Who wants to get unsolicited phone calls? Who would take steps to maximize the likelihood of receiving them by buying multiple cell phones with separate numbers?

A shut-in who longs for contact with the outside world? An agoraphobe? A misfit with no social skills? An elderly person with no children who's outlived all his friends?

Who would be so desperate to converse with another human being that he'd actually volunteer to talk to salesmen and debt collectors? Who stoops that low?

Stoops does, or did. Melody Stoops, that is.

Three years ago, Stoops launched her latest illicit entrepreneurial effort – having pled guilty to theft in Colorado the year prior – by buying the first of 35 cell phones she would eventually accumulate and store in a shoebox, just waiting for them to ring – and ring and ring.

Though living in central Pennsylvania, Stoops registered her nearly three dozen phones with Florida numbers. Why Florida?

“I knew that people had hardships in Florida, that they would be usually defaulting on their loans or their credit cards,” she testified in 2015. 

Stoops wanted to receive “unsolicited” calls from debt collectors so that she could file lawsuits against the companies making them in violation of the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and recover “damages” as high as $1,500 per call.

Several thousand TCPA suits were filed last year, but most were settled out of court, which is what plaintiffs hope for and count on.

Stoops filed roughly a dozen suits in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and sent twice as many demand letters. “It’s my business,” she testified. “It’s what I do.”

Technically, then, the calls weren't unsolicited. That's essentially what a federal judge concluded when he dismissed her last suit, against Wells Fargo. 

 Think what she might accomplish if she applied her craftiness to a real enterprise!

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U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
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