Fake “Process Server” Shut Down

by Donald Petersen on November 7, 2011

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The United States District Court for the Central District of California granted the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) request for a temporary injunction against seven companies who allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If you are found this page because you are being threatened with service of process or a lawsuit, there is a substantial chance that these threats are false. This case illustrates not only how but why disreputable debt collectors often make false threats to bully consumers into paying.

The debt collectors allegedly called consumers’ and their families, friends, and neighbors while posing as “process servers” who were supposedly attempting to serve a collection lawsuit upon consumers.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants’ violations of the FDCPA included other common illegal schemes.

The debt collectors allegedly often threatened to have the consumer arrested unless the consumer paid the debt.

The debt collectors allegedly also posed as lawyers or employees of a law office and even demanded that the consumers pay them “court costs” and “legal fees”.

As is often the case, these debt collectors were not actually process servers, lawyers, or employed by a law office.

Although debt collectors who falsely threaten to sue a consumer violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, this violation is surprisingly common. (A threat to “serve process” is a false representation that a lawsuit is filed or will soon be filed.)

According to the FTC, the “key element of Defendants’ scheme is to make the consumer believe that a lawsuit has been filed, or will soon be filed against him.” Debt collectors impersonate a variety of officers of the courts in order to hoodwink consumers.

In this case, the debt collectors allegedly told third parties or the consumers that they were a process server, lawyer, or employee of a law office calling about a lawsuit against the consumer.

Debt collectors who disclose that they are “debt collectors” or are calling about a debt or discuss the debt almost during telephone conversations with anyone other than the consumer or his or her spouse almost always violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when they do so.

The debt collectors allegedly followed a well worn playbook by telling the consumers that they could “settle” the case by immediately paying the debt collector.

The debt collectors allegedly often instructed their first-level collectors not to call the consumer directly but rather to call the consumer’s current employer or a family member in order to create a false sense of urgency so that the consumer will pay before thinking about his or her rights.

Other debt collectors have been known to initiate contact by calling a couple of neighbors in order to humiliate and intimidate the consumer. The tactic is so common that debt collectors have a name for it — “block parties”.

The debt collectors allegedly told the friends, neighbors, and employers that they were attempting to serve the consumer with “papers” or pleadings pertaining to a lawsuit.

Defendants collectors allegedly also left messages with third parties for them to pass along to the consumer. These messages included a “case number” and a callback number and often also included a threat that the consumer must call back that day or else the consumer would be personally served with process to appear in court.

The complaint alleged that, in some instances, the debt collectors even posed as being from the sheriff’s department and threatened to arrest the consumer unless the consumer called back promptly.

The debt collectors’ written scripts (“talk offs”) and policies instruct the first line collectors to say things which violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

For example, the “New Hire Pointers” instruct collectors to do the following :

“when first coming to an account it is always best to call the [place of employment] first.”

“contact relatives instead of the debtor on the initial phone call to create urgency”

“when doing a standard talk off and the person on the phone is prying … it is best to say you are a process server and due to the federal privacy act you are not given that information.”

The debt collectors’ standard “talk offs” illustrate how debt collectors often use false threats of immediate lawsuits to coerce payment :

“I am (Miguel Davis / Veronica Garcia) and am calling to see if there will be someone at home to receive legal documents to go to court.

Sir / Madam the service processors will try to serve these documents twice(2X).

Sir / Madam must respond or appear in court. If unable to do so, [they] should say so immediately. What I will do is give you the number of the legal office and the case number. Do you have pencil and paper?

The phone number is *** and the case number is ***

Now I’m going to write down now that I spoke to *** and if Sir / Madam do not say anything I will have the processor deliver these legal documents”.

Although this scheme is quite common, the debt collectors’ explanation to employees demonstrates why and how debt collectors make these false threats.

Leaving little to chance, the debt collectors also scripted “rebuttal answers” to help first line collectors convince the third party that the consumer was in serious legal trouble and they must relay the message to the consumer immediately. The rebuttal answers included :

“QUESTION : WE DON’T PASS INFORMATION TO THE EMPLOYEES

A. Look, I am trying to help your company. This matter is serious and will cause problems at the job. Grab a pen and get this redirected to the employees [sic] home.

B. Still no – (Strongly ask) What is your name and your position in the company? We will document for the record that you made the decision for the [debtor] to be served at his place of employment.”

At least some consumers apparently had the sense to call the debt collectors’ bluff because the debt collectors provided their collectors with a script which read :

“QUESTION : JUST GO AHEAD AND SERVE THE DOCUMENTS. WE WILL BRING UP [sic] THE DEBTOR THEN.

