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How One Man Allegedly Got 10,000 Texans to Pay Off Fake Payday Loans

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Officials say one man made $50 million from the scam.

From Texas StandardOfficials say about 10,000 Texans paid up to $50 million in debts they didn’t owe.

The Federal Trade Commission says one Kansas man, Joel Tucker, got his hands on some very valuable data like social security numbers and banking information. But FTC attorney Michael Tankersley says they don’t know how Tucker allegedly got this info. Tucker himself has not commented on the charges.

The commission says they do know that, at some point, Tucker sold the data to collection agencies in places like Houston, Chicago and New York. The FTC says he told the collection agencies the people had outstanding debts and the agencies pressured people into paying.

“[That] resulted in debt collectors calling up consumers and demanding repayment on these debts that were fake," Tankersley says. “Consumers often may take out a payday loan and then [are] contacted about repayment of the loan and not recognize that the loan they are being asked to repay is not the same one they took out."

People could also have been intimidated into paying the fake debts.

Patrick Ford used to work for a collection agency. He says nobody told him there are state and federal laws protecting consumers against fraudulent and abusive collection tactics.

“This wasn't about facts,” Ford says. “I'm going to harangue you until you send us the payment and if you told me you didn't owe that money that wasn't part of the discussion."

What was part of the discussion were the horrible consequences consumers would supposedly face if they didn't pay. The FTC says it has proof people in the Tucker scam were threatened with incarceration.

Ford says, in his experience, collection agents were never asked about how they got people to pay up. Instead, they were rewarded for the results.

"It's about commission,” Ford says. “If you did really well you got paid more."

In the Tucker scam, the FTC says thousands of people responded to the threats and paid money they didn't owe. The “debts” were set at around $300 each.

The trade commission helped put a stop to the payments, but Michael Tankersley says it's likely others are cheating people the same way.

“In Texas and elsewhere, consumers need to be leery of people claiming that they owe a debt and be sensitive and careful about the release of information," he says.

Remember: if you're being asked by collection agencies to pay off your debts, whether your debt is real or not, they cannot send you to jail.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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