Best Practices

How Phone Flipping Works

While under oath, a Professional Plaintiff admits to using this common tactic.

In March of 2015, a Professional Plaintiff Melody Stoops filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo bank in the Western District of Pennsylvania.  The case was the first in which the plaintiff admitted that she bought and collected at least 35 different pre-paid cell phones for the specific purpose of manufacturing lawsuits.

Stoops v. Wells Fargo

Stoops claimed the bank violated her privacy interests when she received the calls, and her economic interests because she had to buy airtime minutes for her phones.

Excerpts from Stoops’ Deposition Testimony

Q. What prompted you to bring this lawsuit?

A.  Wells Fargo was calling me a phone — on a phone.

Q. Okay. Did anyone suggest to you to bring this lawsuit?

A.  Suggest to bring a lawsuit? Yes.

Q. Who?

A. Randy Miller.

Q.Who is Randy Miller?

A. My best friend from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Q.Okay. Any why did Randy Miller suggest that?

A. Well, he was the first to mention the possibility of me doing TCPA violations as a business.

Q. Okay. So are you bringing these lawsuits as a business?

A. Yes, I am.

When questioned about the number of lawsuits she has filed, Stoops testified:

Q. Have you — you’ve filed other TCPA lawsuits, correct?

A. Yes, ma’am.

Q. How many?

A. Approximately, nine, I believe. I don’t know how many.

Q. Against whom?

A. Comenity, Credit One, Navient, Wells Fargo.

Q. Why did you file so many lawsuits?

A. Because I’m allowed to.

Q. What do you mean by you’re allowed to?

A. They’re calling my number as a wrong party, and I’ve told people that — I’ve told them not to call and they continue to call.

When questioned about her cell phones, Stoops testified:

Q. More than 40 cell phone numbers? Getting up there.

A. Yes. Yes. Yes. Can I tell you how they fit when I brought them here?

Q. Sure.

A. They fit in a shoebox.

Q. Okay.

A. Does that give you a . . .

Q. Not really.

A. Okay.

Q. I don’t know how big they are. Okay. So at the point of 40 would you say that you can’t estimate? Do you have more than 40 cell phone numbers or you cannot say?

A. I don’t know.

Q. You don’t know. Okay. But you have more than 35?

A. I do.

Q. And you don’t know if you have more than 40?

A. I don’t. I’m sorry.

Q. Okay.

A. I don’t count them. I haven’t counted them.

In discussing her business, Stoops testified:

Q. Why do you have so many cell phone numbers?

A. I have a business suing offenders of the TCPA business — or laws.

Q. And when you say business, what do you mean by business?

A. It’s my business. It’s what I do.

Q. So you’re specifically buying these cell phones in order to manufacture a TCPA? In order to bring a TCPA lawsuit?

A. Yeah.

Q. When you purchase these phones, walk me through the process of how these cell phones get activated?

A. I use my cell phone and I dial the number, and they ask me what ZIP code I want to put it in, and they also ask me the serial number.

Q. Okay. And so you — do you select the ZIP code?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. And what ZIP code did you select or do you select?

A. Normally, Florida number — Florida ZIP codes.

Q. And why is that?

A. Because there’s a depression in Florida.

Q. Okay. So you’re — what do you mean by there’s a depression in Florida? Why are you selecting a Florida number?

A. I knew that people had hardships in Florida, that they would be usually defaulting on their loans or their credit cards.

Q. So is there another purpose that you use these cell phones for other than –

A. No.

Q. –to–no. So the purpose is to bring a TCPA lawsuit?

A. Correct.

Q. Does anyone you know ever call you at these phone numbers?

A. No, ma’am.

Q. Did you ever use any of these phone numbers to call anyone?

A. No, ma’am.

Q. How did you use this phone number after it was activated, if at all?

A. For my business.

Q. Okay. When you say for your business, what do you mean?

A. Suing clients like yours, Wells Fargo, for violating the TCPA.

Q. Okay. So would you keep — you mentioned a shoe box. Would you just keep the phone in a shoe box?

A. No. No. No. No. You have to — you have to plug them in to keep them active, batteries active.

Q. Okay. And then what would you do with these phones? Would you wait for them to ring?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay. And then when they ring, what would you do?

A. I would — different — different ways. I would initially pick it up to see who it was and document that or I would — if I had already told them not to call, I would just document it on a log that you’ve — I believe you have.

Q. Did you — was it your practice to pick up each of the phones when they rang the first time?

A. I would try to, yes.

When questioned whether she asked any callers to stop calling, Stoops testified:

Q. Did you also indicate to those callers to stop calling?

A. Yes. Some of the times. Not all of the times. I would have to look at my logs.

Q. Okay. And when you picked up the phone — do you know if you picked up the phone ever with regard to Wells Fargo?

A. Yes.

Q. And do you know if you spoke with someone?

A. Yes.

Q. If it was your intention for calls to continue, because as you’ve indicated you believe this is a business to bring a TCPA lawsuit, why would you tell the caller to stop calling?

A. I was hopefully going to ask my lawyers to do trebling with knowing and willful.

Q. Can you explain to me what that means?

A. From my understanding is if a debt collector or a telemarketer continues to call and they knowingly and willingly continue to do it, it can be a fine of trebling.

The Ruling

Because Stoops actually admitted that her only purpose in using her cell phones is to file TCPA lawsuits, the judge ruled that her privacy interests weren’t violated when she received calls from Wells Fargo, because they did not adversely affect the privacy rights that the TCPA is intended to protect, and were not an invasion of privacy.