Birthdate = legal signature?
January 21, 2008 1:49 PM   Subscribe

We say, we don't owe it. They say, the birthdate equals a legal signature. Who's right? (more inside)

I 'm with a non profit in Michigan. We got a bill from a collection agency for a publication that we have not heard of and have not received. When we called to question it, we were told they had the birthdate of the person who ordered it. They have the birth month and day, but not year. And what they have is accurate. The person who they say ordered it has no recollection of ordering it. She doesn't have the authority to order it and has never ordered anything like that before.

Are we on the hook for it?
posted by Jandasmo to Law & Government (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but I would be absolutely shocked if something as non-unique as a birthday (sans year, even) would constitute as a signature on a legally binding contract. The person who ordered it should look very closely at their personal finances however, they may be a victim of identity theft.
posted by Nelsormensch at 1:58 PM on January 21, 2008

And of course, I mean "ordered" it, as in the person who's birthdate is in question.
posted by Nelsormensch at 1:59 PM on January 21, 2008

This sounds scammy to me. I think they are just fishing. They could get a birth date from numerous sources, including Zabasearch. Here's a sample letter for how to dispute the charge.
posted by kimdog at 2:01 PM on January 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Easy peasy. Just Google "my birthday" for the day and even the year, in many cases.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:05 PM on January 21, 2008

You might want to check whether your state Attorney General has heard of this company before :-)
posted by winston at 2:10 PM on January 21, 2008

Sounds like a total scam, like the one where someone calls to ask what kind of copier you have, it's time to order toner. Who orders publications with a birthday, anyway? I wouldn't waste another nanosecond worrying about it. A legitimate publication would be able to provide more information than what they are giving you.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2008

The fact that they have the person's name and birthdate is largely irrelevant to whether they have an agreement with your organization for the publication. They could have a picture of that person at every birthday party he or she ever attended, a slice of every birthday cake, and an itemized list of every attendee and it wouldn't matter. Whether you have an agreement depends on whether that person, having apparent authority (or some similar standard), intended to enter into an agreement or gave manifestation of such an intention as would have convinced a reasonable person of that intention. Things like signatures may manifest that apparent intention, or satisfy the Statute of Frauds, but it would be idiotic of them to even claim that possessing the birthdate amounts to a "legal signature" that is independently conclusive.

I suspect that what they're saying is that your employee did agree to the purchase, notwithstanding his/her recollection, and that the birthdate is something they wouldn't otherwise have. They may be correct as to whether the order was placed, but having the birthdate surely isn't very convincing proof. It's a little strange that in a business-to-business transaction they would even have asked for such a thing.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:24 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds totally bogus to me. Having worked in a library and seen all the paperwork go back and forth for purchases and licenses, I would be left speechless if any company ever argued that having the birth date of one of our employees constitutes a binding contract for the purchase of the publication.

Show us an order form, to start with, and then we'll talk.
posted by splice at 2:25 PM on January 21, 2008

Sounds very scammy indeed.

I'd be willing to bet that this "publication" is some sort of crappy directory listing. You're not on the hook for it, since you didn't order it. Here's what I'd do:

First, look them up on the Better Business Bureau website. You'll probably find lots of complaints about them for the same sort of nonsense. Check out both the company and the "collection agency".

Next, call them and explain that since you did not order their product, you know that you are not obligated to pay for it (this is true even if you received the product; the FTC has more information if you need it). They'll probably piss and moan, but you are in the right, so stand your ground.

If they do not leave you alone, or if you are so inclined, file complaints with the BBB and FTC. I've dealt with scams like this before and sometimes you actually have to do all of the paperwork before they finally figure out that you're not going to pay them, although they usually slink away once you call and explain that you weren't born yesterday.

Above all: do not pay and do not worry. You owe nothing and they know it. (And yes, the bit about having a birthday as proof of anything is utter bullshit).
posted by stefanie at 2:33 PM on January 21, 2008

This sounds like a familiar racket I dealt with when I was a paralegal, taken an extra step.

Step 1 - You receive a cheap, useless, unsolicited "Law Directory" with a cover letter stating "Here's the copy of EastLaw Utterly Cheap and Useless Law Directory you ordered. Your invoice will be arriving soon. Thanks for your business!" You assume the book was ordered by someone else and route it to the law library for the law clerks to catalogue.

Step 2 - You then begin receiving bills for said publication. The bills are routed as a matter of course to accounts payable and paid.

Step 3 - Additional bills are sent out every month - month after month after month, in fact - with the hope that no one has yet noticed that the publication has already been paid for at least three or four times.

Step 4 - After someone notices, the bills are scrapped. The makers of Cheap and Useless Law Directory begin sending threatening letters, saying "You are two months behind on your payment, etc., etc., we will report this to collections if you do not pay, etc., etc."

Step 5 - You begin receiving letter from a supposed collection agency which is actually the same company simply disguising itself with vaguely official, threatening-looking letters in all caps with certain particularly bullying phrases bolded and underlined for maximum pants-wetting effect.

Now, it seems, there's a new step - find out a name of one employee by looking up the company or firm's website, search on-line for their birthday, skip steps one through four and just start directly with step five.

We were able to avoid this scam because our office was all of four people large and we would send the original crap publication back via certified mail with a letter stating explicitly we weren't interested and would not be paying for anything.

