that you don’t owe any money, the “debt collector” begins to threaten to take legal action, garnish wages, issue a warrant for your arrest, or arrange for a court appearance. the tribunal.

All of these claims are nerve-wracking, leaving the person answering the phone shaken and uncertain. They may even start to think that maybe they owe the money after all.

The first thing to do is to stay calm. Despite the threats, these so-called “debt collectors” have no legal power. In most cases, the allegedly delinquent loan does not even exist. Don’t give in and pay the money you don’t owe or they will call you back for more.

The “Good cop” version

An unsolicited call comes from a debt collection agency. The appellant claims that there is a long outstanding debt that is about to be taken to court. The caller speaks politely at first and seems to have your best interests at heart. They seem to sincerely want to help you avoid a court date. To remedy the situation, it suffices to make a reasonable or “goodwill” payment, or even split into several installments.

No matter how nice the caller is, don’t fall for it. If you make the payment, the person you spoke to on the phone will take the money and disappear. All future efforts to contact them will be in vain.

‘Zombie Debt’ Collector Takes Another Tactic

A Vancouver woman says zombie debt appeared in the form of a collection letter at her home in November 2021, according to her report submitted to the BBB Scam Tracker.

The letter, claiming to be from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said she was over $15,000 in debt due to damage to a rental car. Although the woman was initially concerned as she had previously rented vehicles from Enterprise, she quickly realized that she hadn’t rented that particular car or was out of town. where she claimed to be on the date indicated. She threw away the letter soon after.


On average, victims lose $100 when involved in a debt collection scam. The age groups that most often fall for debt collection scams are 18-24 and 55-64. Of all the potential scams, debt collection scam occurrences are quite low (1.05%) compared to online shopping scam occurrences (35.54%). Although they are rarer, it is important to be prepared when you find yourself in Zombie Debt.

The BBB has provided the following advice on how to deal with debt collection scammers:

  • Request proof of the debt and the calling agency
    • If you owe money and you don’t know if the caller is real, ask for their name, company, address, and phone number. Do not provide any bank account, credit card or other personally identifiable information over the phone. If the collector is legitimate, they should have details of the accounts in question. Ask how you can contact them and call them back once you’ve checked the details they provided (if they had any). A legitimate debt collector will have a way for you to contact them.

  • Check your credit report
    • Check with Equifax Canada or TransUnion, two major consumer credit bureaus in Canada. This will help determine if there are any outstanding debts that have already hit your credit card or if there is suspicious activity. If you have already provided your personal information, place a fraud alert on your credit file.

  • Ask when the debt was first due
    • BC has a base limitation period of two years. This means that if two years (or more) have passed since you incurred the debt, made a payment on the debt, or acknowledged the debt, the creditor to whom the money is owed can no longer sue. against you, in an attempt to make you pay. If you do end up in debt, know that your credit score will be negatively affected.

  • just hang up
    • If you’re running a tight spreadsheet with all your costs and expenses and you know wholeheartedly that you have no outstanding loans, hang up. Do not press any number and do not speak to an “agent”.

Remember that while most debt collection agencies are legit, sometimes a scammer may be phishing for information.

If you come across a scam, we encourage you to report it to the BBB Scam Tracker or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

For more information, you can also consult the BBB website.

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