28 May 2010

Commentary: Collection Agencies

Yesterday I mentioned all the telemarketing calls I've been dealing with, mostly at work, but sometimes at home, too. My new easy solution is to simply put them on hold and wait until they hang up. Simple, fun and a little devilish.

But how about those creditors and collection agencies, huh? Wait, wait. I pay my bills. We have $0 left at the end of the month, but the bills are all paid on time, every month.

The problem is the chick who had my phone number before. I don't think to much of her. I've had my phone number since the summer of 2003, when I bought Oliver's bungalow. In fact, my number was assigned to me before I even moved in. So that's nearly 7 years now.

At first, we didn't think much of it, new number, lots of call that weren't for me. I just had a plain phone, no caller id, no answering machine, so I probably missed a lot more than I knew.

Then one day, when I wasn't home, mom took a call from our local police looking for this woman, we'll call her AH. My mom politely explained to them that this was a new number for us and we never heard from the police again.

Many calls from random drunk-sounding guys, at all hours, asking for AH.

Eventually we got fancier phones, with caller id screens, and my upgraded long distance service came bundled with voice mail. Let the fun begin! Some days it seems we get more calls for other people than we do for ourselves.

One call came from her kid's school nurse. She left us a message. Hey AH, your kid is sick, come pick him up. At the elementary school. Okay, now I'm beginning to get disgusted. I think of some poor kid, sick, in the nurse's office (I can picture it- I went to the same elementary school, had been sick and waiting for my mommy in the same nurse's office... about two decades earlier) and now I'm mad at AH. I'm nice, so I call the school nurse back and tell her she didn't reach AH, I don't know AH, I have no way of reaching AH. School nurse thanks me and says she'll try another relative. Poor kid. What kind of mother is AH?

Around that same time I got a call from some woman whose kid was in the same class as AH. She wanted to set up a play date. I apologised and told her that she had the wrong number. I explained that I've been getting a lot of calls for AH, she wasn't the only one.

There was an early rash of calls from creditors, but that eventually stopped after Lewis barked at a couple of them.

Every year one of our local fire companies holds their annual festival. Apparently at one time AH was the vendor contact. The first year we got a couple of indecipherable messages, to which I could not respond. By the second year I had figured out what was happening, and I started calling people back. Some I reached and some I left messages for. I explained that I wasn't AH, I didn't know AH and I don't have any new contact info for AH. One poor guy couldn't understand why I wouldn't just make the arrangements for the tent rentals. I must have spent 10 minutes on the phone with him, politely explaining to him that I am in no way affiliated with the fire company, I just got a phone number that used to belong to someone who apparently doesn't update her contact information. I tried to tell him that I only returned his call because, well, the fire company's festival is a fund raising effort and I would feel bad if things didn't get sorted out. Every year since then, except this year, we have gotten calls, and I've always called them back. Fewer and fewer each year. This year none, so the fire company must have distributed a current list. Finally.

But those old lists are still out there. This winter I got a strange phone call. It was right after the big blizzard this winter, when we still had mountains of snow as tall as me. The phone rang and I saw the number was somewhat local, but not one I recognized. It was an elderly gentleman and he launched right into his question: Did I think they were still going to have the bluegrass band playing at the fire hall tonight? What? Okay, I'm too nice, because I continued this conversation. He asks me if I live near the fire hall. I'm thinking, this is weird, verging on creepy, but I wasn't getting a creepy vibe from him, just really odd questions. I'm so used to that at work that it barely fazed me. I told him, yes, but I'm a few blocks away. Well, he was wondering if they had a sign or anything, and if I could see it. I told him I was not that close, and the snow was still so high that I had not ventured out for a walk around town since before the storm. I suggested that he call the fire hall to see if it was still on for that evening. He said he had already tried that, but just got a recording saying to call 911 if it was an emergency. Makes sense. I reasoned that the fire fighters may still be very busy dealing with snow related emergencies. Cars getting stuck, roofs collapsing, that sort of thing. He agrees, then goes on to explain to me that some of the other old folks who usually go to this bluegrass thing don't want to make the long distance call, so they called him, and he in turn is calling me.

