Acquiesce to the Zombie Debt Collectors

Chris writes in a self-described rant about how a debt collection agency is constantly auto-dialing him on his cellphone. He called T-Mobile to see if there’s any, “selective call blocking, smoke signals, or death threats” he could deploy to stop the number from harassing him. Short answer: nope. Catherine Zeta Jones is powerless against zombies.

Enter, The Consumerist.

Instead of ejaculating shrill vitriol or otherwise one-handed histrionics, we give Chris some practical advice. It’s located after his letter, after the jump…

Chris writes:

    “I called [T-Mobile] yesterday because I am receiving a rash of phone calls from a company that uses an auto dialer to contact me, and requests [I] call back. Though this isn’t as exciting as Spanish speaking people telling me what sort of prizes I’ve won, it’s certainly annoying to the point that once you scroll through your call logs and realize you’re getting 10 of these a day, there’s something that needs to be done.

    I’ve been a valued customer of T-Mo’s for the past two years, going so far as to extend 3 lines of service, as well as having a 2 year contract renewal slapped on me this month because I wanted a Blackberry and didn’t want to sell my first born. (sidebar – Blackberry 8700g is the tits!)

    I figured I would call my dear friends at customer service and see if there was any form of selective call blocking, smoke signals, or death threats that could be used to prevent this number from further annoying me.

    I’ve actually come to like Claire … oh wait, Claire is the automated system that Sprint PCS threw in the trash … and then T-Mobile dug out sometime after and started using. Actually I think they sent Mrs. Zeta-Jones into the trash after her, given she’s so highly paid and usually without anything to do. I’ve learned recently that if you speak in a nice, quiet, soft tone to the automated response system, that the responses you get back actually sound nicer … though I haven’t put this to scientific experiment as of yet.

    I am connected to a telephone representative, to whom I deliver my plight … and I’m left hanging around while she bumbles through my account like a hooker in a Navy gauntlet. “Just another minute sir … I can’t find where that number is calling you.” Now granted, maybe that would be difficult if I was on my phone 24/7 and I had thousands of calls on my bill each month … but considering how often these people call me, it was kind of like searching for the elephant in the corner and not the needle in the haystack.

    After about 10 minutes of this, she proceeds to ask me a few questions … such as whether or not I thought the caller was a tele-marketer. When I told her I felt that it was likely a debt collector instead, but that an auto dialer was being used and I was having issues getting a live human being (even if I stay on the line and let the whole call go through) … she didn’t seem to realize that there were any sorts of laws that protected me from those sorts of things. Then again, maybe there isn’t – but I thought that there was a stipulation about the auto-dialer thing when it came to debt collectors.

    Anyway … after that exchange I am greeted with one option and one option only. “Well I guess you’ll just have to change your phone number, because we can’t do anything else for you.” Wow. Thanks for making me wait 15 minutes, going through my entire phone bill like you were looking for someone else’s dirty underwear in my closet, and then telling me that technology that has existed since the 1980’s (selective call blocking) can’t be applied to this one annoying phone number. So of course, I point out what a customer service issue this is, since I have many people who have my phone number, and the inconvenience of switching that phone number just because of one nuisance caller. She has no further suggestions … other than to inform me abruptly that T-Mobile did not sell my telephone number to anyone else. Well, wasn’t that profound? I don’t remember accusing them, and it wasn’t even a point of the conversation until she made it one. So of course I ask to speak to a supervisor, feeling that’s a customer service issue all in itself …

    And this is where the train wrecks entirely, folks.

    The “supervisor,” Andrew, gets on the phone and after explaining my plight to him … his ultra scripted response to me was that I needed to contact my local police department, followed by the FCC. Now I figured out in my mind just how much money I’ve given T-Mo since I started as a customer with them … and I realized that I paid way too much money to get such a crap-tastic answer. When I point out to him that I’ve figured out the caller is in another state than the one in which I reside, he says that “calling the police will give you a greater leg to stand on when you contact the FCC.” When I inform him that I am severely upset with that statement, and I feel that T-Mobile is not holding up their end of the contract by providing me with customer service and support, and that I would like to speak to his supervisor , I learn that stupidity really does come in three’s:

    “I don’t have a supervisor. You’ll need to fax or mail your complaint to our Customer Relations department.” “Hmm … so … you don’t have a boss?” “No.” I ask to speak to the retentions department at that point, thinking that if anyone could possibly get an end-road to Customer Relations, it was them … and I’m told, “If you want to cancel your account, I’m authorized to do that … there is no retentions department here.”

