Consumer Alert: Debt collection scheme steals millions

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - In this uncertain economy, millions of Americans are deep in debt. Some of them have been contacted by collections agencies. While those calls can be unpleasant, more importantly, they can be a scam. It is important to know your rights.

Undercover video shows Timothy Arent and his accomplices as they leave a Post Office where they've just picked up checks from people who believed they were paying off a debt.

Postal Inspectors started tracking the men for their suspected role in an elaborate debt collection scheme that targeted victims like Chris and Erin.

"One day I was at school and I got a call on my cell phone from a police officer who said he had a bench warrant for my arrest, if I didn't call a certain law firm within the hour to pay an unpaid debt," Chris, a debt collection scam victim, said.

The couple called that law firm, which told them they needed to pay off a $4,500 debt immediately, or Chris would be arrested.

"I didn't want an officer showing up at my work or my home, and I wanted to take care of it as quickly as possible. It wasn't fully sinking that this was a trick or a trap. I gave them my bank information, which I should never have done," Chris said.

"It was that fear and intimidation to come and take him away from his school, family, and children that caused him to act in a manner he never would have before," Erin, a debt collection scam victim, said.

Arent legally obtained lists of people who had recently paid off debt. He then called them and bullied them into believing they owed even more.

"They had paid their bills and they were targeted because they had demonstrated the ability to pay," Shelley Carosella, a US Postal Inspector, said.

Postal Inspectors arrested Arent and found how he was spending the victims money.

"We found many luxury items inside. He lived in a mansion and it was reminiscent of a museum, he had paintings, a Tiffany lamp; he had a grand piano, grandfather clocks. The furnishings were high end," Carosella said.

Consumers have rights.
-Debt collectors are prohibited from saying you will be arrested if you don't pay your debt.
-Debt collectors can't lie or falsely claim they are law enforcement or an attorney.
-Debt collectors can't harrass, oppress or abuse.

"It was very traumatic, very difficult experience for both of us financially and emotional level as well. We were definitely seeking retribution and seeking vindication making sure these people paid for their crimes because they are hurting people and we're one of them," Chris said.

Arent is serving a 12-year prison sentence, and is under orders to pay $3,500,000 in restitution.

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