Note: Use caution when dealing with any merchants, creditors, or financial institutions that contact you directly. Its getting harder and harder to tell who is real thing and who is an identify thieve trying to steal your private information. The advice provided below is just some basic guidelines you can follow for handling these situations. Ultimately you have to make your own decisions on how you want to handle it.
A few weeks back I posted an article warning about "Vishing" (or voice phishing). If you don't know what vishing is, this is where identity thieves send you an legitimate looking e-mail from a company that you may recognize (such as a bank or major online merchant) that asks you to call a phone number to correct a problem (such as a credit card or account information being stolen). The phone number is to a voice response system that will try to fool you into revealing your private information (such as your account numbers, PIN, social security number, etc.).
There is also another variation of this trick where the identity thieves are calling people using a recorded message and VoIP (Voice over IP) services to mask their real identity. The recording instructs the caller to call a specific number to correct a problem with their account. The phone number is to a voice response system that will try to fool you into revealing your private information.
The only way to beat this threat is to call a trusted number (such as the one from the phone book, on the back of your credit card, or off a statement that you receive) and verify the information that way. Avoid trusting the phone numbers that they provide you over the phone. Another trick is to ask them information about your account that only the real financial institution would be able to know, such as a recent transaction.
New Scam: False Collection Agency Letters
Now these people have turned to sending realistic looking collection agency letters using standard mail. Generally these letters will state that you owe thousands of dollars to a creditor that you have never heard of.
Be careful about calling these 'collection agency' it could be some thief trying to get your personal information (such as your social security number) by claiming that their trying to 'verify your identity'.
If you get one of these letters and you know that you don't owe the money, don't respond to this request. You might also want to consider double-checking your credit report for any references to the creditor trying to contact you.
After you verify that this might be a fraudulent request, send these letters to your state's attorney general's fraud investigation division.
Remember: Common sense is your best defense.