What was this weird phone call?
March 17, 2008 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I be concerned about the strange phone call I received today? Was it a creditor (looking for someone else) or a scam?

For the past year and a half, I have been harrassed by creditors looking for a person who owes thousands of dollars. This person just happens to have my name (though with a different middle initial). I've learned enough about the person, including her mailing address(es) and the last four digits of her SSN. So far, this isn't a case of identity theft; the creditors seem to be looking to collect the money from anywhere. I have received phone calls from a ridiculous amount of creditors. Some of the phone calls have been pretty dubious (very shady, very unprofessional). Now, my sister, who lives in a different state, is receiving phone calls looking for this woman. In the past 9 months, I've started to receive letters from creditors. I've responded to all the correspondence, and I've disputed that I am the person who owns the debts. So far, none of the creditors have given me any problems after I dispute (either through the mail or over the phone).

QUESTION: Today I received a phone call in the afternoon. I should say that I loathe talking on the phone, and I'm TERRIBLE at it. I know that I should always demand the person to identify themselves, and I really don't know how to conduct myself well over the phone at all. The woman who called did not identify herself or the company she works for (if indeed she was calling on behalf of a company), and simply asked, 'Is 'Jane' there?' (say, my name is 'Jane Doe' for this particular question). I said 'yes.' There was a long pause, and then she asked, 'Oh, are you 'Jane'?' Once again, I said yes (I was assuming this was a creditor, and I was getting ready to defend myself against the inevitable accusations of owed money). The woman then said, 'Thank you.' [Long pause] So, I'm waiting for her to go on.. Finally, I said 'Hello?,' and that tone followed by the recording of the operator came on ('If you'd like to make a call, hang up..'). Um, so basically, she just called to see if 'Jane' was there. That's it. I realize that I screwed up by not demanding her to identify herself first. What, if anything, could this phone call have meant? Does it sound like a scam? Does it sound like a creditor 'verifying' some information about my telephone number? Should I be worried? I'd really like the phone calls to stop, and I hope that whatever this encounter was hasn't set me back even further in this struggle!

I should also mention that we don't have any kind of caller id, or anything that would determine a phone number.
posted by Mael Oui to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you don't have caller ID, you should be able to hit *69 on your phone, which will call back the originating number of the last incoming call. If it was a company, they might answer with the company name. If not, the phone company should have a record of the call, so you can find out the number and use a reverse phone lookup to find out who the number belongs to.

That said, it probably isn't anything to worry about. Perhaps they are looking for this other Jane Doe, but finding out that "Jane" answered the phone doesn't really give them anything except that they now know the number is active. Which will probably lead to more phone calls, but you can eventually stop those with the methods you've already employed.
posted by bedhead at 7:22 PM on March 17, 2008

It actually kind of sounds like it might be a burglary casing call gone awry. Sometime burglars will phone a target house to see if someone is home and ask for a random name. It may be that they happened to ask for the name of someone who actually lived there by accident.

I don't suppose that scenario really makes you worry less, though, does it?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:39 PM on March 17, 2008

They could be looking for this Jane Doe and started calling "J Doe" listings to narrow down which J's might be Janes.
posted by Yorrick at 7:46 PM on March 17, 2008

I used to get calls like that from a creditor looking for someone with the same name. This woman would call, ask who I was, and then just not say anything. Drove me nuts. I have no idea why they would do such a thing, but yes, there is at least one creditor out there who does that.
posted by equalpants at 7:50 PM on March 17, 2008

It could be a skiptracer - see here. Some collection agencies have their own skiptracing departments, some firms do nothing but skiptracing on bundles of debt that have been or are being sold.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2008

Re conducting oneself on the phone

As far as handling rude telephone queries goes, I request, "May I ask who is calling?" A question "answered" with another direct question puts the onus upon the caller. It is one's right to know to whom one is speaking in a call.
posted by bonobo at 8:21 PM on March 17, 2008

Get a copy of your credit report, just to make sure none of these creditors is confusing you with the deadbeat in ways other than on the telephone.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:28 PM on March 17, 2008

I wouldn't worry about it. I used to make the occasional call just like this often to track down the residence of an elected official who was screwing people over. They are always surprised 2 days later when a busload of protestors show up on their front lawn.

Typically, though my calls were a little less creepy. My favorite tactic..

"Hello, is this John Doe?"
"This is Tom from Jason's Deli, calling to tell you that you won a free lunch for dropping your business card in the fish bowl thing"
"Now if I can just get a home address in which to mail the coupon to, then you will be all set...."
posted by jlowen at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2008

Phone slammers also do this; they need to record you saying "Yes" a couple of times, so that they can insert it into a "conversation" they'll claim they had with you wherein you agreed to switch to their long-distance carrier or whatnot.

So, creditors aside -- call your phone company and see if there have been any changes.
posted by davejay at 11:30 PM on March 17, 2008

bedhead - I think it's definitely too late for *69. As paranoid as I am about this, the thought of being on the telephone with Verizon for an hour.. ugh. I imagine it's too late to contact them now, though. I figure you're probably right about the last bit, but it doesn't make any sense why they would just hang up!

jacquilynne - I did think of a burglary casing call, too. Though I suppose I don't necessarily want to dwell on that notion!

equalpants - Thanks, that puts me at ease (well, a little)! At least it's good to know that that's a tactic creditors use with other people. I wonder what the reasoning behind it is, though!

ersatzkat - Thanks, I hadn't heard of skiptracing. That was interesting reading. 'Skiptracing is done by collecting as much information as possible about the subject which is then analyzed, reduced, and verified': if that's so, the caller did a poor job!

bonobo - You are absolutely right. I need to train myself to ask that of any caller I don't recognize who doesn't identify themselves. In fact, I get flustered so easily, I really should carry around a slip of paper with that written on it (kind of like a script)!

