A fortnight ago I got a call at home. A man with a thick Scottish accent asked me to confirm my name. He couldn't continue the telephone call unless I confirmed my name. Why? I hesitated. And then he asked me to confirm my date of birth. And then the first line of my address. Naturally I was reluctant to give any of this information (hello? identity theft?) but after a bit of umming and ahhing I finally gave them to him. That seemed to satisfy him so I asked him what the call was about. He said he was from a company called AIC - a debt collection agency - and was telephoning on behalf of Lloyds TSB. According to their records I owed them £28,500.
Frankly I was stunned. I'd not been in debt for years (ok, apart from my mortgage) and last time I checked my bank accounts were hovering in the black not the red. I questioned the guy, trying to get some sort of confirmation that it was really me he wanted. He was nothing short of rude, abrasive and evasive. As far as he was concerned he had got his man and it was his job to make me pay up. I did suggest that maybe he'd got the wrong person but he said, "then why do I have your telephone number and how come your date of birth and postal address all match?". He had a point. I was a bit flumoxed. All I could say was, "I'm sure there's been some sort of mistake." He put me on hold a few times while he 'checked his records' before conceding, "Well, it *may* be a mistake but apart from your middle name everything matches." Then he hung up.
I called Lloyds TSB later that day and they had no record of any such debt. Or of my details being passed to any debt collectors. I was concerned, but not overly. A simple mix up that would sort itself out. How wrong I was.
The following week AIC called again. This time I'm out so they left a voice message again demanding payment. And threatening court action. Yikes! Luckily this time they left a reference number.
So the following day I go into the Lloyds TSB branch in Islington and ask to speak to a bank manager (you could hear the sniggers). "We don't have bank managers any more, sir. Can I help?" said Mr Cheery Man behind a counter. An hour and a half later we were both still in one of the side offices of the bank still on the telephone trying to find out hat was going on. Mr Cheery Man had called just about every single possible department in Lloyds TSB up and down (and out of) the country. Brighton... Scotland... Bangalore... you name it. As least he believed that I wasn't actually in debt (hey, he had my account details in front of him) so his mission was to try to find out who had erroneously referred me to the debt collection agency. Mr Cheery Man starts each call the same way, "Hello there. I'm staff. I have sitting next to me a very good customer of ours..." but doesn't seem to making much progress.
Until finally a breakthrough. He's tracked down the person who forwarded my details to the debt collectors. A Mr Alan Ingeldew. But... he's out of the office so we're left hanging as to why he's done so. D'oh!
Fast forward a week and I've now had a letter threatening to take me to court, a telephone call saying it's being 'dealt with' and I've tried to chase this Ingeldew guy to find out why exactly they think I owe them money and ask for a letter admitting they've made a mistake.