A. Look I see here that there is an opportunity for service at the home residence. My suggestion would be to grab a pen take down the case number and the [phone number] to the issuing agent handling the case and have the service redirected. This will help reduce any problems at the work place and save any possible embarrassment.”

First line debt collectors also had the option of falsely threatening to have the consumer served with the lawsuit at home when encountering less direct challenges :

“QUESTION : WE DON’T VERIFY EMPLOYMENT OR GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION”

A. I am not asking you to verify employment. I am telling you I have a court order here against one of your employees.

B. I am not asking you for any information. I am telling you we have a court order. I am trying to set up service. Grab a pen get [debtor] to reroute this case to his home. Help yourself and your employee.”

The debt collectors allegedly even bullied people who did not even live with the consumer. The Standard Talk Off instructed collectors to say :

“QUESTION : I HAVE NO CONTACT WITH [DEBTOR]

A. Why is he using your address? How long since you have had contact? Wow they are coming to your house after 2 attempts this court proceeding will go on without them they will get a failure to appear. Grab a pin. [sic].”

Debt collectors were also instructed to tell consumers who objected that the call was inconvenient because they were driving to say :

“I suggest that you pull over. This is time sensitive and since you are not at the service location it will be noted as a failure to serve.”

“Failure to serve” is either unimportant or something that the debt collector made up in order to intimidate naive consumers.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from calling consumers when they know that they are calling at an inconvenient time or place.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also protects many consumers from collection calls during work.

Debt collectors violate the FDCPA by doing this because it is profitable for them. Consumers do not need to succumb to these illegal threats and misrepresentations.

If collection agencies or other debt collectors are calling your neighbors, relatives, co-workers, friends, or other people about you, you are welcome to contact me by completing the Collection Harassment form on the right hand column of this page.

If you are a Florida resident, you are also invited to call my office so we can discuss your situation and how I might be able to help you. I offer Florida residents a free case evaluation.

If you live outside Florida, I will try to provide a resource of name of a debt harassment attorney who maintains an office in your state.

(C) 2011- 2014 Donald E. Petersen.
All rights reserved.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry February 7, 2012 at 1:08 PM

I was informed by a so called processor I have a debt with USC and that I needed to contact them today or I will be served with a summons. When I called and ask for them to send documents with the correct amount I owe they said they dont have to give it to me and they will send a sheriff to my place of employment. I dont think this is legal.

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Don Petersen February 16, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Larry – thanks for commenting about USC. A LOT of consumers are reporting similar threats made by callers identifying themselves as “USC”. “USC” appears to be one of the latest scams. I have not had anyone report that they were actually “served” by USC or even anyone USC supposedly collects on behalf of. Do NOT pay USC. If you have paid USC, please send me a copy of THEIR banking information with your account number blacked out.

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Quintin L King February 21, 2012 at 11:24 PM

One of the worse practitioners of this scam, Thurston and Associates, is right in Florida. Just awful….

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Becky March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM

I was also contacted by a company known as USC and given the same story. I told them I didn’t feel they were ligitimate and I wanted to know what USC stood for, and she replied, nothing. Then told me they would serve me papers at work Monday or I could keep that from happening by paying her today. They’re also calling my son.

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Angela March 6, 2012 at 2:38 PM

My work received a fax today from a company called processservs.inc wanting to verify my work information and my home address. What is this? Is this legal? It may be for a debt, not sure but if they can’t “serve papers” according to the FDCPA then why would they bother sending this fax?

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Don Petersen March 14, 2012 at 5:52 PM

Angela — You should have a lawyer review the fax. Amazingly, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued a horrible decision which found that the fax to the plaintiff’s employer did not violate the FDCPA. In my opinion, this appellate decision is poorly reasoned and does not follow the FDCPA. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief supporting the plaintiff’s motion for rehearing of the appeal en banc (by all of the judges sitting in the 10th Circuit.) It’s too early to tell whether the court will grant the motion for rehearing. A lawyer will need more facts than you discussed or should discuss on the internet in order to advise you whether a debt collector likely violated the FDCPA, your state’s collection laws (if any), etc. The facts of each case really are different so consult with an experienced lawyer. You may also have other violations other than the claims that the 10th Circuit eviscerated. Thanks for sharing what happened to you and good luck.

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Jan April 4, 2012 at 11:57 AM

NCS (Nationwide Credit) called my work threatening to serve papers and that I had two hours to take care of the situation. They called my boss also, just to intimidate me. I called back and asked for the woman who called for me, Lauren McCall. I was told no one by that name works there. Give me your case number. I hung up. This is bogus. It is the next day. Nothing has happened. False process server!!

