Imagine my surprise when after reporting on people in Middle Tennessee getting phone calls about debts they don't actually don't owe, I got a call myself on my personal cell phone saying that Jeremy Finley owed more than $1,000 for an old debt.
In many cases, those calls come from scam artists who threaten people that they must pay up or they will be arrested.
One threatening caller left a message about a fake debt on the voicemail of a Channel 4 viewer, stating, "If I don't hear from your attorney, either, the only thing I can do is wish you good luck as the situation unfolds on you."
Even with garbled Indian accents, the callers often have so much personal information that consumers rattled by the recession who may have lots of credit card debts or loans fall prey.
"There's a slight recognition of - that might be something I owe," said Kathleen Calligan, president and CEO with the Better Business Bureau if Middle Tennessee Inc.
The call I received came not from a scam artist, but from Midland Credit Management, a legitimate debt collection company, and representative from the company had my name and my personal cell phone number.
Calligan said often consumers are fooled into paying fake debts because of the amount of personal information obtained by the caller on the phone.
"They have a lot of information about you. Just like the did about you, Jeremy. And they intimidate you into paying something you don't owe," Calligan said.
The representative from Midland said, "You remember, you had a cell phone account T-Mobile?"
I knew it was false because I've never had a T-Mobile account. After the representative explained different payment plans, I explained that I was a reporter who had been doing stories about people who had been getting calls about debts they didn't owe.
The representative confirmed that they were calling from India and asked if I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I said yes and was on hold for a while.
A supervisor named Josh came on the line and confirmed they were with Midland.
The company is based out of San Diego and has more than 1,000 complaints with the BBB. Midland does have a BBB grade of B+ because it has responded to so many of the complaints.
The Channel 4 I-Team found several complaints online, including one from someone who wrote they had received a letter from Midland indicating they owed a debt on T-Mobile account, even though they've never had a T-Mobile phone.
I asked the company if they were doing enough to verify who actually owes the debt.
"While we understand your concern, we are often faced with the challenge of locating a consumer who may have changed addresses or phone numbers...We have rigorous protocols in place to address any issues that may arise when someone s contacted about a debt that is not theirs," said Sheryl Wright, senior vice president for Encore Capital Group.
Encore Capital Group owns Midland.
I also asked how the company got my name.
"There of course will be occasional instances when a consumer who owes a debt shares the same name with someone who doesn't owe that debt. In fact, a web search of U.S. Census data shows that there could be over 50 people across the country with your same name," Wright said.
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