Have you found a message on your answering machine with the following words?
Hello, this is Steve. I'm calling from CBCS. Please return my call. You can reach me toll-free at 1-800-498-2223. This is important. This is not a telemarketing call. Again, the number is 1-800-498-2223.
If you value your peace of mind, don't return that call, no matter how many such messages you get.
I assume, and have some evidence to believe, that this caller has been doing the same with many other people. I'm aware that such people tend to threaten lawsuits in order to intimidate people into silence, so I will carefully distinguish between what I know as fact and what I infer.
Fact: On numerous occasions, the message quoted above has been left on my answering machine. While I haven't been keeping count, I think I've received about twenty such messages as of May 30, 2005. The message does not identify me and does not state the purpose of the call. The number may have been different in some of the calls.
Fact: On most of the occasions on which I have called the above number, I have reached a phonebot. After asking for a language preference, it asks for the phone number from which I am calling "to begin servicing your account." I have no account with any business called CBCS. I've entered a variety of fake but plausible phone numbers, never my real one. It then asks, "to help verify your account," for the last four digits of my Social Security number. Again, I've entered an assortment of random four-digit numbers. Whatever I enter, the bot then tells me, "We're sorry you are having trouble, and our office is closed," then advises me to call during "normal business hours," which supposedly extend until 10 PM. Most of my calls have been during this time period, but only on one occasion did I reach a live human. That person adamantly refused to explain the purpose of the call unless I would first give identifying information about myself, which I refused to do.
Conjecture: No legitimate caller has an excuse for acting as "Steve" does. A legitimate telemarketer would not flatly deny being a telemarketer. A legitimate debt collection agency (as will be seen below, CBCS may be posing as one) would identify the person being called and state the purpose of its call. Asking for even part of a person's Social Security number without first giving any reason suggests a fraudulent purpose.
Fact: My credit rating is good, and no collection agency identifying itself as such has ever come after me except for an unpaid parking ticket over 25 years ago. I don't recall ever having received any other kind of contact from a "CBCS" or dealing with a company by that name.
Fact: My web searches have turned up several reports on dubious activities by a "CBCS." Some of these follow:
Conjecture: Taken together, these suggest that the caller may be running a racket of inventing phone company debts and trying to intimidate people into paying them.
More conjectures and a request: My own range of possible actions is limited. I strongly suspect a pattern of fraud, but have only second-hand information from people I don't know. "Steve's" purpose does not appear legitimate, but I don't have a case which I can bring before a government agency. All I have is recorded messages asking me to return a call. If I provided "Steve" with enough information, he might present a fraudulent claim against me which I could use as evidence, but I don't care to expose myself to harassment in that way. For the present, the most useful thing I can do is put up this page as a record of my experiences and suspicions. If you think that people should see this information, please link to this page.
Advice: Whether or not the "Steve at CBCS" calls are fraudulent, there are certain rules you should follow to avoid exposing yourself to identity theft and harassment.
Update, August 10, 2006: According to some emails I've received, the person in the message sometimes calls himself Chad.
This link, which doesn't specifically mention CBCS but discusses extortion by debt collection agencies, was mentioned to me in an email.
Update, February 10, 2008: "Steve" has reportedly reached new depths of sleaziness, claiming that failing to be at home and answer the call constitutes acknowledgement of the debt.
Update, May 25, 2010: I received the following email:
Hi :) I ran into your website while doing a search on CBCS, a collection agency that called me today, trying to say I owe some money to Verizon. I happen to be a customer of Verizon's with no issues related to my bill, and with excellent credit not owing anyone anything I am delinquent on now or ever. I was so infuriated over the rudeness of the call when I simply asked for more information, that I decided I would take some action against them, as I have a working knowledge of the law. The fellow who called said his name was "Niel," however, and not Steve.
When I did a search for them online, your site came up near the top of the search. I read through it and thought you might (or might not) be interested in what information I have collected. I know you were concerned with some sort of fraudulent misrepresentation that might not be the "real" CBCS. My experience with creditors and protecting debtors suggests to me that your experience was likely the "real" CBCS, practicing illegally as they seem to tend to do when they think nobody is paying attention. Today, they were wrong. I did some research and pulled some records and I wanted to offer you some of their real information to post on your "blog" about them. It's totally up to you.
As an admirer of someone who both stands up for himself and is not afraid to publish the truth, I felt that it was only appropriate for me to offer it freely and you can use or not as you wish.
CBCS is a collection agency with several locations, one of which is a HQ in Columbus, Ohio. They only like to release their PO Box address, which is CBCS, PO Box 1838, Columbus, Ohio, 43231. They also use several phone numbers, the one you posted is one, another one is 800-947-2987. What they probably do not want you (or me) to know, is the rest of their public information. They are owned by CBC Companies, their physical location address is 250 E. Town St, Columbus, OH 43215. Their direct line number is 614-538-6100. This is public information and there is zero consequence to publishing it, other than their anger. The physical location is important to many people, because in order to mail a cease and desist letter, you have to mail it signature confirmation - if you want to be protected, that is - which can't be done to a PO box (well, not usually). I have also discovered a long list of suits against them.
Thanks for your work over the years posting that blog about your issues with them. I hope this information can help someone at some point.
Melissa Purcell, J.D.
[Email address omitted]
Claude Pettit College of Law
Ohio Northern University
[Phone number omitted]
Update, August 13, 2010: Lemberg Associates LLC has a page specifically for people being harassed by CBCS. The page cites numerous violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, including anonymous calls, attempts to collect more than you owe, intimidation, and lies.
Original post May 30, 2005. Last updated May 6, 2011.
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