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Francisca October 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

I have been receiving calls from a company called samuel sole and associates stating I owed money and if I did not pay today someone would be down to my work place to detain me. I asked for legal paperwork. And they hung up on me. Today I received a call stating they were from the Pima county processors and they would serve me today with a subpoena and the number left on the caller id was from the pima county jail office. I called them back and stated they would not be making those types of calls. This is getting ridiculous

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Donald Petersen October 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Francisca – I receive many complaints like yours. I would appreciate it if you would email me a copy of the voice mail and a photo of the spoofed caller id screen. I will edit any personally identifiable information from the voice mail before I post it to this blog. You are among the fortunate people who realize the caller is a scam that lacks teeth. Far too many people are terrified into paying or can not pay and suffer under great stress. My email is in the “Contact Us” on the tool bar at the top of this page. THX

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Scott October 22, 2013 at 3:15 PM

Apparently a man came to our house while I was at work to serve me papers from a law firm representing Midland Funding LLC. My wife said I was not home. She asked what this was regarding and he identified who he was with but that he could not discuss the matter with her. I looked through my recent bills and found a letter from them with the heading “Notice of Intent to File Suite and Incur Court Costs”. It appears to be for an old Wells Fargo Visa credit card. What steps do I take at this point? If I happen to be at home when the guy comes by again do I sign the papers or tell him to take a hike? Do I respond to their letter or not and if I do what do I say? Looking online they appear to be one of the many creditors that buy up debt for pennies on the dollar and then try to sue people until they pay or get a judgement against them which drives me nuts. We have been through a rough time these last few years like everyone and it does not seem fair that banks got a bailout and the average joe did not. Any advise would be appreciated. I am not at a point where I can hire an attorney to take care of this for me. Thanks.

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Donald Petersen October 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Joe – Those are good questions but the answers DEPEND upon your state’s law AND many other facts which you have not provided. Nor should an attorney be providing advice in a publicly accessible website. (Sorry). Depending upon the state where you live and the facts of YOUR case, you may be pleasantly surprised at how affordable hiring a collection defense lawyer is. Since I practice in Florida, I am frequently able to make the debt collector pay the attorney’s fees my client(s) incurred in defending the collection case. Again, this likely depends not only upon your state’s law but the facts of your particular situation. Rather than research the “gripe sites” for dirt which probably isn’t going to help you anyway, review the educational materials on this site (under collection lawsuits, for example) and then contact a local consumer rights lawyer who practices in your state. A wise investment of your time now may prevent an unnecessary bankruptcy or garnishment. Good luck.

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john March 27, 2014 at 6:26 PM

I have been contacted by a guy calling himself Micheal XXXXX who claims to work for the “processes servers office” and is trying to hold off on delivering papers in case I wanted to call this company and pay first before going to court. Do I have any relief from him? I think scam involved. He gave me a case number of XXXXXXYYYYY. The YYYY is my last four of my social so they know something. The number to his “company” is 855-872-7020.

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Donald Petersen March 28, 2014 at 1:25 PM

John – None of the legitimate debt collectors (as in have an office, let people know who they are, have an insurance policy, make some colorable attempt to follow collection laws) demand “pay us today or we serve you”. That is a strong indicator that the threats are totally false. Such collectors seldom send the consumer any correspondence (which would include the validation rights in the first letter).

Some of these collectors are worth suing. Others are only worth reporting to a regulatory agency or two. That’s a decision that a consumer should make only after conferring with a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in their state.

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Mr. N. April 3, 2014 at 8:14 AM

Just found this site while researching another caller who left a message on my answering machine. Over the years I have gotten quite a few of these calls as you suggest in your post: claiming I’m I’m being accused of check/bank fraud and to “call before end of business day”.

I know when these folks call that: a) I have no current or past debt; b) there is at least 2 or 3 other people in town with my name (not my same middle initial though); c) I’m the only one still listed in the phone book.

I am usually at work when these folks call and I have never gotten an answer at the number they leave.

On the rare occasion that I’m home when they call. I have tried to resolve that I’m NOT the person they are looking for, by asking for middle name (or at least initial) of the debtor they always get this one wrong. Nine times out of ten I can usually prove to the callers satisfaction that they have the wrong phone and they agree to remove my number, but usually a year later it starts all over again. in the tenth instance I tell them that if this is a “legal” call to send me a registered letter to the address of record on the account ( I personally have lived at the same address for 20+ years), but NEVER verify my address over the phone. If they continue calling I notify them that I have left their number with the ftc and fbi (no empty threat, I do).