Pastabagel - Good advice! My credit report was clean as of seven months ago, but I should double-check.

jlowen - Errrr, that's actually creepier! I haven't done anything wrong! I can, to some extent, understand creditors looking for this random deadbeat, but I would hope anyone seeking some kind of retribution would verify identities before striking!

davejay - Actually, I have a question about this. I remember hearing about phone slammers.. None of the utilities are in my name. The phone isn't in my name. Basically nothing is in my name. Could phone slammers still be an option that I should be concerned about?
posted by Mael Oui at 12:03 AM on March 18, 2008

What davejay said was my first thought. Try to avoid saying "yes" on the phone when an unknown caller asks if it is you.
posted by grouse at 3:21 AM on March 18, 2008

This website lists phone numbers and comments by people about who the caller was. Example:

"Yep, I get 'em too. I think more than likely it's either a collection agency working for T-Mobile wirelss or Time Warner cable. Maybe I still have a balance from when I lived in Wisconsin. ..."

Maybe this will help with calls that drive you crazy?

Personally, I let most of my calls go to voicemail and only call back people who I know who really need to talk to me. None of my friends or family block their caller id.
posted by cda at 6:25 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

This could be a practice of a shifty creditor that I've seen when looking up unknown numbers that call mye cell(from cda's website or whocalled.us).

Basically said creditor will call and just leave the message "By continuing to listen you acknowledge you are '. Or if the creditors actually do make contact with a person claiming to be who they are looking for they will re-age the debt they are attempting to collect on.
posted by mnology at 10:02 AM on March 18, 2008

Stop being so nice to people on the phone. They've intruded into your life. You owe them nothing. Someone calls and asks for Jane, you say "who's speaking please?" If you think they are a business call you say "who do you represent please?" Stonewall any questions till they properly identify themselves. Anyone who isn't willing to do that isn't worth your time or courtesy. It's remotely possible they won't want to tell you who they are because of (misplaced) concerns about identifying that they're collecting a debt, which they are not supposed to do to non-debtors. Demand a phone number and address in that case.

Take a minute and familiarize yourself with the FDCPA and its protections. There's no reason anyone should have to put up with misbehavior from collection agencies, much less someone who isn't the debtor.

The word you need to throw around - once you force these people to identify themselves - is HARASSMENT. They can't harass you under penalty of law and there's financial penalties for doing so. I'm not sure if anyone has ever successfully used the FDCPA against a collection agency when they themselves are not the debtor, but the law is privately actionable (ie, the individual can sue) and it's $1,000 per violation. Some people have made a lot of money over the years off of sloppy CAs.

The phrase you need to use - once you get them to identify themselves - is "do not contact me by phone again, ever. If you must contact me you can do so by mail." The FDCPA allows for this and, again, there's financial penalties for violating it. Don't give them your address if they ask - tell them to use whatever they have on file. You're not that person anyway so what do you care? If something comes in the mail just shred it. Again, it's not your credit or problem.

It's not impossible these same clowns might report on your credit report, so keep an eye on it. Get your free reports every year from annualcreditreport.com.
posted by phearlez at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreeing so much with phearlez here. I know it's not your original question, but you should probably stop taking this collection agency stuff lying down. Send out certified letters, return receipt requested to all these agencies, stating that you are not the person they are looking for and to cease and desist all contact in any form immediately under the FDCPA guidelines. Keep copies of these letters and the return receipt, and if they contact you again after they get these letters, they are in violation of the law and you report them.
posted by joshrholloway at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2008

cut-paste of a previous comment (thread may include helpful advice too):

Back 6-7 years ago, when I was working from home and still had a land-line, there were a few months where I'd get a weird phone call every few days. It'd go:
Me: Hello?
Them: May I speak with Jerry?
Me: That's me.
Them: ::CLICK::
or, alternatively:
Me: Hello, this is Jerry...?
Them: ::CLICK::
The call would come at any time of day, different callers every time, and they'd hang up before I could say "Please don't call here anymore." The best I could figure was they were meta-telemarketers -- that is, they were mapping out the best times to call me to sell that information to actual telemarketers.

That's my theory, anyhow.
posted by LordSludge at 1:12 PM on March 18, 2008

LordSludge - Meta-telemarketers and skiptracers! It's unbelievable that people make a living doing these jobs! Your theory is extremely plausible! Actually, I kind of like your theory better than the others because, as frustrating as getting the phone calls might be, I'd rather think that it's some random thing that anyone might get rather than the fact that I'm being singled out and not getting a chance to defend my innocence.

phearlez & joshrholloway - You're both absolutely right. Though I have had to write a few disputes already, I have been kind of lax about this whole business, hoping that it will end over time. I wonder if it would also be worthwhile contacting my state attorney general. You two (and bonobo) have given me a lot of information that I'm going to be putting into action!

mnology - Okay, now I'm kind of afraid that, just because I said 'yes' to my first name, somehow they'll claim that I was accepting the debt (even though the debt was never mentioned)!
posted by Mael Oui at 2:57 AM on March 19, 2008

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