Angry man collector and scared girl standing doorway.
Posted by: Howard Dvorkin, CPA
Date of post: November 5, 2018

Don't get stiffed by the overbiffers.

One of the most annoying aspects of being a financial counselor is learning brand-new made-up words. A few days ago, it was overbiffing. Sadly, not only CPAs like me need to know what that means. You do, too, if you don’t want to get ripped off.

Overbiffing made its worldwide debut on Nov. 1, when the usually stodgy Federal Trade Commission wrote this headline on its business blog: FTC and New York AG miffed by overbiffing.

“Overbiffing is the practice of debt collectors tricking consumers into paying more than their ‘Balance In Full,’ sometimes abbreviated as BIF,” the FTC explained. It gave an example…

One particular form includes fill-in-the-blanks for “Client Balance” (what the consumer actually owes) and “Balance Given” (what the debt collector told the consumer they owe). In many instances, forms completed by the collectors show that the Balance Given to consumers is hundreds of dollars higher than the Client Balance. (Some even show thousands higher.) That, in a nutshell, is overbiffing.

What does overbiffing mean to me?

Basically, unscrupulous debt collectors are tricking people into paying more than they really owe — by lying about the numbers. It’s an age old tactic with a cutting-edge spin. In the past, has warned about debt collectors charging you interest you don’t owe…

“They can’t run up interest charges and fees because you don’t answer the phone. They also can’t just double or triple the amount you owe on a whim. There are rules that are outlined in your original contract and collectors must follow them.”

Debt scams are much like data breaches. As soon as hackers figure out how to break into, say, Equifax’s database, businesses and government respond with tighter security. After the Equifax disaster, there was a new law this year allowing you to place free credit freezes. Then, of course, there’s the general awareness and urgency that comes from major data breaches that both scare us and focus our attention.

Overbiffing is just the latest bad-guy escalation in an arms race over credit and debt. It might grab the public’s attention not because it’s so pervasive — the word is literally five days old — but because it sounds funny.

I’m serious.

How weird buzzwords seep into the subconscious

Words have power. Earlier this year, wrote about the major dictionaries releasing their word of the year. Among them was youthquake. A few years ago, tried to convince those dictionaries to create the word data britches. Why? Because a hot new term can convince people to concentrate. Think FIRE. No, not the flames, the retirement philosophy. It stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early,” and it’s been covered by most major media outlets, from The Wall Street Journal to the BBC. Is it some radical new concept? Not at all. Financial counselors like me have been encouraging Americans to spend less and save for retirement for decades. Yet the term FIRE has caught on with millennials, and I’m happy to hear it. Whatever makes them save.

So here’s my hope that overbiffing sounds so amusing to Americans that they stop, read up on it, and then promise themselves never to fall for such a scam. The easiest way to avoid overbiffing? Call for a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor. We’ll keep you from getting stiffed by the overbiffers.