Update, November 15th 2002:
A robot called at around 14:05, and, through much static, said something along the lines of "This is about an important business matter; please call 1-800-523-7043." When I actually called, the number identified itself as OSI, read off office hours and told me to leave a message. Then that the mailbox is full, and to punch a bunch of keys to be transferred. Silly twits. It having been so long since the last time I had the dubious pleasure of dealing with them, I did not remember the number (or the "OSI" identity that Gulf State uses... matter of fact, my first guess was that it was a 419 transferred to audio. A Google search on the number told me that the data belonged here. I wonder what their story'll be today...

September 11th (yes, the day the World Trade Center was bombed.), about 19:50 PM (7:00 localtime.), the phone rings. When I answer, a robot clicks. There's a moment's silence, and then Some Guy comes online. He introduces himself as a Mr. Brown, asks for me by my lawyers-and-employers name, and asks if I live at (address he reads off, which is indeed a place I have lived.) and says he's calling about my AT&T Broadband account.
Odd. I've never had an AT&T Broadband account. Between their having signed a pink contract with a spamhaus and the fact that they persist in advertising their cable TV as 'Broadband', it's unlikely in the extreme that I'll ever want one.
Mr. Brown explains that he's with Gulf State Credit, a collection agency. According to him, there's a notation on my credit report about an outstanding debt ($44.something, but he can offer a settlement of 31.02) owed to AT&T Broadband. I smile-and-nod and try to give him enough rope to hang himself. "Is this about the account with the fifteen IP addresses or the one with eight?" "What's an IP address?". Oh well, so much for that. So I ask if I can mail him a check. "It's better not to do that; it takes checks 30 days to post and you may incur additional charges.". He's willing to take my credit card information. Or my debit card information. Or some Western Union thing called a 'Blue and white quick collect'. According to him, I should have gotten a credit report in the mail - he sent it on the 7th. I say I never got it. Ask him if he'll hold while I go check to see if it arrived. "How long will it take?" "About ten minutes". "Oh, no. I couldn't hold that long.". I ask if he'll give me a number so I can call him back. He hems and haws, and then claims that they'll be closed in ten minutes, so I can't call him back. He can call me back tomorrow, though.

Uh huh. He wants me to give out credcard information but won't give me a number to call to deliver it? Or an address for checks? I point out that, as he claims the debt was incurred in 1998, it can't possibly be gathering interest that fast. He still won't give me a snailmail address for a check. So, the Bait is applied. I ask him if I can pay my *OTHER* AT&T bills through him. (Not that they exist, but hey, why should I refrain from lying right back?). He doesn't know; he'll have to ask some of the other people there. I collect his Western Union payment information (Payable to "Gulf State Credit", something called a "Code City" of "GSriver", in Georgia, with a number of 009 917 107 to put on the form somewhere, and that I should mark it "Attn Mr. Brown 8905" . And, even better, he gives me his number to call 'im back. Says he'll call back tomorrow to get the ten digit tracking number from me. (His number is 1-800-523-7043. Extension 6128.). When he disconnects, happily under the impression that he's got another sucker on the hook, I determine that his number can't be call-returned.

To the web. Dejanews shows nothing for their 800 number. Google turns up a credit reporting WWWboard system. Wherein I see, to very little surprise, someone else reporting that they're being hassled by Gulf State Credit trying to collect debts that they'd never incurred. And some rather disingenuous behaviour on the part of their employees.

Predictably, they call back the next day. They want to know if I sent the money. I assure them that I did (after all, what's the point of letting phone-scammers call you if you can't scam 'em right back?). They ask for my tracking number. I give it to them. (Read: I figure out a 10-digit string that looks sorta plausible). They accept it.

Around noon on the 13th, they call me back. Seems the silly twits figured out that my tracking number was invalid. I assure them that Western Union says that the money WAS picked up. They get pissy and claim (which may well be true, but if so is a Very Stupid leak of information) that all Western Union tracking numbers begin with 8. I give up on stringing them along and explain that I never had an AT&T Broadband account, that I was well aware they'd been lying, and that I'd only told 'em I was going to pay because that was the only way I'd been able to extract a physworld identifier for the company. Mr. Brown talks over me whenever I bring up the fact that he was unwilling to provide a phone number or physworld address. Given the odd bit of reverb on the line, I have to wonder if maybe he was on a half-duplex speakerphone and didn't want his supe hearing me. He said that if I wouldn't pay, they'd send it to the legal department, and hung up.

