Originally published Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 07:23p.m.

Getting a call about a debt you don’t owe – or even recognize – can be annoying. It can be downright scary when the caller claims to be a lawyer and threatens legal action if you don’t pay.

Such are the ploys of phantom debt collectors: lies, harassment, intimidation and threats.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit Friday against Global Asset Financial Services Group (GAFS) and 15 related defendants for operating a fake debt collection scheme. The FTC’s complaint says that GAFS employees claimed to be lawyers or affiliated with law firms. In truth, they were not lawyers and had no authority to collect debts.

The fraudulent scheme bilked millions of dollars from consumers for debts they did not owe.

At the FTC’s request, a federal court has temporarily halted the operation and frozen its assets. This action is part of the FTC’s ongoing crackdown on abusive and phantom debt collectors.

Don’t let debt collectors – real or phony – scare you. Know your legal rights, so you can spot when something isn’t right. By law, debt collectors have to send you a validation notice in writing, within five days of contacting you. If they don’t, that’s a red flag. And if a debt collector threatens, harasses or intimidates you to pay a debt, that’s illegal, too.

If you, or someone you know, has gotten a suspicious debt collection call, report it to the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.