Action 9 investigates phantom debt collectors

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - A Kissimmee woman feared going to jail over a debt she didn't owe after a debt collector called, claiming she was going to be arrested unless she paid up.

The threat from the voice on the phone seemed all too real for Charlene Smith.

“’You're going to jail,’” Smith said they told her. “’What are they talking about?’ You know, you're heart races."

Smith said someone from William Scott and Associates reached her in Kissimmee and told her unless she paid the collection company $3,000 for a payday loan debt, she would be arrested that day.

"He was dropping government names just left and right. What else are you going to think? Someone is going to arrest me," said Smith.

Smith said she found a debt collector by the same name online. She said the company wouldn’t give her its address or send proof of the debt.

No one returned Action 9’s call to the company. There was a recording that suggested it really makes arrests.

“If you're an attorney representing respondents already detained…" the message reads.

They're called phantom debt collectors who use fake addresses and phony threats.

“It's a mob-like tactic," said consumer attorney Billy Howard.

Howard collected 500 complaints from people threatened by rogue collectors in six months, some captured on voicemail.

“I'm going ahead with a warrant for your arrest," one message said.

Howard’s latest client paid William Scott and Associates $900 after she was threatened with prison.

Howard said the operations are nearly impossible to find.

"No one holds them accountable and until that happens, they'll keep doing it," said Howard.

Smith didn't pay and wants others to be prepared.

“They only do this because people don't know their rights,” she said.

Action 9 contacted William Scott and Associates using a dozen numbers without success.

If a debt collector refuses to give you it's address, hang up. That's illegal.