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Bergen Woman Foils 'Phantom Debt' Phone Scam

The "phantom debt" phone scam is spreading, authorities warn.
The "phantom debt" phone scam is spreading, authorities warn. Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo

HACKENSACK, N.J. – The scammer on the other end of the line tried sounding like a detective, telling a would-be victim from Bergen County that she’d better pay just under $600 or she’d be arrested.

But the target was smart: She hung up and called the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

Some people aren’t as wise, Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said Wednesday, issuing a warning about “phantom debt” scams.

“A phantom debt scam involves criminals impersonating law firms, judges, court officials, or debt collectors who send out threatening letters, or make threatening phone calls about phantom debts, or a nonexistent debt, to try to convince people to send them money,” he said.

In the recent case, the prosecutor said, a caller identifying herself as Ms. Jackson “called the resident’s home phone and knew the resident’s first and last names.”

She then claimed to be a detective with the “Bergen County DA’s Office, Restitution and Hot Checks Section: -- which doesn’t exist – and told the resident she owed $300 for not appearing in court, in addition to fees and interest that brought the total to nearly $600.

“Ms. Jackson” then said a warrant would be issued for the resident’s arrest if she didn’t pay the “debt” in full.

Calo urged citizens to take a cue from the would-be victim and not fall for such stunts:

  • Be suspicious of callers making threatening claims requiring you to pay money that you don’t owe;
  • Be wary of anyone who asks you to wire money or load a rechargeable money or gift card as a way to pay debt;
  • •Add your phone numbers, home and cell, to the National Do Not Call Registry; it won’t stop all unsolicited calls, but it will stop most;
  • If your number is on the registry and you still get calls, hang up and report them at .

“If you receive an unsolicited phone call and suspect it is a fraud, or if you are the victim of a scam,” the prosecutor said, “report it to your local police department.”

If you have elderly relatives, friends or other loved ones, talk to them about this, authorities urge.

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