A Guide to Starting a Self-Represented Lawsuit in New York
Track Down the Callers
Step 4. Find the entity and/or person(s) behind the call and their address(es).
This is by far the hardest part, unless the recorded message actually states the name of the company and a call-back number (which is required). The people responsible for making calls that omit this information are usually fully aware that they are breaking the law. To sue them, you need their addresses, and real names or company names. As such, they usually go great lengths to hide their connections to the call-making operation. This is where all the information gathered in Step 3 becomes useful. The more information you gathered, the more likely it will be that you will find the culprits responsible for calling you. Try to get as much information as possible. Then:
- Search for the company’s name. However, do not put too much stock in this search. Marketeers frequently use highly generic (and false) names such as “Loan Services,” which will make these searches difficult.
- If you were provided a website or were able to find it on Google:
- Confirm that the website matches the entity that called you. Check if they offer the same services.
- See if there is a “contact us” address. Often there is no address provided. If an address exists, confirm on Google maps that it actually exists and who lives there. Many such entities are not above using completely fictitious addresses. Sometimes – rarely – a telemarketing company will use its real address.
- Find out who owns the website. The ICANN database is a free online tool that can be used to determine who owns a website. If the marketing entity has purchased the website themselves, their actual name and contact address must be provided. If you find them there, you have your culprit. However, marketers frequently use third-party entities in Panama and Canada that act as intermediaries to anonymize the website’s ownership.
- Explore the website. Sometimes links to other websites give away the owner. Check the owners of these related websites using the ICANN database.
- There may also be a contact phone number. Try calling it; if you are unsure if you want to call it from your personal telephone, you can get an extra phone line on Skype (SkypeOut) or Google (GooglePhone) for a very low rate. The number from the website will likely not work; at best you will be relayed to another call center that will try to sell car insurance or similar. Make a note of your call for additional evidence.
- Secure the evidence – print the website or take screenshots. Sometimes websites are only public for a few months, most likely because the purveyors try to stay ahead of prosecuting authorities. Therefore: Print the websites, or – better – take screenshots. Windows 10 has a useful app called the “snipping tool.” On a Mac you can press command-shift-4 to take screenshots. If you cannot find the website again, try the “Wayback Machine,” an online archive of the internet.
- Cannot find a website? Name too generic? Website not giving you any useful information? Not to worry. As long as you have a company or an individual’s name, there are further steps you can take:
- Check the secretary of state in which the entity is located. If the operator stated that they called you from Florida, they should be registered to do business in Florida. Try to find the state’s “business register” or “entity search.” In my experience, most of these entities are, for some reason, registered in either Florida, Wyoming, Nevada, or Utah.
- Search PACER. PACER is an online database of all documents filed in any federal court in the United States. There is a very good chance that another annoyed consumer – or even the FTC – has sued these callers before in federal court. PACER will list the case, even if the name you have is not the actual name of the company. Frequently, a company is listed as a d/b/a (“doing business as”) or f/k/a (“formerly known as”) but will show up in a search. For example, a case may involve “Company XYZ, Inc. doing business as ABC, LLC.” A search for either XYZ or ABC will give you the correct result. Once you have found a case, find the “corporate disclosure statement” or “certificate of interested parties” in the docket in which the defendant entity lists all of its corporate parents. Look at the complaint as well to see if there are more details and responsible parties. While PACER is not free to use, at $0.10 per search, it is excellent value for money. By that same token, if you have access to them, try searching Westlaw or Lexis. Lexis has a useful public records search function.
- Check LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms. As strange as it sounds, these can be useful sources of information. When looking for the company, try to find out who works there. Frequently, you will find people listed with the secretary of state as a company’s president but without a useful address. Try the name on social media, looking for tags like “online marketing” or “lead generation.” You can use social media to find the company that called you. These social media websites can also be useful to confirm the addresses of the people you are suing. I once had the name of a person who owned the company in question that had called me, and I had an address that I found for him online. I was unsure that this address was correct and wanted to confirm that he actually lived at the address before paying a process server to go to the address. I noticed that he had published on Facebook several pictures of himself in front of his “new home.” I looked up the address on Google Maps, and the look of the house matched the one in his pictures – I had found the right address.
- Other databases exist but tend to be very expensive. Private investigation firms have access to those.
- Try filing a request pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 222 to your phone provider. Under 47 U.S.C. § 222(c)(2), every telecommunications carrier, such as T-Mobile, or AT&T, must disclose customer proprietary network information upon written request from a customer. I have not found this to be a useful resource – the callers tend to be able to fool the receiving carrier, who thus has no more information than you do.
Again, this is by far the most difficult part of the process. Despite my best efforts, I can usually trace only one in three of all robocalls I receive.
 Defined as “information that relates to the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location, and amount of use of a telecommunications service subscribed to by any customer of a telecommunications carrier, and that is made available to the carrier by the customer solely by virtue of the carrier-customer relationship; and information contained in the bills pertaining to telephone exchange service or telephone toll service received by a customer of a carrier;”
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