The calls went out by the millions to unsuspecting consumers across the country.

Phony debt collectors – based in Southern California and using call centers in India – demanded immediate payment on delinquent loans. Often posing as attorneys or law enforcement officials, they threatened consumers with lawsuits or arrests if payments weren't made.

And they were highly effective. In 8.5 million calls tracked over four months in late 2010 by the Federal Trade Commission, the callers raked in more than $5 million in payments from intimidated consumers.

Only problem: Nobody owed them a dime.

The "phantom-debt" collection calls originated from two companies – American Credit Crunchers LLC and Ebeeze LLC, based in Orange County's Villa Park. Last week, the FTC announced that both companies have been shut down by court order and their assets frozen while an investigation continues.

"This is a brazen operation based on pure fraud, and the FTC is committed to shutting it down," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement last week.

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