    OK — you know and I know and everyone else on the internet knows that T-Mobile has a retentions department. And yes, I realize that supporting the Zeta-Jones family probably has emptied out T-Mo’s pockets a bit … or maybe it was the EDGE network upgrade that took way longer than anyone else … but lets be real here! This is the customer service we actually pay for?!?!?!

    So, I informed “Andrew” that I would go my own routes … and that if need be I would do as much research as necessary until I could prove that this is somehow in some way a breach of my contract on T-Mobile’s part. Granted, I know this may not be possible — but damn it don’t back sissy in a corner!!!! I was not going to let the call end in any way that my dear friend “Andrew” felt as though he’d conquested me like some Saturday night singles mixer afterthought.

    I turn to you, oh wise ones at the Consumerist, for any suggestions you may have on getting this matter resolved properly. Or, for the phone number for the true T-Mobile customer relations department. Whatever’s clever!

    Thanks so much for hearing my rant … I’ll look forward to hopefully hearing from you.



The front line rep of the T-mobile customer service desk is obviously inept.
However, you’re right and Andrew is right.
Auto-dialers are illegal but neither Andrew nor his supervisors ensconced in secret ivory towers can do anything about it.

If you feel the calls are harassing, you need to call the police and report the calls as such. They can help you from there.

You can also file a complaint with the FCC. However, your number will have to be listed on their do-not-call list for 30 days before your claim becomes actionable. To do so, call the FCC at 1-888-382-1222 and press 4 or visit

However, the best way to stop these calls may be to… call them back.

If these are attempts by a debt collector trying to contact you and get you to pay what you legitimately owe, you need to deal with it head on. Work out a payment plan, even a dollar a month, anything. It will cost you less in the long run.

We went through a debt debacle a few years ago and thought we could just toss the increasingly insistent letters in the trash. That was until the process server came to our door to serve us with a subpoena because the debt was sold to debt collecting attorneys planning on taking us to court. Whee.

His tune may be shrill and annoying, but eventually it comes time to pay the piper.

Good luck.


Edit Your Comment

  1. mand0 says:

    If Chris actually owes money then what is he bitching about?? Pay up, son.

  2. Spr1dle says:

    I’d contact an attorney familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; if use of an auto-dialer is unlawful (I don’t know whether it is or not), the debt collectors may be liable. An experienced attorney (possibly a personal bankruptcy attorney) should be able to tell you whether these calls are unlawful prior to your retaining him, so you would likely not be out any money going to an attorney to find out.

  3. misskaz says:


    He may not actually owe money – debt collection agencies sell their debts to other agencies, sometimes despite the debt being paid or expired (most states have a statute of limitations on debts). I swear we get calls at my apartment from people just making up debts seeing if we’ll give in and pay. I have good credit but my significant other does not, and I suspect that once you get on the “doesn’t pay bills” list you are destined to get calls for the rest of your life, even if you’ve since made good on your debts.

    We got one call from a collector insisting there was an old debt from a Circuit City store. They only had the store number, not the location or any details about said debt. We researched to find the store with that number was located in another city. Neither of us has ever had a Circuit City line of credit, nor have any checks or debit transactions bounced to our knowledge. Hell, we don’t even write checks!

    Even if you’ve been a slacker in the past, be sure to ask them to send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money (they are required to do so within 5 days). Also, you may dispute debts that you believe you do not owe within 30 days of that written notice – which requires them to send you verification of the debt from the creditor.


  4. I used to get one of these at home and at my cell. The people who had the phone numbers before me were apparently deadbeats. All it took was one call back explaining that I am not Chen Lee or Paolo Hernandez and I don’t know who they are…then the calls stopped.

    The hard part was figuring out what exactly the recorded messages were, because usually they called when I couldn’t answer the phone and the message was always cut off at the beginning and the end by the voicemail/answering machine.

  5. Kos says:

    Ditto Crayonshinobi. I was getting slightly portentous messages on my home line which sounded like a debt collector for the past week. I kept missing the number and they even called me at 8AM on Saturday (%!@#^%@!). Called them this morning, gave my number and said what do you want. They asked if I was X, I said no. They said thank you, I said please make sure I get no more calls. And that’s it.

