Every day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve come home to a beeping answering machine. This is annoying to me for several reasons. First, the beep is way too loud. We’ve tried turning down the volume on it, but had no luck. Second, the machine is upstairs, so it takes me a minute to get to it after I sort the mail and set down my bags. And third (the biggest annoyance), is that I think I know who the voicemail is from: a debt collector.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t owe any money. But somehow, this debt collector has gotten a hold of my number. The agency — Riddle & Associates — continues to leave a daily message on my machine for someone named “Esteban.” The automated voicemail says that they are calling about an outstanding debt from Esteban, and would Esteban please call back between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.? (The time constrictions further my annoyance, since I’m usually at work during those hours and keep forgetting to call to let them know I’m not who they think I am. So, the cycle of coming home to a beeping answering machine continues.)
At the back of my mind though, I’m also worried. I know all about identity theft. I know that many people only realize they’re victims once a debt collector starts calling to collect a debt incurred by someone else, perhaps someone named Esteban.
Finally though, I reach Riddle & Associates and get a live person. I explain to them that I’m not who they think I am, and can they please stop calling. And I haven’t gotten a call since, as easy as that.
Out of curiosity, though, I Googled Riddle & Associates. The overwhelming majority of search results are from angry consumers receiving strange calls from Riddle about debts that aren’t theirs. Just like me. How did this debt collector get our phone numbers? Are there actual debtors out there giving false information? Or does someone who used to have this phone number now owe money?
A friend of mine has recently had a similar experience, except the voicemails are from NCO Financial Systems. NCO’s voicemails are also automated, but don’t specify a name (just a case number). Like me, my friend is not aware of any debt she owes to a collector. She did some research and found over a hundred sites dedicated to NCO being a scam agency, with tons of complaints filed against them for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Here’s a blurb from one of the websites: “The company purchases old debt from people like your cell phone provider, hospitals and the government for pennies on the dollar and then tries to collect it. You may have even already paid the bill, like I had, but that is really a minor, irrelevant point. The reality is, much if not most of this debt is so old no one has any obligation to repay any of it, least of all not to NCO. Many people have been harassed for debt belonging to neighbors, relatives, old residents of the same address, and co-workers. Don’t pay NCO a penny.”
My friend decided not to call NCO back because the messages they leave are so fishy. She hopes that by ignoring the calls, they’ll stop eventually. She read that if you respond to the calls, they only get worse because then the agency knows a real person exists at that number.
Has anyone else had a similar experience with debt collectors calling about a debt they don’t owe? How did you handle it?