I’m wondering what if any recourse I have and if this is worth pursuing with a lawyer given that while I’m being the one harassed, I’m not the debtor of record. Also how I would even locate a lawyer that deals with these type of claims out of the sea of listings in the phone book.

I have considered, getting unlisted phone number over the years and am considering this again as I am tired of fighting someone else’s batles.

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Donald Petersen April 3, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Mr. N. – I provide readers who complete the Collection Harassment Form with resources which identify consumer lawyers who practice law outside Florida. (I doubt the phone book even has a listing but I could be wrong.) There are so many of these scams operating right now it’s impossible to make an informed opinion whether any particular operation is worth going after. I recommend that consumers consult with a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in their state.

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Mike April 17, 2014 at 7:19 PM

I’m getting phone calls from regional acquisition group and when I ask them to send me paperwork on it so that I can look it over they refuse.they also have called my wife and told her she has been served but still no paperwork
Phone numbers I’ve got for them are
855-218-7786 and 855-218-7378

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Michelle May 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM

I received a call from someone named Michelle Williams from process server office. She said to call a company called Century Group to resolve the claim or I would be served papers. This is regarding a payday loan debt of $250 . When I asked for paperwork or an email validating the debt I was told that they would just serve me with papers. My father then let me know they tried calling him. I’m trying to resolve any debt I have but want to make sure I’m paying the right company. Are these people scammers? Will they serve me? I’m so stressed I can’t think straight. It seems like this is harassment. I haven’t even received anything in the mail regarding this debt.

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Donald Petersen May 6, 2014 at 6:09 PM

Michelle & Other Readers :

Here are some general comments about some of the limited information Michelle shared as an example. Since so many people face the “process server scam”, I would like to discuss this situation generally. I recommend that you consult with a FDCPA lawyer who is licensed to practice law in your state. (This is not legal advice.)

Threats to “serve process” are a threat to sue. It is very unlikely that the debt collector intends to sue someone for a $ 250 pay day loan. False threats to sue violate the FDCPA.

Debt collectors who threaten to serve process that day unless the consumer pays them immediately are usually (as in always or almost always) violating the FDCPA. The “catch” is identifying the debt collector so that service of process can be made and a judgment obtained and collected. Another sign of a scam is when a consumer has not received a letter from the debt collector although the consumer lived at the same address when the account was active. Debt collectors who do not want to be found do not send letters.

I encourage readers to consult with a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in their state and review the facts of their case.

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Mine June 2, 2014 at 2:42 PM

Caller from withheld left VM that they are process servers and need to verify my address and I must call ASAP or legal action will be taken, same? called called my work and stated the same thing but no other information. Harassing at least. Told me to call 855-871-9883 for information.

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Mellisa June 16, 2014 at 3:46 PM

Have you heard anything about Goldstein and Assoc 888-875-7659? I checked the BBB and said they are no longer in business and they have so many complaints against them. They have been calling and harassing me with a process server when I call back they are completely rude and when I requested a paper statement sent to my address I will research it. The woman was very rude requested my address, I told her I don’t need to give you my address if you have the documents then you must already have my address. She got defensive with me and hungup the phone. I called back to speak to a supervisor and a man answered stating they don’t have supervisors and he was rude as well kept talking over me woulnd’t let me talk basically verbally abusive. I would ask him if I could talk and he wuld repeatedly keep talking over me. This is by far the worst people I have ever come in contact with for a so called collection agency. I’m thinking it’s a scam but I just want to make sure. The so called process server keeps changing his # as well.

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Donald Petersen June 18, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Mellisa – Real process servers do not call the people who they are going to serve. Real process servers do not demand or accept payments in return for not serving process. Their job is to serve process. Sooo, it sounds like a scam to me based upon those facts. There are far too many of these scams operating under various names.

I urge readers to focus on the process serving scam rather than an individual debt collector or focus much on the name of the collection agency (or process serving company). The company name is worth knowing but these companies change phone numbers, names, and operating locations in order to stay one step ahead of consumers, consumer lawyers, the regulatory agencies and law enforcement.

A few “bricks and mortar” collectors that an experienced lawyer can locate, serve, and collect a judgment from operate the process server scam but usually the scamsters are like “vapor”.

So, keep a log of the contact information, save the messages, save any letters (there rarely are any) or emails, and consult with an experienced FDCPA lawyer who has an office in your state about how to proceed.

