A man of many disguises and one consumer scam

He was sometimes a government official, sometimes an investigator and sometimes an FBI agent. Sometimes when he called people on the phone, he would tell them that he was sending a police officer to arrest them and sometimes he claimed that he would come and do it personally.

Though his stories and personas frequently changed, the goal was always the same, say federal prosecutors: to wring as much money as possible out of people by using abusive debt collection practices.

Though the man operated far north of Philadelphia, his tactics are, unfortunately, familiar to many here. The Buffalo, New York, man and five others have been charged with fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in scams designed to scare people into paying debts, whether the victims actually owed money or not.

The debt collector liked "re-dos," in which he would use his abusive tactics to collect on the same debt twice, investigators say.

"Through an elaborate fraud, the lead defendant in this case preyed on consumers with fear tactics meant to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts that often were not even owed," a prosecutor said.

The six defendants' fraudulent activities netted them about $22 million from 2011 to 2015, according to officials.

The lead defendant's alleged fraud apparently extends beyond debt collection: he is also accused of scamming the federal government's Medicaid program.

The debt collection company he helped operate has been shut down, according to a news media report.

Those who receive harassing calls from abusive debt collectors can speak with a Philadelphia consumer protection attorney.

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