My wife and I have moved a lot in the last few years for her job. In each new place we get a new phone number for the land line in our house that I use as a business line. Back in the early 90s, when I used to move every year in college, my roommates and I would get a new phone number at our new place, and almost no one would call unless we gave them the number. Of course there were wrong numbers and telemarketers, but they were pretty few and far between. Now every time Lenore and I get a new number the phone starts ringing as soon as we plug it in… and it’s usually collection agencies.

Back in the era before fax machines and cell phones there was less demand for phone numbers. Most people had one phone number that was shared with their whole family, and another one (or several) at work shared with all their colleagues. Now, not only do individuals often have multiple phone numbers, but they are getting them at an earlier age. Teenagers do love their cell phones.

Also, I have heard that when you disconnect a number, it used to sit idle for a while so that the new owner didn’t get the old number’s calls. But now due to intense demand for numbers, the idle time has been greatly reduced, and they are cycled back into service much sooner.

In our era of decreased personal responsibility and increased personal debt, combined with a rough economy, there are inevitably more people who are living so far above their means that they can’t pay their bills. Here come the collection agencies. Collection must be a huge industry now, so they are using technology to streamline their operations. They now use a recording to call my new house rather than a real person.

The result is an endless barrage of often early-morning calls that don’t even have a person on the other end when I answer. Sometimes it’s a recording asking for someone I’ve never heard of, asking me to “Press 1 if you are… Sylvaniar ******; press 2 if you’re not.” The problem here, is that there is no option for “You have the wrong number” and there is no one there to talk to so I can explain the situation. So if I press 2, they will just call back another time. I hang up.

The one that annoyed me the most so far was a recorded voice that said, “Please hold for an important phone call!”, then made me wait on the line until someone picked up and said,

“May I help you?”
“You called me!”
“May I speak to Sylvaniar?”
“You have the wrong number.”
“Do you know Sylvaniar?”
“I have never even heard of anyone with that name before you started calling me.”
“Ok, thank you.”

Today I was woken up by an early morning call that I didn’t answer because I was sure it was a collection agency. When I checked my voice mail there was a message from “Bob Isaac” with a toll-free number. I was fairly certain that “Bob” didn’t exist, but I called the number in the hopes that I could get them to stop calling me. The first thing that happened was a recording asked me to enter my Social Security number. That was scary. I didn’t do it. I bet a lot of people do though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if identity thieves use the same tactic. Of course it turned out that there was no Bob Isaac, and of course I didn’t know who Evan was, so maybe they will stop calling.

So far I have gotten calls for Sylvaniar, Evan, Linda, and Grace. I wouldn’t have thought that many people could have had this phone number recently enough, and gone into collection, for me to get this many calls… but they did… and that’s the world we now live in.