Cell phones and debt collection: Seeking Mr. Goodbar’s number

It comes as no surprise to anyone that cell phone usage continues to rise, while at the same time the usage of wire lines, or what used to be affectionately known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), continues to decline. Some recent statistics, supplied by the CDC show that:

  • 34% of all households are now wireless only
  • 25 states have rates of primary wireless exceeding 50%
  • Landline only households is now down to only 10.2%

When you couple that with churn rates for cell phones that can exceed 40% a year, it becomes paramount to find a good source for cell numbers if you are trying to contact an existing customer or collect on an overdue bill.

But where can debt collectors go to find reliable cell phone numbers? The cell phone providers won’t sell you a database, there is no such thing as 411 for cell phones, nor is it likely there will be one in the near future with the aforementioned 40%+ churn rates. Each cell phone service provider will continue to protect their customer base.

There are a few large compilers of cell phone numbers; they mostly harvest these numbers from surveys and sources that capture the numbers as a part of an online service—think ringtones here! These numbers can be good, at least initially, if they came with an address which enables you to search for them. The challenge is that these numbers can grow stale relatively quickly.

Companies that maintain recurring transactions with consumers have a better shot at having current cell numbers. Utilities and credit bureaus offer an opportunity to capture these self-reported numbers. At our company, over 40% of self-reported phones are cell phones. However, in most cases, you must have a defined purpose as governed by Gramm Leach Bliley (GLB) in order to access them. Of course, the defined purpose also goes hand in hand with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which restricts use of automatic dialers and prohibits unsolicited calls via a cell phone.

Conclusion? If you are trying to find someone’s cell number for debt collection purposes, I recommend using a resource more likely to receive updates on the owner of a cell over that of compilers who are working with one time event data. In today’s world, obtaining an accurate good cell number is a challenge and will continue to be.

What cell phone number resources have been most effective for you?

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