I really doubt that even a reputable (I can't believe I just typed that) collection agency would cite the name and birthday of someone who ordered a publication who did not actually pay for the publication from a personal account. How they would have that information escapes me. This sounds like a scam from start to finish and, on preview, winston's advice to alert the attorney general is not a bad idea. I would search around on-line and see if you can verify that this is even a collection agency. Perhaps the Better Business Bureau in your area could be of some help, as well.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nthing the scam. I get this occasionally at school and simply tell them, "I didn't order that and am not paying." Make sure they know not to send you anything- record it over the phone if you have to. They love to send you crap, and will gladly take it back with a 30% restocking fee.
posted by jmd82 at 2:41 PM on January 21, 2008

That consumerist site sure loves long-windedness.

Dear collection agency:

Attached is a copy of your collection notice. This is not a valid debt. We did not order nor did not receive the service. Please do not contact us again regarding it. Under no circumstances should you make any reports to any credit reporting agency regarding this debt.

Yours etc.,
posted by gjc at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

On preview, as well, nthing what stefanie said.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2008

At my day job, I encountered something similar to this a few years ago. Verizon insisted we had authorized an ad in their yellow pages despite the fact we had not. (We advertise in one set of yellow pages, and always decline offers to advertise in new books.) As proof, they cited the fact they had our Tax ID #. As best I can determine, I must have been rude to the company doing the pitch work for Verizon, and they decided to screw me over. (I've heard of this happening, but hadn't ever experienced it until this incident.) You can read my adventures at: Verizon Sucks. Anyhow, my advice is to stick to your guns.


Make them prove by some method other than a flippin' birthdate that somebody at your organization actually authorized this order.
posted by jdroth at 2:54 PM on January 21, 2008

Just fyi, lots of online magazine subscription services use a birth date, or eye color, or some other 'significant' piece of data in lieu of a digital signature. Often these are the sorts of places offering a free subscription that automatically renews and begins billing you after the first year and such.

IANAL, but as far as I know, this is just so they have something to pull out if there's a billing dispute, and isn't accepted as a legal signatory by any sort of court.
posted by pupdog at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2008

I don't know Michigan law, but just because someone knows your birthday doesn't mean you've signed anything. Sounds like outright fraud to me.
posted by mikewas at 3:12 PM on January 21, 2008

Additionally, the scam can work like this: the phoney company calls and records the call. Oh, they 'tell' you the call is being recorded for training purposes or some such shit, but usually they talk so damn fast you can't be sure what they said anyway. Then, they ask who they are speaking to, and what your position is. In our case, we had a temporary receptionist working the phones who gave her name and the company name. Next, they asked if we wanted to advertise in their directory or newsletter or some idiotic publication. Again, talking so fast and furious that no one can understand what is said. Temp says that she is not the right person to give permission, but that doesn't seem to get into the final recording.

Time passed. Bills arrived and were not paid. Nasty letters arrived and were added to the stack of bills. Then, I was hired. First thing I did was to deny that we ever authorized the inclusion of our company in their publication. They said they had recorded proof. I said tough shit, she wasn't an employee, and I can prove it. We won't pay. They threatened. I threatened them with our legal department. I prevailed. I got it in writing that we did not owe anything. End of story.
posted by Corky at 3:18 PM on January 21, 2008

Bogus. gjc has the cure.
posted by flabdablet at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2008

I would never give out my date of birth if I were placing a business order. Is this commonly asked for in the US? Seems like it would be a violation of data protection laws for a contract between two businesses to involve someone's personal data.
posted by happyturtle at 3:43 PM on January 21, 2008

"Hello, Dasein?"

"Yes, this is Dasein."

"I'm calling from the Acme Product Reviews Magazine, I was wondering if I could interest you in a subscription for your company."

"Well, that sounds like a good idea. We buy lots of Acme Products. Sure, sign us up."

"Great. Could I get your birth day and month."

"Well, it's March 15, 19--"

"No, no, sir, we don't need the year. Day and month will do."

"Uh, okay."

"Great, well your order is complete."

"You don't need a credit card or anything? Are you going to send an invoice."

"Nope, we've got your birth day and month, and that's all we need. And we don't send invoices. It's up to you to send us a cheque, and if you don't, we'll call and threaten your company. After all, we have your birth day and month, which as everyone knows is proof that a legally binding contract has been formed between us. Bye now."

If you live in a universe where the foregoing seems normal, then pay up. Otherwise, fuck 'em.
posted by Dasein at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer, this is only my opinion. But if they're claiming they sent you something and you've not received it, you may have a case for mail fraud. Check your office and consult an attorney.

Call the collection agency, get their address and the name and address of the publishing company. After you get it, let them know you're filing a report of mail fraud against the publisher with your local police and will send them a notorized copy of the complaint. This will get the collection agency off your back for now.

Contact your police. It's possible they've encountered this before.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 4:28 PM on January 21, 2008

It definitely sounds like a scam.

Kioki-Silver is probably right that the police might have heard of it before, but if you think that's too drastic then perhaps the Department of Consumer Affairs (or your local equivalent)?
posted by robcorr at 5:37 PM on January 21, 2008

I worked in a national corporate law firm and had an experience very similar to TryTheTilapia's. The amount they asked for was around $400, just small enough that it's enticing to pay it just to make the harassment stop. Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong law firm to fuck with.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

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