Debt collectors perform a useful function. They recover scads of bad debt for creditors -- an estimated $40 billion worth in 2007 -- that helps keep lending costs down for credit card companies and others. And, per the industry's reputable trade group, ACA International, "debt collectors often get flowers and thank you letters from grateful consumers."
Last week the Huffington Post asked readers for their weirdest debt collector stories. We received many tales of harassment, but none of flowers and thank yous. (We would like to! Send 'em to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
One woman wrote that debt collectors had been calling her over a debt that belonged to her husband's previous wife ("No need to tell you how mad it made me feel getting phone calls about my husband's ex's debts"). Another reader wrote that collectors were on his case for a credit card debt his dad allegedly owed when he passed away.
"They only stopped after I sent back a bill, unopened," the reader wrote. "I had left my father's name on it but had crossed out my address and wrote in the recipient's new address as: #1 Cloud Way, Heaven."
One of the best stories came from Billy Green, 47, of San Francisco, California. His debt collector troubles date all the way back to 1991, when he had some trouble leasing a trombone.
"I tried to rent a trombone and they ran a credit check on me," he said in a telephone interview with the Huffington Post. "They said, 'We wanted to ask you about this problem that you have when you were living in San Leandro.' I'd never lived in San Leandro."
William Green is something of a common name, it turns out.
Here's Green's letter to HuffPost:
I have had several instances of companies request credit reports for me and receive the report of a different "William Green" instead. I have been told variously that I have tax liens against me, that I'm a serial check bouncer, that I have defaulted on home loans and any number of other credit sins that I've never performed.
Several years ago, my bank sent me a notice that they had cut the credit limit on my Visa card to $1,000 because of a credit report they received. Trying to find out what the credit report said was like pulling teeth. For a week or so, they refused to give me any details of my alleged sins that had caused them to reduce my credit limit. When they finally told me that it was because I had defaulted on a home loan when I lived in San Jose a couple of years earlier, I nearly lost it. I asked if it had ever occurred to them to check their own records -- having banked with them for many years, they should already know that I have never lived in San Jose, and that I've never even bought a house anywhere, much less defaulted on a home loan. My credit limit was restored in a matter of minutes.
Every few years, a collection agency contacts me regarding debts owed by "Wiley Green." After a few calls, they admit that they considered it a long shot based on similarity of names (thinking if I'm not him, maybe I'm related), and they give it up. But every couple of years the letters start arriving for "Wiley Green" again, and the cycle starts anew. At this point, it's more of an annoyance than anything else, kind of like mosquito season.
Poor Wiley Green, wherever he is. But collectors have an ingenious trick for foisting a phony identity on the real William Green:
The most current tactic seems to be for collectors to use an automated dialer and a recording. In the calls I have received on my answering machine in recent weeks, the recording begins by saying "We are trying to reach Wally Green regarding an unpaid debt. If you have not hung up by this point, we assume that you acknowledge that you are Wally Green." I've not heard any more of this recording because either my answering machine or their calling machine tends to hang up around this point.
Here's audio of the voicemail for Wally Green:
As for the trombone, Green said that the rental went through in the end.
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