  6. thesilentnight says:

    Although I didn’t read the facts/circumstances above (sorry Chris and Consumerist) because of pressing time restrictions, hopefully the information I post here will be helpful to Chris or others who have experienced this dilemma or want to be informed enough to protect themselves against it.

    First things first, ask yourself whether the debt in question is dead in the sense that it is so old you are no longer obligated to pay it? If you’re stateside and you want to know what the time limits for collection on your debts, then a compendium to start with can found at

    If it turns out you’re still obligated on the debt, then deal with it as soon as possible. Skirting the issue will only compound the problem and make your credit score (and your future life) worse for the wear. If you are not still obligated, then you can always revive your obligation if you wish (but I doubt that’s the case) or you can try to steer your future clear of this type of debt collection for the time being.

    Your conduct regarding these issues could be perilous so beware. Keep in mind that talking to companies over the phone is always risky considering how easy it would be to record the conversation and use it against you in the future if permitted. The same is true of sending letters conveying the same information. Also, be conscious of the fact that every action you take with regard to a dead debt could be interpreted as an act to revive part or all of the necrotized remains. Laws may differ between States in this respect but a poignant example is helpful. Let’s say a zombie debt collector contacts you and after a barbed back and forth exchange they offer to close out your non-existent obligation on the dead debt (naturally with all the exorbitant and *cough* fictitious *cough* fees included) for a fraction of the price. Your will is bent but not broken and this seems like a good middle ground to compromise on. You agree and send them a postdated check to give yourself enough time for the funds to be deposited and maybe to get more information about this scenario just in case. Even though your funds have not been transferred to the debt collector at that moment, giving them the information to collect those funds in the near future may be argued and interpreted as a sign of willingness to revive the old debt. Furthermore, even though you’ve agreed to pay a fraction of the old debt, that may also be argued and interpreted as a sign of willingness to revive the entire debt! The bottom line is be informed before you do anything because you are taking your financial life in your own hands here!

    If you decide its best to speak with someone at the debt collection agency to get them to stop their feeble undead attempts, you may want to first file a complaint with the Federal”>$.startup?Z_ORG_CODE=”>Federal Trade Commission, and the consumer protection component of the Attorney General’s Office for your state, the state where the heart of the debt collection agency sits, and/or the state where correspondence from the debt collection agency is being generated. By filing the complaint(s) a few days in advance, the respective government agencies may have already notify the debt collection agency of your complaint(s) and their intrusive action may cease. If not, follow up as you see fit. If you haven’t filed a complaint yet, you could always contact the debt collection agency and explain you will file the complaint(s) listed above and inform them they should expect to receive notice of the complaints shortly. Again, follow up as you see fit.

    This issue recently caught some media attention. A few resources in that respect include ABC News and
    “>MSN Money.

  7. thesilentnight says:

    Obviously my HTML skills suck. Here’s the link for MSN Money.

  8. Myron says:

    I’ve asked Verizon in the past if they could block a number and was surprised they couldn’t. It seemed they could do all sorts of magic with your account as long as you were willing to pay extra for each “feature”. But no luck. I wonder why they won’t do this.

    I was receiving calls for someone else. My number must be similar. I started saving these incoming numbers and assigning them a different ring so I’d know immediately not to answer. Maybe Chris can do the same with the collector’s number.

  9. OkiMike says:

    Hey, next time tell them that you do work for the FCC and there’s not a damn thing your office can do to help.

    Then wait, wait, wait…ahhhhh, yes. That’s the sound of their brains imploding into a gravy-colored soup.

  10. Mary Marsala With Fries says:

    How to get customer service on a legal issue:
    1.) First thing out of your mouth is, “I’m required by law to inform you that I’m recording this conversation”. (You will probably get skipped up a person or two for saying that…or hung up on, but keep trying.)
    2.) Look up the law and cite it right off: “I’m concerned because someone is violating x law by making these calls to my cell phone…”
    3.) Make it clear that you know they have a responsibility to uphold the law too, and that you’re willing to see them get flushed for it: “…and if your company insists on enabling them to continue breaking the law, then I will be forced to include you in my complaint to the police and the FCC. So will you block these illegal calls for me?”

    If you’re not serious about following up with the cops and the FCC, this might fail (it’s a darn good threat and should get you some action, but they might call your bluff)…and if you *are* serious, you can absolutely name them as a party in your complaint, since they had the power to do something about it and refused. (Oh, and if you decide to complain, it’d be a good idea to actually record the phone call… ;)