This is a scam, right? This is not how civil suits work, is it?
January 10, 2019 2:20 PM   Subscribe

So, we just had something very strange happen. My husband's mother got a call from someone claiming to be from Jenkins Logistics (or something like that) regarding a "civil case" against him. The person provided a phone number and a case number. My husband called the number, and the person said they were from Smith and Watson, and that there was a civil lawsuit filed against my husband, but refused to give any further information unless my husband confirmed his SS# and birthdate, which my husband refused to do.

The guy was pushy about that, saying that he needed it to confirm that he was speaking to the right person, but my husband refused, and eventually hung up.

The person then called back and said that we would be served papers in 3-10 days, and hung up. The phone number they gave leads to a PPCPA Call Services call center. The guy did not give his name.

This is a scam, right? This is not a real lawsuit? There is nothing we can think of that WOULD hint at a lawsuit! We are fairly certain it's a scam, but are also a little freaked out. Is this a real thing to worry about??
posted by sarcasticah to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Right, it's a scam. And no, it's not a real thing to worry about. I mean, being scammed is a real thing to worry about, but you're on top of that part. The lawsuit, though, is not a real thing to worry about; there is no lawsuit against your husband, and legit lawsuits are not commenced by someone calling you on the phone and asking for your birthdate and social security number.
posted by holborne at 2:24 PM on January 10 [45 favorites]

I am totally not a lawyer, but in my experience lawyers don't call you up before serving you in a civil case.* So it does sound like a scam.

*(My experience - worked for a lawyer for a few years, as well as having a relative who was recently served in a civil case.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:24 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL. Scam. This is absolutely not how something like that works.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:26 PM on January 10 [11 favorites]

Of course it's a scam. You'll never see any "papers." According to phone calls I get the IRS is out to get me every few months.
posted by sevenless at 2:26 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]

Smith and Watson? Man, they're not even trying.

In general, you don't call people you're planning on serving, because you don't want to make it easier for them to avoid service.
posted by praemunire at 2:28 PM on January 10 [15 favorites]

BTW, respect to your husband for not falling for it. A lot of people panic in the moment and cooperate.
posted by praemunire at 2:29 PM on January 10 [21 favorites]

Definitely a scam, but it's an escalation from what I've encountered, which is that they try to get your SSN (or sometimes other info) on the first call. Leaving a callback number probably fools a number of people who wouldn't give the time of day to a random inbound call.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:31 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

If there's a scam going around, you're not the only person they've tried it on, and people will be talking about it on the internet. Googling 'civil lawsuit phone scam' returns a bunch of results that sound like roughly the same thing that happened to you. I'm pretty sure nobody legitimate will ever call you out of the blue and ask for your social security number.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:34 PM on January 10

(A) it's a scam. (B) in the vanishingly small possibility it wasn't a scam, there'd be no harm in waiting to see the 'papers' whenever they showed up, rather than interacting with some weirdo on the phone. But (C) it's totally a scam.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:35 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not your lawyer, but I've been a litigation legal assistant for nearly all my adult career span. This is not how you serve someone you want to sue in a lawsuit. No attorney I've ever heard of employs call centers that demand personal information before serving you.

(In fact, even as the mechanics of a scam, I don't quite get where they're going with it. Getting sued is not exactly an incentive to provide the information. "We want to bang you over the head with this giant mallet! But to do so, we need you to give us some personal information first!")
posted by WCityMike at 2:38 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

I assume that, had he confirmed his info, they would have moved on to telling him that the suit would be dismissed if he paid money to them. Thank you for the reassurance; I suspected a scam, but it does scare you a little!
posted by sarcasticah at 2:53 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

100% scam. As an FYI, I was once involved in a civil suit and was notified via official legal documents delivered to my residence.
posted by emd3737 at 3:07 PM on January 10

Civil suits don't need your SS#. The scammers answer the phone number they gave you to call.

The only legal threats you have to worry about arrive printed on paper handed to you by a process server.
posted by rhizome at 3:37 PM on January 10

Scam, scam, scam! (Sung to the tune of the Pythons' Spam, Spam, Spam.)
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 3:46 PM on January 10

I always give people like this the information they ask for. Since you shouldn't give your actual SSN number out just make up one. Ditto for your birth date. If they call you out because the SSN you give them has different ending numbers tell them the numbers they already are from your your wife's number and supply them with invented first numbers for that too. And her birthdate. And your mothers. But always tell them you have to look it up, as that keeps them on the phone longer. And ask them as many questions as possible, with phishing information on your part. E.g. "Is it about the car? It wasn't my fault she walked out in front of me! They told me it was taken care of!"

The object of this engaging sport is to keep them on the line as long as possible, and to improve your best time. As a side benefit it keeps them busy too busy to talk to anyone else while they are on the phone with you, and you might be protecting some poor soul who would give real information out.

It's not nice to make prank phone calls and this is the ethical way you can still get to do it! :D
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:08 PM on January 10 [17 favorites]

I get these calls all the time. Scam.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:13 PM on January 10

This also happens sometimes when there's a debt someone is attempting to collect, and they phished your number out of a database that either erroneously lists (or links) you to that person. It's very startling, which is what they intend.
posted by sm1tten at 7:36 PM on January 10

If you want to take up their time like Jane the Brown but don't have the patience, there's always the old "oh, no, I always forget my number, have it written down, hold on while I go find it" and then leave them waiting on the line until they realize you're not coming back.
posted by trig at 8:05 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

I'm a lawyer. I'm not licensed in your jurisdiction, and I'm not your lawyer. But one of my specialties is debt-collection defense, and what you're describing is a very, very common scam. One of the problems in the debt-collection industry is getting people and organizations to distinguish between three types of entities: (1) good, legit debt collectors; (2) shady, law-breaking debt collectors; and (3) con artists who are not "debt collectors" at all, despite the fact that they will claim to be collecting on your debt. The phone call you're describing is very, very common among the third category. I've spoken to them myself many times. For what it's worth, most of the people making these calls don't actually know they're involved in a scam. Many of them really do think they're working for a real company.

The difference is simple. The first two categories—debt collectors—are people actually collecting on a debt that you (probably) owe. The first category is more conscientious than the second; but with both categories, if you pay them, you won't get sued and your credit score will change. There's some legitimacy to it. In that third category...any money that you send will be gone forever and will not affect your life one iota. That money will not go toward any debt you may actually owe. You might as well have flushed it down the toilet. Those people are just criminals who have realized that if they're cold-calling people asking for money, their chances will improve if they can pretend to be collecting on some debt you owe.

Here's the bad news: if that call was indeed from category 3, then you'll probably get more calls. Once you tell one outfit to go screw, they usually won't bother you again; but they bought your name and number from a list that was also sold to thirty other con-artist outfits, so you can expect more calls as your info winds its way through the criminal underworld. It's hard to fight back. If you want to, I'm glad to share a little about my experiences with you. But the bottom line is that there isn't a lot of motivation among police, prosecutors, or attorneys general to punish these criminals—in large part, because of where I began this comment: those people don't see the distinction and they just shrug, "If a debt collector is violating the law, that's a civil matter. Talk to a lawyer."
posted by cribcage at 10:35 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

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