THE OLD 9999 SCAM?: Plaintiff Alleges Defendant Made 5000 Illegal Phone Calls to his Number–But is it a Set Up?
So ostensiby the case of Mongeon v. KPH Healthcare, 2022 WL 1978674 Case No. 2:21-cv-00195 (D. Vt. 06/06/2022) is simply a case about the definition of “consumer” under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (“VCPA”), 9 V.S.A. § 2453.
The plaintiff alleges his receipt of 4000 calls from the Defendant after the Defendant promised to stop calling was an act of “fraud” and “deceit” under the VCPA. But since the Plaintiff has not alleged facts establishing he is a “consumer” within the meaning of the Act the Court dismissed the case, without prejudice.
But let’s back up. Why would Defendant–seemingly a local pharmacy–blast the Plaintiff’s number so many times?
Well the Plaintiff’s full number is not set forth in the decision–but the last four digits are “9999.”
Many years ago before I became a TCPA class action defense lawyer I–like many out there–had a very low impression of the TCPA. I remember a guy in law school who made tuition bring junk fax cases. And I had a colleague who was locked in mortal battle with some clown who was bringing a series of small claims TCPA suits in Southern California arising out of calls to a “designer phone number”: 999-999-9999.
Much like the old case of Stoops in which the Plaintiff had over 80 cell phones–or the recent case of Barton in which the Plaintiff had a cell phone purchased specifically to set up TCPA suits–a 9999 scammer will pick up a “designer number” like 999-999-9999 and wear it is for a legitimate purpose. “I run a real estate agency, etc.” Looking deeper there is rarely any utility behind the number–although other designer numbers like (800) 444-4444 are very helpful–and the numbers are often just used to net TCPA lawsuits.
The reason it works is rather obvious.
When I walk into my local Sports Clips for my monthly trim there is no way I’m going to give them my private cell phone number. So I give them 999-999-9999. (Of course, I also give them my email of [email protected].) It works perfectly well for check in, and I never receive any texts or calls from them reminding me to come back to style my luscious used-to-be-black locks.
Apart from folks providing the number 999-999-9999 to a business, many companies will knowingly have their agents enter the number as a default when the customer does not otherwise provide their number. This was the case in the old “small claims bandit” run of suits I mentioned earlier–apparently a local hospital group was engaging in this practice, which lead to an endless number of TCPA suits being filed against them by an enterprising Plaintiff.
Well Mongeon appears to be the same issue. Per the ruling: , Defendant’s representatives advised Plaintiff “that his phone number was attached to multiple other customers who had prescriptions at the pharmacy” because Plaintiff’s phone number, XXX-XXX-9999, is “the ‘default’ number for all new or current customers in [Defendant’s] system without a phone number.”
Pro tip: the 9999 play is arguably the oldest manufactured lawsuit trick in TCPAWorld. Don’t fall for it. Never use 999-999-9999 (or any other series of numbers) as a “default” setting for customer phone numbers. And if you do, you definitely want to suppress dialing to those numbers.
Stay safe out there TCPAWorld.