Published: Dec 27, 2011 10:52 PM EST
Updated: Dec 28, 2011 5:48 AM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The poor economy has a lot of people struggling to pay their bills. Con-artists know that and they're looking to cash in on your last dollar.

Across Southwest Florida, people are getting calls from debt collectors who may actually be thieves. They call saying you owe money and you need to pay up right away.

“We'll have the debt collectors calling saying you owe a hundred dollars… two hundred dollars. Sometimes it is a little bit higher,” says Stacey Payne of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Unit.

She says the thieves pick common companies, like Visa, to fool you into thinking you're behind on your payments. They hope you'll pay up quick without questioning whether you owe the money or not.

The caller says you missed a payment and uses a lot of pressure to get you to pay up right away. Payne says don’t fall for it.

“If you receive one of those phone calls, don't be in such a rush to give out your information or to pay the debt. First, do your research and see if they are a legitimate debt collecting agency,” says Payne.

Ask for them to send you paperwork verifying the debt. Make them write out who it is from and how much you allegedly owe.

Remember, there are no debtors prisons in the United States. You can't go to jail for not paying a debt no matter what the person on the other line says. There are federal laws protecting you against harassment.

Here is a link to frequently asked questions about the fair debt collecting practices:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm