In last week’s column, I told how a guy from another city and state who spends his winters in Belize wound up with a dead ringer for my phone number on a cell phone he bought in that country. Starting with Belize’s country code, 501, being identical to Arkansas’ 501 area code and continuing through each and every one of the last seven digits, “George’s” cell number is identical to my home land line.
When a woman called me late one night and accused me of having called her number five times the night before, I verified that she was a friend of George’s and asked her to have him call me. Which he did the next day. I knew it was him because I saw my name and my number on the Caller ID for the incoming call.
Though he had by now figured out everything that I could tell him about the situation, I nevertheless laid it out in terms that were important to me: “When someone tries to call you in Belize from the U.S., the last eleven digits are the same for both of us, and the simplest error has resulted in my getting a dozen calls from people attempting to reach you who felt they’d not made a mistake.
“Moreover, since my Caller ID showed that Victor Fleming was dialing in when you called me, you may be calling people who refuse to answer the phone because they see me ID’ed instead of you. And, lastly, your supplier – whatever place sold you your cell phone – owes you a duty not to provide you with a number confusingly similar to a number already held by someone else – anywhere.”
George had told me by now that he was an ex-law enforcement officer, so I didn’t hold back on the legalese. In reply, George pled that “the perplexity of modern civilization has reached me here in Belize. Sorry for the disturbance of my friends’ calls.” He said he’d be returning to Kansas City before the first of May, “so phone calls to me in Belize should then come to an end. When I return to San Pedro, usually in November, I will buy a new phone with a new number. This will probably shift the problem to another 501 Area Code, but, maybe not.”
He identified his server as a U.S. company, and I have tried to reach this company via email through its website. As of the deadline for this column, I have received no response.
So, as this two-column series winds down now, it seems I’ve shared three instances over a 30-year period wherein a telephone number mix-up has caused me to get a bunch of wrong number calls. This can’t be a problem peculiar to one person. Please share with me your own stories of how a similar phone number, typo in a directory, or, if you are in Arkansas’s 501 area code, an identical number in Belize, caused you similar problems.
And if you have a suggestion as to how I might strike up a meaningful dialogue with customer service or technical assistance at a company called Smart, a subsidiary of Speednet Communications, well, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.