For almost three years, I have had calls to my home by folks looking for a "Mr. Sanford."
Mr. Sanford apparently had my telephone number in his past, and now I'm the beneficiary of his misdirected calls.
So when Charles Urian of Pinellas Park called me to complain of some 50 calls over the past few months about a debt he did not owe, I could empathize.
Seems a company called FMS (Financial Management Services, a Tulsa, Okla., collection agency) sent the automated calls — now popularly used by collections services — to Urian's home phone.
Urian just wanted the calls to stop, but he couldn't figure out how. The automated recordings just asked him to "Press 1," if he was the debtor.
He wasn't. What's more, the Urians have had their telephone number for some 15 years, so they don't understand how this all happened to them.
"We don't owe anybody," Urian said. "We're on the Do Not Call List. Why do they keep calling?"
Well, the Do Not Call protections are aimed at sales and solicitation calls.
FMS Inc. does not sell products.
"They're not sales calls of any kind," said Cody Smith, a representative at FMS. "The Do Not Call does not apply."
Smith says FMS, just as other debt collectors, receives telephone numbers from companies that are owed money.
"We're not blindly calling anyone," Smith said.
He said consumers should speak with the debt collectors to have their number removed from their lists, if the number is incorrect.
"It should be a simple conversation," Smith said.
It should be. But it isn't all the time.
Urian called the police and then the media, hoping to put an end to it all. He said he could not get the calls to stop and did not know what to do.
He's not alone. Dozens of complaints have been lighting up online complaint boards about FMS because of streams of automated calls.
But FMS does not appear to have violated any laws or regulations.
Frank Dorman, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, said the commission has not taken any action against FMS. But policy prohibits him from releasing information about whether the company is under investigation.
The Better Business Bureau has 52 complaints against FMS, said John Zajac, a spokesman for the BBB. They are largely related to debt collection issues rather than complaints about unwanted phone calls.
And 43 of those complaints have been resolved to the customers' satisfaction.
It appears that Urian should be joining the satisfied complainants, as Smith at FMS said Urian's telephone number has been removed from the call list.
But for those confronting a similar problem, here's the Edge:
• Confront the company. Once you let the company calling you know that you are not the party being sought, it must stop calling you and remove your name from its call list. This can be tricky because some people such as Urian do not have caller ID to know who to call or write, if the call is automated. You might need to get a contact number from law enforcement or a consumer protection agency to help you call the company.
• Report a debt collector for alleged violations to your state Attorney General's Office at www.naag.org and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
For more information about dealing with debt collectors and what consumers' rights are under the law, visit: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.