Inheriting a Phone Number with Baggage

Life took a turn. Newly separated and suffering from multiple medical issues, I tried to pull myself out of debt. While waiting for callbacks from multiple job applications, I was approved for a handful of payday loans ranging from $1,000 to $3,000. Debt collectors started calling (yes, multiple companies) and “Unknown” callers cursed me out. I kept getting pre recorded calls that the IRS issued a lawsuit against me because of my unpaid debt. So I took the first step of running away from it all, I changed my number.

Okay, that isn’t me, but it is Mary Solidus (name has been changed to protect the innocent), the owner of the phone number before the phone company gave it to me five months ago. Friends and family suggest I change my number so, like Mary, I can escape from that life. From the 349+ texts and calls, and a Facebook search out of curiosity, here’s what I’ve learned about Mary

  • Name, date of birth, address, marital status, children
  • Medical appointments and pharmacy
  • Durable medical equipment used
  • Insurance status
  • Mortgage/rental status
  • Payday loans approved for, and amount
  • Internet shopping accounts
  • With whom she has unsettled debt

When I tell callers that they have the wrong number, I’ve heard everything from “You lie, bitch” to “I’m so sorry to inconvenience you.” The ladies from debt collecting companies are the nice people! I feel like I should be able to tell them how to find her given how much I know.

If the phone company assigned this number to the wrong person then Mary could be thrown to a worse place than she’s running from now, and that’s hard to believe. Given her debt all the scam calls and texts that I get, I imagine I’m just a few hundred dollars offer away from getting her SSN. I haven’t searched for any of this information, it’s all been given to me, so I can only imagine how easy identity theft is for people who are financially insecure.

First, I want to scream and wave my arms to STAY AWAY FROM PAYDAY LOANS! Second, I’ve imagined dropping off a copy of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace on her doorstep with a kind note. Medical debt is the primary cause of bankruptcies, and that is part of Mary’s problem. This is unfortunate, as I know that many hospitals and clinics are willing to work out a payment plan if asked. And like thousands of Americans, Mary is another adult suffering from back pain. She might qualify for disability from anxiety and pain, but is that really the right route? 

The constant calls couldn’t be ignored, like a caterpillar on my face.

Despite all I know about Mary, there’s still a lot I don’t know. I don’t know if she dug this hole for herself or if it was her former spouse from whom she’s working to distance herself. I don’t how serious her medical issues are, if they’re the result of a trauma or somatization from serious life stressors. I don’t know her current employment status, but I worry that she needs a job and struggles to find one when she gives out the wrong phone number. Yet, she is likely better off not getting all the scams and payday loan calls and texts that I have received. I’m well-educated, financially secure (massive student loan debt, but we have a plan and we’re basically secure), healthy and happy; yet the automated calls that the IRS is after me (Mary) scares me. Even though I know the calls aren’t for me, I’m inclined to do whatever they ask. These companies are preying on people who are already down.

The last five months, and 349 blocked numbers, I feel that I’ve gotten to know Mary well. In fact, I recently got a texts from her Uber driver specialist about her job inquiry, and three days later got a text about an “AutoInsurance loophole Now 19.00/Mo”. However, the “Unknown” numbers are coming with increased frequency. The phone company tells me this is spoofing and illegal, and directed me towards a website to report spoofing. The Do Not Call registry also has one, but these forms are designed to report a single incident. I completed them the best I could and used +10000000000 (a number I had blocked twice already) as the caller.

A few days before I wrote this post, I finally caved and got a new phone number. I had been resisting the hassle of updating my contact information with a huge list of offices, friends, and professional contacts, but the incessant calls and texts meant for Mary eventually wore me down. Hopefully this new number will be less exciting. I might even start answering calls from unrecognized numbers again (hey, what if it’s an emergency about my kids?) rather than directing all calls to voicemail. So far, my phone has been blissfully silent and I keep checking to make sure it works. It reminds me of being on call and the pager goes silent, surely the technology has failed and I’m missing something.

 

Share your experiences with spoofing. Have you, or anyone you know, fallen victim to payday lenders or credit agencies? Tell your horror stories and share your resources.

 

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