Back to the wwwboard. There were a bunch of other 800 numbers in the post that their first one was in. Snag posts. While I'm at it, look at the recent additions to the wwwboard. More posts about Gulf State. Almost everyone posting reports problems with 'em. While I can see some people lying about their debts whilst posting complaints about Gulf State, I do find it suspicious that the new posts have many reports of problems with 'em (Writing a check, having it returned after Gulf State successfully cashed it, not getting an acknowledgement of their payment, then a few months later finding Gulf State making withdrawals from their bank account. Collection for debts never incurred. Fun stuff like that.

So I call Mr. Brown's given numer. (1-800-523-7043). A merehume female answers; I aslk to speak to Mr. Brown.
"Do you know his first name?"
"Sorry, no."
"All-righty, hold on please."
So I sit on hold for a minute. The one good thing I have to say about these twits is that they don't inflict hold music on people. If I sit on hold through one more system of appalling easy-listening-pseudojazz interrupted every 45 seconds with a click, a noise like a human picking up the phone, a pause, and a "Your call is very important to us" hold message...
"Sir? Hold one second, here..."
And I get passed to the same Mr. Brown. OK, so the 800 number he gave is real. And the general populace seems to think it's associated with a shady collection agency named Gulf State.
Apparently, he finds hearing about how I never incurred the debt in question rather tiresome.

So I call the next Gulf State number to verify whether or not it's all the same company. On 877-321-1856, asking to speak to Mr. Brown gets: "Do you have his extension?". "6128."... so I hold. He's got another merehume taking messages for him, so I can't confirm by voice whether it's the same person. The guy taking messages forwards me to his supervisor. Didn't get her name. Oops. I inquire as to where they had obtained the information they were using to add verisimilitude to their fraudulent billing attempt. "Wow, it's not every day that I get a call from someone who just graduated from law school.". She claims that they got the information from AT&T. And that AT&T recently bought up a bunch of companies, so the bill might have been as TCI, Viacom, or Dish Network. (That last triggers the ObDishNetworkAreVile rant.) According to her, they don't have any hard copy to provide evidence of the debt in question. Just accounts in the computer, which their representatives can only put notes on. They do have the 'account information' for me on file in their computer. I request that they send me a copy of what data they do have, and point out that I will place it on my website detailing their fraudulent practices. Don't know if they actually will send the account information, but they did inform me that "We will take this matter up with our attorneys, that you are competing your website against us." I'm not quite sure how this page is supposed to *compete* with them - I'm not doing fraudulent debt collection for a living; I'm not even doing any form of debt collection. And I don't THINK these twits are a licensed monopoly.

1-800-619-1964 is busy.

1-800-619-3419 is a voicemail for "Portfolio Support", claiming to be open 9-5 Eastern.

1-877-675-3058. "May I speak to Mr. Brown?". The phoneguy does something that emits three DTMF tones, and I get Mr. Brown. Who instructs me not to call again. Says that he's a business and doesn't have time to play around.

1-800-425-0006 claims no concrete data on individual offices. I explain that I've been getting what I believe to be fraudulent collection attempts from a person claiming to be from Gulf State Credit, and I'm trying to determine if they're the same Gulf State Credit. THey do have a list of numbers belonging to their company, so I have 'em check to see if a couple are on the list. They correctly state that the 800 number I pull out of my ass for 'em to check is not on their list, and they state that 800-523-7043 is one of theirs. I thank them and wander off.

So, what is to be learned?

Spammers aren't the only people with cartooneys.

Either Gulf State Credit is making up this debt entirely, or they're exceedingly incompetent - while I can vaguely believe myself owing money to something that got snarfed by AT&T, especially since companies about to get snarfed often don't bill in a timely manner, if I owed money to Something AT&T Snarfed, the caller should have asked about my SomethingCorp account. Not my AT&T account. And they should have enough records on file to enable the alleged debtor to figure out what the company was called when they ran up the alleged debt. Not to mention what the debt was *for* - hmm. I suppose I should inquire about that when next they call.

It's possible that some or all of the information I encountered on Cardreport.com's wwwboard may be false. I make no warrantees for any of it, beyond the following statements:
- I have a reasonable belief that at least some of the uncomplimentary statements others make about Gulf State are true.
- The Piles Of Phone Numbers seem to all lead to an organization affiliated with this Mr. Brown.