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Stacey July 7, 2014 at 11:40 AM

I just received a call at my office from a Seth who stated he was a process server and was scheduled to serve me papers. He asked me to call an 844-827-6617 number and give a case number with the last 4 numbers of that being my SSN. He told me that I was a special case because whomever has filed papers is giving me the opportunity to clear matters first before he serves me with papers. I also searched my countys court records and nothing is in my name. Guessing this is a total scam??

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Crystal July 15, 2014 at 4:32 PM

A person came to my door with a “summons” and put it on my door. My husband answered the door and she told him “you have been served”. I knew it was not a real summons because A) it was not stamped or signed by the court clerk, B) it did not have a court date on it, C)it was not stamped as filed in the court. However, I did try to contact them to make payment arrangements … They are claiming court fees even though they have not filed it in court, I know, I checked the court they claimed to have filed it in. They are also claiming an interest rate, stating that I cannot pay the monthly amount I am offering as it would only pay the interest and nothing would go to the principal. They say i must pay double what I am offering to pay anything towards the principal. I am looking into obtaining an attorney through my pre-paid legal service at work, have they broken the law by stating they have filed it in court and that I have 20 days to respond/appear in court when they havent even filed it?

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Donald Petersen July 15, 2014 at 5:39 PM

Crystal & Other Visitors to this site – I always recommend that people look up whether a suit was actually filed. Process servers do NOT call people to warn them to expect to be served or demand payment. If that is what a caller is telling you — they are NOT a process server.

I have not seen a fake summons in several years. Brings back memories… Crystal’s situation is unusual because the debt collector provided her with a summons when there isn’t a case filed.

Crystal, I do not know that you live in Florida, so I can not provide you legal advice including an opinion about your potential case.

Nor should anyone request or receive a legal consultation in an on-line forum even from a licensed attorney.

I highly recommend that consumers consult with a licensed FDCPA attorney in their state. I even provide a mechanism for consumers to request information about how to find such a lawyer. That is the best I can do to help people who are not Florida residents.

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Mr. J. July 21, 2014 at 7:52 AM

(1) They emailed me a letter of the “debt” that was substantially higher than the original debt of $250. Moments after I spoke to the debt collector, I had a process server call me from an “anonymous” caller ID saying that I needed to make the payment (settle) with the debt collector or he was coming to my place of employment to serve me.

(2) I called the court that they claimed my case was filed for fraud, they told me there was no docket/case pending against me or any summons to appear in court.

(3) I had taken out several payday loans and paid them back. This one I cannot seem to find this record of payment for I have moved a couple of times since the time this was paid. I am worried about this. I don’t want to be taken, yet I also am good with paying something I owe and I don’t want any legal trouble.

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Donald Petersen July 22, 2014 at 2:16 PM

John – I encourage you to consult with a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in the state where you live. There really are differences in state laws and even the federal circuit where you live that could affect the advice I would give a consumer assuming I was licensed to and knew that state’s laws.

“(2)” was a wise thing to do.

The odds are overwhelming that this is a scam. Consult with a lawyer about what to do. I urge you to consult with a lawyer before you pay $ .01 or agree to pay even a $ .01. Good Luck.

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John July 21, 2014 at 9:06 AM

Last week I received a call from a person named Dave and the phone # was a texas # and they were saying that they are collecting on a payday loan. I then received a call 5 min later saying he was a process server that is giving me a 1-time only call to deal with the issue with Dave and he wouldn’t come out to serve me papers for he had a busy schedule and would rather avoid sending me the papers. So this morning this Dave calls me again from a blocked number this time, asking me if I was going to pay. He then tells me his firm is now under a new name and that they still owned the rights to the debt. Gave me a totally different phone number that was from NY.

What should I do?

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Donald Petersen July 22, 2014 at 2:11 PM

John – I can not provide any legal advice to people who are not Florida residents. Nor is a public forum on the internet an appropriate place to obtain the information that I would need from a Florida resident or to provide a Florida resident legal advice. It sounds like a scam (say 99.999% probability). I provide a Collection Harassment Form in the right hand side of each page for people who live outside Florida to request resources to locate a FDCPA lawyer who lives in their state. That’s the best that I can do. I encourage consumers who visit this site to use the feature.

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Amber August 7, 2014 at 3:34 PM

I’m getting harassing calls from a company that calls thmeselves LDA law firm. They have the same scam script described from other callers above. Process Servers is the other company name they use. 844-515-8189 beware of this scam. They will refer to some personal information that they discovered about you, to make you think they are a real company. They harassed me at work and started calling family members. Do not give them any information!!!!

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