(russian) debt collectors

Quick flashback to a day I will never forget…

It was my senior year of high school. I was in literature class, AP American Lit, along with a collection of other 10th-12th graders. We were in the middle of discussing some novel, as usual (Of Mice and Men? maybe?), when all of a sudden we hear a bright, cheery jingle unmistakable for a ringtone. Having a phone in class was definitely not allowed, and theoretically the culprit could have left it in its backpack pocket in order to protect their anonymity… but there were twelve people in the class, so anonymity was a joke anyway.

My friend Megan dug into her polka-dotted purse and pulled out the offending object. The class had gone silent for a few seconds, in anticipation of the cessation of ringing and apology that were sure to come immediately. We were shocked when, instead of turning off the phone and moving on, Megan took the call. “Hello? … No, I do not owe you money. Please stop calling me.” Then she hung up, shrugged a little, looked at our teacher, and said, “Mexican debt collectors. They keep calling me. Sorry.” Megan got a demerit, the rest of us got a laugh, and we moved on.

But now, I understand the look of mild fury and deep frustration on Megan’s face at that moment.

Goodness, it’s annoying when people keep calling you asking for someone else’s money.

My interactions with Russian debt collectors began back in October, about two weeks after I’d arrived in Ukhta and bought my phone. At that point, I had about two phone numbers in my contacts on my phone, so I picked up every call from every number, just in case it was something important. What I got was some woman speaking very fast Russian, asking for “Elena Ivanovna,” about some credit card application. They needed more proof about her financial history before proceeding. It sounded like a scam (“Send us money to prove that you have money, and we’ll give you a credit card!”), but in any case, I’m not Elena Ivanovna, so I told her that. When she continued talking about the application and Elena Ivanovna in very fast sentences, I gave up. I hung up.

I should have taken it for what it meant, which is that some lady was putting my phone number down on credit card forms.

Over the following months, these calls continued. I got wiser and stopped picking up. They came about 1-4 times a week… nothing awful. But recently, the pace picked up. They started calling several times a day, beginning at 8am and running as late as 10pm. What’s more, they started calling from “Restricted Numbers.” After a streak of 12-call-a-day days, I started to get annoyed. So, when I was at my tutor Natasha’s house on Friday and they called me three times within that period, I let her pick up the phone. Maybe she would understand what they wanted, or how I could get them to stop.

Natasha told them everything I’d told them back in October. I’ve had the number since September. I am not Elena Ivanovna. I neither have nor want a credit card. They need to stop calling. And where are they calling from, anyway?

The lady on the other end not only wouldn’t say again what company she was calling from (“I already introduced myself, I won’t do it again”), she wanted more details, supposedly to register me as not-Elena. This is where it got messy.

“What is the last name, name, and patronymic* of the SIM card owner?”

“Katie Bascom. No patronymic.”

What? How could she not have a patronymic?”

“She’s not Russian.”

“Stop lying to me.”

“I’m not lying!”

“Please call Elena Ivanovna to the phone.”

There is no such person.

“Then, please give the phone to Katie.”

(phone changes hands)

“Please call Elena Ivanovna to the phone.”

“There’s no such person here.”

“When will she be back?”

I do not know such a person.

“What is your last name, name, and patronymic?”

“My name is Katie Bascom. I don’t have a patronymic.”

“Yes, you do. Everyone does.”

“No, I don’t. I’m not Russian.”

“How old are you?”

“23**.”

“[something unintelligible with a bunch of financial terms]”

“Listen, please stop calling. You just have the wrong number.”

“Stop faking an accent! It’s clear you’re a типичная русская девушка [regular Russian woman].”

“I’m not faking it! I’m not Russian. And I don’t owe you money.”

Then I hung up.

Since then, they have called me twenty-five more times, from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. Tomorrow I am buying a new SIM card.

 

*A patronymic is a second name, formed from the name of the father. This is what Russians have instead of a middle name. For example, if a man named Aleksander has a son and a daughter, his son’s patronymic will be Aleksandrovich, and his daughter’s patronymic will be Aleksandrovna. Theoretically I could make myself a patronymic, but Jamesovna sounds weird, and Yakovlevna (if we took the Russian form of my dad’s name) is also not very common.

**I don’t like giving strangers information about myself that’s exactly correct.

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