Okay. At this point, I'm thinking this man is just elderly and confused and he has randomly dialed a number. The more I though about the snow and the location of the fire hall, I didn't see how they could possibly park anything but emergency vehicles there. Besides, this is a small town, I get our local 4 page weekly newspaper delivered, I usually know about events happening about town. I hadn't heard anything about this bluegrass band playing. So, I told the elderly gentleman that while I hadn't really ventured out, and that was because our street was still virtually impassable, I also didn't see how it could be possible that they would have been able to clear parking near the fire hall and that it may be treacherous to walk around. I didn't say it, but I was picturing a bunch of elderly folks tottering around with canes and walkers on all that snow. These are the same folks who didn't want to pay for a long distance call, remember? We decided that even if they hadn't cancelled the bluegrass band, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to travel in this weather. He thanked me and hung up.

I sat down and laughed. Why did I treat a call to home like a call at work? Idiot. Too nice. Then curiosity got the better of me and I googled his phone number to see if it was a name I recognised, maybe he know my grandparents or something. Nope. I pulled up the fire company's website and looked for events. Nothing. Strange. Then I googled bluegrass and our town. Turns out the event is weekly, and held at the fire company in the next small town over! When I relayed this whole funny exchange to Lewis, he pointed out that the elderly man probably had an old contact list with AH on it. Of course!

Anyway, about two months ago we got a call from the local hospital. Where I always go. Where I was born, even. The lady from the billing department was looking for AH. I explained how long I had had this number, that I didn't know AH. She was very polite and said they wouldn't call again. Good.

The. Very. Next. Day. The collections calls started. I think the first company or two actually had a live person. I explained everything to them, they said they wouldn't call again. But as soon as we got rid of one, another collection company would take their place. Then the obnoxious recorded calls started. And they left messages when we weren't there. Eventually I started writing the numbers down and calling them back. I'm not AH, I don't know AH, but I don't like her! Please stop calling. With each call I had to return- and wait on hold upwards of 20 minutes- I got more and more aggressive.

Finally one day when I was home, trying to sleep in because I had to work late that night, I got 4 calls in one day, beginning at 9:03 AM. I had had enough. I called them back. Told the woman in no uncertain terms that these calls had to stop. I accused her company of not believing me, that I was not AH. Basically, I was the irate customer, and I knew that they would have to deal with me.

Next, I called the hospital's billing department. I explained the whole frustrating situation to a very nice gentleman there. He said he would do the best he could for me. He would contact the companies that I had written down and tell them take my number off that account. And any future companies who called me, all I needed to do was call him and give him that info. Well, that definitely a step in the right direction.

We didn't get any calls for about three weeks after that. I was just beginning to think that would be the end of it. Then one came in, with another of those obnoxious recorded messages. That's it. We did a bit of digging around and found a new, probably current address and phone number for AH. Gotcha! I called the creditor back and informed her that I was not AH, I did not know AH, but I may have a new number for AH. They were glad to have the information and... the calls seem to have stopped. Finally.

So, apparently I had to take matters into my own hands to get these calls to stop. Why should this be my responsibility?


Jayne said...

I had the same thing happen to me a couple of years ago. The guy who had my number before me apparently never paid his bills and was on probation. I got LOTS of calls for him. So aggravating. I can kinda see why someone like that guy wouldn't update his phone information, but AH should've updated hers--especially with the school!

Tara said...

I had a similar problem once! HP hadn't updated her contact info, and the phone company recycled the # too quickly. My boyfriend was quite suspicious of the phone calls from strange men at odd hours. Finally, we discovered that HP was getting married. I was getting calls from the florist, the church (?!) No collection calls, thank goodness. I eventually had the phone company give us a new # (we hadn't had the old one very long for it to make a difference). Good luck!!