A man called me a few times today- I'll refer to him as "Bill". He was looking for a man named Wayne. He is pretty upset that Wayne's old number happens to now be my number. He explained that he has used this number for years to contact Wayne and that he needs to contact Wayne to pick something up at his home (from what I understand)

I repeatedly explained to Bill that I was provided this number from my phone provider about 2 months ago and that I am not sure what I can do for him. He is concerned about Wayne as he has had cardiac issues and he thinks he may have suffered a heart attack.
Bill was very chatty about his relationship with Wayne and I tried to interject with "Does he have a Facebook?" and "Does he have friends that you can contact?" but my questions went unanswered as he continued to talk about this dilemma.
After quite a bit of back and forth, Bill asked me if I could contact my phone provider and ask them if they know Wayne's new number- because he does not know what to do from here. I told him that it is unlikely that they will know Wayne's new number (especially if he has a new provider or no phone at all anymore) and that if my provider DID have any information such as a billing address or new number- it is not appropriate for them to provide it to me.

Bill seems like a nice man but he is very upset that I have taken Wayne's phone number. I reached out to my phone company for any guidance and Bill is expecting me to call him with any information on Wayne later.

What can I politely tell Bill to get him to understand that I cannot help him and to stop calling me?

I know I can simply block his number but the poor man just seems so confused.

My phone provider got back to me and informed me that their numbers are recycled and the time frame is at least 3 months. They also said they won't be able to locate who was the previous owner of the number- so I passed along this information to Bill and he seemed to understand it.
After some more back and forth it turns out that Wayne supposedly lives out of state and that Bill does not know much about the guy. Wayne bought a trailer from Bill a long time ago and mailed him payments in the form of multiple checks over time. So the trailer is paid for in full but Wayne never came to pick it up. So Bill called Wayne's number- (which is now my number) to ask him to pick up the trailer. Bill does know his first and last name so I gave him the 555-1212 number noted by baldPrussian.

Based on all the calls from Bill over the past few days, I began to get the feeling that Bill wasn't calling again and again because he was still confused- but because he is lonely and/or wanted to talk to someone. He often went off on a tangent and would ask me questions about myself (location, age, job, etc.) These conversations were hard to leave as he continuously brought up something else to keep me from hanging up.

But now that he doesn't have a "reason" to call anymore (inquiring about any updates from my phone provider) and his understanding that there's no more leads I can provide to him about Wayne- he nicely said he will delete my number since "it's not Wayne's anymore" even though he "very much enjoyed talking to me"


4 Answers 4


First thing to keep in mind is that not everyone understands technology the way that we do. It's frustrating to those of us who work in technology to have to explain something that we consider so basic - until we stop and think that the people we explain it to do something very different that we don't understand.

I'd start with Bill here:

It looks like Wayne hasn't had this number for a while. I'm not sure what happened; the phone company won't say.

I don't know Wayne and don't know how to get hold of him; I'm really sorry.

If Wayne's his friend, he should know Wayne's last name. In the US, directory assistance is available at 555-1212 (or 411) - if Wayne has a number, they might be able to help.

The main thing is to be sympathetic to Bill but also to repeat your point - you don't know Wayne, don't know how to reach him, and don't know Wayne's new number. There's no need to be mean about it, but if you keep politely repeating these points it should sink in. He'll probably call a couple times more just in case there was a bad connection or out of habit.

Short of blocking him, there's not much you can do to change his behavior.

  • 9
    I think this is a good approach and there is no reason it can’t be used in combination with blocking. Right now Bill is clinging to the number as a connection to Wayne which is actually causing him more stress. It’s possible to tell Bill something like ‘I’ve given you all the advice I can, I hope you find Wayne, but after today you aren’t going to be able to call this number’.
    – user9837
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 6:25

A short question: Does Bill sound old?

I think you are misunderstanding Bill's trouble - he is not upset that you have taken Wayne's number, he is troubled because it is a bad sign. If you call your best friend's number and without forewarning (I will move, here is my new number) someone else answers the phone, something has happened. In the very best case Wayne has simply changed his number and forgot Bill to tell, but in the more likely case Wayne has moved to a "senior citizen's residence" (whatever they call it) or died :(.

So please understand that he may be really quite confused and cannot think straight under duress. You should also understand that if someone is older, they were used to solve problems by personal contact and expected to be treated kindly and respectful. Many problems were solved by direct communication and connections, not by user support. While mid-age, I lived in a time where Internet did not exist at all, no social media, nothing. So while some old people use the Internet and get information, some may have severe trouble to navigate in the new time and get clinically sterile polite, but useless answers if they try to solve problems on their own. So they may try to ask other, more adept people to get the information they want to have.

You are under no obligation to actually help him because you have no connection, but it really would be a nice gesture if you call the telephone service as he asked you to do. Your other question "Does he have friends that you can contact?" was very good, but his negligence to answer means that he is either too upset, he has no other good friends or that he really fears what I already suspected. One other possible sad reason could be that Bill is actually senile and tries to call an already dead friend because it is the thing he most cared about. Listen if he seems to have forgotten something important said in the earlier talk or if what he tells is incoherent.

If he calls again

  • if you tried to help him, provide him with the info you got
  • tell him politely that you fully understand that it is very bad surprise that the number changed without forewarning, but it is as it is and you cannot help him more.
  • suggest again that he calls other friends or give him the directory number provided by the other answer.
  • tell him that you don't want to be called anymore.
  • if he calls then again, hang up and block him.

The pattern of Bill calling multiple times in a day and Bill not comprehending or retaining the information you've given him sounds like he has some (possibly age related) cognitive problems. If that's true then no amount of repetition or discussion directly with Bill will end the phone calls.

One possible solution is to ask Bill if he has anyone else you could talk to to explain the situation. If Bill has any children or more competent relatives they may be able to handle trying to locate Wayne. They may even know that Wayne in fact has passed away, and be able to remind Bill of that.


You are not in a situation to help this stranger, and even if you were, you have zero obligation to do so. You want to get rid of him.

To do so, make it very clear to him that you are not going to help. Like “Hey Bill, sorry you can’t reach your friend, but that is your problem, not mine. Goodbye. “

Some think this would be rude, but you just help him not wasting his time by calling you again.

If he calls again, the answer is shorter: “Hi Bill, goodbye. “

  • 6
    I'm not sure what interpersonal skill this would employ. It would serve the purpose of getting rid of him, but doesn't really follow the first rule of "Be Nice" Commented May 21, 2018 at 14:09
  • 5
    @baldPrussian While I do agree with what you're saying, let's not confuse the "Be Nice" rule... The "be nice" rule applies to how we interact with others on this site. There's no rule that all answers have to "be nice" to those mentioned in the scenario, sometimes that's not what the OP is looking for. In this case, however, OP specifically states they'd like to do this politely, and that is where this answer somewhat falls.
    – Jess K.
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 18:18
  • 1
    While being nice is great in most situations, the "be nice" rule is meant for interactions on this site. Plenty of interpersonal skills require that you don't put being nice as the highest priority, for example, dealing with scam phone calls and social engineers, which could possibly be the case here.
    – J A
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 0:06

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