A little less than two weeks ago, Huffington Post ran a story about people's horror stories regarding collection agencies. At the end of that article, they solicited readers to submit their own tales of dealings with collection agencies.
As it happens, since we moved to San Francisco in 1990, I have had more than just a few instances of dealings with credit reports and collection agents -- all regarding people who are not me. So I dropped a note to HuffPo giving some specific details of these mistakes, and I got a call from Andrew Delaney last Friday. His resulting story got posted this morning.
As I have said previously here:
"According to http://ww2.howmanyofme.com/, the most recent census shows that the USA is home to approximately:
"8,869 people named William Green (or Greene)
"65 people named Will Green(e)
"1,439 people named Willie Green(e)
"18 people named Willy Green(e)
"404 people named Bill Green(e)
"909 people named Billy Green(e) and
"40 people named Wiley Green(e).
"That's 11,744 of us who get each other's mail, phone messages and attempts at debt collection. And some of us are probably related to each other."
This dates back to 1991, when I decided to join the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Not knowing for certain whether I would like playing a musical instrument after more than ten years of not doing so, I decided to rent a trombone for three months as a trial. So I went to a music store in Oakland. They ran a credit check on me. Then they huddled in the doorway, glancing at their printout and then at me. Finally someone came over and said, "We're just a little concerned about this credit report. It says that you had a tax lien against you last year when you lived in San Leandro." I said, "I've never lived in San Leandro. I moved to California from North Carolina just over a year ago." She said, "Well, we kind of thought it might not be you. The names matched, but the Social Security numbers did not." So they let me rent the trombone. I mean, come on. We're only talking about $100 here. At least they had perspective.
But that was the start of a series of instances where people researching my credit history came up with the credit histories of other people named "William Green" or started calling and mailing me collections notices for other people with the same name as mine.
After dealing with this identification confusion several times, I have learned not to freak out whenever this happens. It used to upset me. Then I figured out that unless it actually affects my credit standing (such as the time that my bank cut my credit limit to $1,000 based on an incorrect credit report), I have nothing to worry about. I just need to repeat, "No, that's not me, you have the wrong person," and it usually stops pretty quickly.
I think that the main reason that Mr. Delaney liked my story was the recent twist wherein collections agents have started using automatic message machines. One left the rather harsh statement, "By continuing to listen to this message, you are confirming that you are... WALLY... GREEN..." on our answering machine. So we were able to provide him with an actual recording of the collection call (the sound file is included in the HuffPo story.)
Just once in my life, I want to go to a store, have a credit check run on me and have them get a credit report that tells them, "Please offer him a comfortable chair and ask what you can do to make his shopping experience more pleasant. If he says that he wants one of everything in the store, just smile and ask, 'What color?' "
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