Hey Matthew Kish, please pay your credit card bill

Somewhere in the United States, there's a person with my name who doesn't pay at least one of his credit card bills. I know. A debt collector wants me to pay it for him.

In the past two weeks a major retailer called my cell phone 16 times. Each time I was away from my phone. Each time the caller didn't leave a message.

A debt collector for the retailer finally reached me last Wednesday.

Ironically, later in the day I started reporting a story on problems with debt collection for this Friday's print edition. It's a follow-up to a story I wrote last year about the debt collection industry, which some say has morphed into a ruthless enterprise that sometimes targets the wrong people.

Oregon lawmakers will begin debating a bill next week to tighten the rules of debt collection, hence the follow-up story.

But back to the call. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi, this is Matt."

Caller: "Is this Matthew Kish?"

Me: "Yes."

Caller: "Will you give me the last four digits of your Social Security number?"

Me: "No. Why would I do that?"

Caller: "Will you give me your home address please?"

Me: "No. Excuse me. Who are you and why are you calling me?"

Caller: "Sir. I need to verify your home address and Social Security number."

Me: "I've been getting a lot of calls from this number. Are you trying to collect a debt?"

Caller: "Yes. If you confirm your address and Social Security number we can proceed."

Me: "Let me get this right. It sounds like I've been the victim of identity theft. And you want me to provide my address and Social Security number?"

Caller: "Yes."

Me: "Instead, why don't you tell me what information you have on file and I can confirm whether it's accurate."

Caller: "I'm sorry sir. I can't do that for privacy reasons."

Me: "That's hilarious. How about if I speak with your supervisor?"

Caller: "Yes, sir."

The supervisor was no help, so that night I called the retailer directly. I explained the earlier phone call and gave that person the last four digits of my Social Security number and home address.

She said the retailer was collecting a debt against a person with my name, but in a different state and with a different Social Security number. The debt was for less than $200.

Out of curiosity, I did a quick Nexis search to see how many people share my name. While not common in Oregon, there are lots of Kishes in the Midwest, where my Hungarian ancestors settled. There are nearly 100 Matthew Kishes in the United States.

Of course, that presumes the debt collector had the correct first name. If they had the wrong phone number, it's not too much of a stretch to presume the name is also incorrect.

While reporting my story, I told a consumer attorney about the collection phone call. He said a lot of people pay debts that belong to others, especially such small amounts, just to protect their credit rating.

Read more in this Friday's print edition.

The Portland Business Journal is a KATU News partner.