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Beware of 'zombie debt,' local Better Business Bureau warns

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With Halloween just days away, the Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C. is warning locals to avoid getting tricked out of their money through so-called "zombie scams."

CTV Morning Live spoke with Simone Lis, local BBB president, Wednesday about the debt-collection scam.

"What happens is you get a call or a letter from someone and they claim that you owe money and their intention is to spook you into paying that money," Lis said, explaining it's called a "zombie scam" because the debt doesn't actually exist.

"They can be really nice about it, they can use some really legitimate techniques like trying to arrange some sort of a payment plan with you as if they are a debt collector. Or they can be threatening law action, threatening to take you to court, threatening to impact your credit, so it can be quite scary."

While the name of the scam may be seasonally appropriate, Lis said it can pop up any time of year and victims may be contacted by phone, letter or online.

"One of the reports that we had they actually sent her a letter and it purported to be from a legitimate company, claiming that she owed over $15,000," Lis said.

"When she did some research and really reflected on it, she realized this was not her debt and she just discarded the letter."

Lis said the scam appears to be impacting people aged 18 to 24 and 55 to 64. That younger group, she explained, may not be aware of what legitimate debt collection looks like.

"What we really wanted to do is we want to educate people about what to look out for, commonalities about scams and then also to try to teach them to not engage at all," Lis said, adding it's "really hard" to get money back after falling for a scam.

"My biggest advice is to listen to your gut instinct. If you're not sure, talk to someone. Research has shown when you do talk to someone, that in itself can help you sort of navigate this type of situation. And then if you are a victim, please report it. We learn from those experiences, law enforcement learn and then they work to shut down some of these things."

Anyone who thinks they've been the victim of a scam should contact their local police department and report it on BBB.org/scamtracker.

Watch the full CML interview with Simone Lis in the video player above. 

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