Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Privacy Matters: Hot On the Trail of Ms. Gloria A—!

When my husband and I settled in the small community where we now live, we got new phone numbers. This was the year 1999, and cell phone usage was not as ubiquitous; most people still had landlines. We each got separate lines because my husband uses the phone much more than I do, and experience had already shown that I would end up being a de facto secretary.

I had already experienced many phone calls such as this: “Do you know where he is? I need to speak to him right now about…” Most of the time, I could not help such callers. Things improved a bit after he got a cell phone; at least I was able to call him to let him know someone needed to speak to him right now.

So, now that we were married and settled into our new home, we each had (and still have) our separate lines. We also have cell phones.

When we got our land lines, little did we know that my husband had actually signed up to be harassed by phone, daily.

The quarry is actually not my husband, but one Gloria A—, and her overdue account is quite old, being as, apparently, she had my husband’s number before my husband did.

The calls started coming in almost immediately. Messages were left on the answering machine. Call immediately to clear up this complaint!

My husband dutifully called the number. He explained to the person who answered the phone that he was the new owner of this phone number, was obviously not Gloria A—, and please stop calling.

The man on the other end of the line asked, “Do you know Gloria A—?”

“No,” my husband patiently answered, “we just moved here.”

The man then got surly, “Well, we have found that people who say they don’t know the people we are looking for really do know them.”

“This number may have been hers before, but we moved to this house and the phone company gave me this number; it is mine now.” My husband tried to reason.

The man persisted, “Can you tell me how to get in touch with Gloria A—?”

“Look,” my husband said, “I am telling you that I do not know Gloria A— and you don’t believe me. If I were to now suddenly say I know Gloria A—, would you believe me, then? This is my new phone number, and I have nothing to do with this. Please stop calling.”

And so it is that the calls have been coming regularly, between 9am and 10am, every morning. My husband tried several times to get this to stop, to no avail. So, we screen the calls and let the answering machine collect the useless messages.

Although the calls originally may have come from one company, they are now coming from another company. I’ll tell you the name of this company because they are quite notorious, and they will probably think of it as publicity: Debt Recovery Solutions. This company specializes in what are known as “zombie debts,” that is debts that have gone uncollected from other debt collection agencies. These other agencies have given up but, believe it or not, they sell these uncollectable accounts, rather like the old junk bonds the banks used to sell, to much more sleazy operations down the debt collection food chain.

Most often, “zombie debts” are old phone accounts, or book and music club accounts that went delinquent ages ago. And I mean, these debts are really old, quite often more than 8 years old. Many times, these are not even legitimate claims—the debt had either actually been paid and not properly posted, or was subsequently cleared, but the debt file still exists because it was sold to this other operation, having never been properly cleared up. These accounts are all beyond the statute of limitations.

Debt Recovery Solutions leaves at least one message on my husband’s answering machine, every day.  We have received messages from actual people, telling us to call a toll free 877 number. Sometimes, however, the message is a prerecorded one, saying “Hello, this call is about a debt collection. We need you to return this call immediately. If you are—” and here there is an abrupt cut in by different mechanical voice, “Gloria A—” which then cuts back to the original mechanical voice, “please press 1 now. If you are not,” cuts again, “Gloria A—” cut, “please press 2 now and stay on the line.”

Really?! If you were Gloria A—, would you accept such an invitation? And if you are not Gloria A—, but somehow foolish enough to press 2 and stay on the line, I wonder what will happen? I suspect you will just be signing yourself up to continue to be harangued by some abusive nitwit for years, because you obviously are in cahoots with Gloria A—. What I know for certain is that pressing 2 and staying on the line will not be a way to get them to stop calling you.

And, so the calls and messages have continued, even unto the present day.

At a certain point, the National Do Not Call Registry came into being (in 2004, after a court challenge), and we registered our numbers right away, thinking this might solve the problem. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem. Collection agencies and Charities are still allowed to call any number they want. And I think that carpet cleaning companies are also somehow allowed, although they shouldn’t be; perhaps they are illegally registered as charities. But it doesn’t matter; the unwanted calls continue.

Debt Recovery Solutions is the end of the line for zombie debts, I suspect. They have managed to bully many people into paying them money that should not be paid to them. The hapless victims think this will get these bottom feeders off their backs. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, as you can see by doing a simple search on the web. Debt Recovery Solutions is a prize bully. Known for putting dings on credit ratings, this company cannot be reached with certified cease and desist letters, and you cannot fight them through the legal system, apparently.

Legally, you are entitled to at least $1000.00 if a case goes to court and you are innocent. But guess what? You will have to hire a lawyer, and guess what, there are tons of bottom feeding attorneys out there who specialize in this kind of litigation. (Perhaps these attorneys are actually clandestine employees of the debt collection agencies, themselves, and this whole racket is a system that is self-perpetuating.) And I have read, among the many consumer complaints I found online, that even if you can contact the company, bring them to court and prove your case, the dings stay on your credit record, are not removed. Somehow, the company cannot be compelled to clear things up. Seven years of bad credit luck ensues.

Where does this leave us, with regard to truth, justice and matters of privacy? The only conclusion one can come to is that There Is No Such Thing As Privacy and your life is irrevocably open to such unwanted intrusions. Companies like this are an untraceable menace, seeming to exist beyond the arms of a legal system that really doesn’t care to bother with protecting consumers from phone harassment.

My husband and I consider, from time to time, giving up the phone number. He mostly uses his smart phone now. We do get many calls on this landline, from people who have known us for a long time, from family, friends and neighbors. We have never met Gloria A—; as far as we know, she does not live in our community.

I think the reason we have kept this phone number, despite the continuing aggravation, is because we feel somehow protective of Gloria A—. This all might be over the last bill she was sent for the number that is now my husband’s. If she moved without a forwarding address, that bill would have gone into limbo. All of this bother could just be for a partial month’s phone bill from 1998.

The messages are left daily. We delete them from the answering machine.

After more than 15 years, they are still hot on your trail, Gloria A—! Watch out!

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