Not satisfied with fleecing someone over a non-existent debt once, a group of debt collectors would go back and do it a second time in what they called a “re-do,” according to a complaint filed against the group earlier this month. Joseph Ciffa is being cited as the leader in a criminal conspiracy of six others who are accused of misrepresenting themselves and making threats toward individuals when trying to collect on fraudulent debts.
Ciffa, along with Debbie Seright, Carmelo Collana, Damario Turpin, Shauniqua Rodriguez, and Erica Lounsberry were all released on bail earlier today.
This is not the first time that Ciffa has been in front of a federal judge related to allegations of debt collection. Back in 2015, the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of New York asked a federal judge to order Ciffa to hand over more than $20 million in a scheme that involved harassing and threatening consumers. That case is still pending.
Under a temporary restraining order as part of the first case, Ciffa is barred from engaging in any debt collection activities that violate state or federal law.
The criminal complaint laid out a complicated three-part scheme that Ciffa and his team used to defraud individuals. The first step involved “point callers” reaching out to individuals and making threats. Callers would use this script:
This message is intended to reach debtor. My name is ___________ calling on behalf of business name. This call is to inform you of a two-part felony complaint that was forwarded to my office for pursuance of charges into ___________ county. Once filed, a warrant for your arrest will be issued and the Sheriff’s department will accompany and assist me to your home or place of employment of detainment. If you have any questions, concerns, or objections prior to filing, contact my office back at ________. Debtor you have now been legally notified in accordance with all state and federal laws.
When the “debtor” returned the call, he or she would be directed to a second person, called a “shaker” or a “live server.” Elaborating on the alleged criminal charges, the shaker would then give the “debtor” another phone number, to call the “attorney” involved in the case. Those individuals, who would even goal far as to research the names of actual attorneys and their Bar numbers, would take the payment. Not surprisingly, these people were called “closers.” When a payment was received a “court release number” was provided to the debtors, which “would make the arrest warrant and charges go away.”
Individuals who made payments once were targeted again in what the group called a “re-do,” often over a second phony debt.
Ciffa used as many as three dozen different company names to avoid detection by law enforcement and payment processing companies.
Ciffa’s employees used TLOxp, maintained by TransUnion, to identify potential targets. The group queried the TLOxp database more than 24,000 times. The manner in which the group used the TLOxp database violated the company’s subscriber agreement.
The affidavit from Special Agent Jeffrey Lyons, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, who specializes in cases of fraud and identity theft, is incredibly thorough and eye-opening, detailing what collection software the group used, how the money changed hands, and more.