Quick Answer: Often but Not Always. Long Answer: Be Careful
There seems to be a widespread belief that process servers do not call people in advance of attempting because that would “give them away” or something. We understand why some people might think like that, but it’s based on a fundamentally flawed idea of process serving.
We’re doing you a favor by delivering you the notice. Not calling you makes everybody’s life harder.
The process server isn’t out to get you. You are involved in a lawsuit and it’s in your interest to find out what the lawsuit claims. Yes, some people do try to avoid us, but the vast majority of people we serve are responsible adults and service takes place without anything unusual happening. We just assume you’re a responsible adult and calling you to arrange for a time to deliver the papers will make everything easier (and possibly save you some embarrassment by agreeing on when and where service will take place).
We actually have people who are happy we call them to arrange service. This is usually the case in a divorce when there are small children living with the person being served and they want to avoid having the kids be home when service takes place. Similarly, people may not want to be served at home at all and will tell the server they’ll come to our office to pick up the papers.
One thing to bear in mind is the process server isn’t going to call and demand you be home in five minutes. And they absolutely will not call and demand you pay them money (if this happens to you: it is a scam. Don’t fall for it).
Servers generally call and see if they can set up a time in the future to meet. There could be some urgency if the paper’s deadline is coming up soon, but there’s usually a few days to work with. It is possible that the server is calling from right outside your house, either before or after making an attempt to deliver your papers, but that’s not because they’re trying to scare you. It just makes sense to call when you’re at the top of their list.
On the flip side, if you want to the server to attempt to deliver the documents at a certain time, it is best to give at least a couple hour window. The servers are busy and have to make attempts on many papers so make a reasonable request. For instance, calling the server at noon requesting to be served that same day by 12:15pm before you leave for work is most likely not going to provide the server enough time to adjust their schedule and make it there on such short notice. Providing the server with a two to four hour window that you will be home is not only sensible, it will increase your odds of receiving the important documents you need to get!
Try thinking about it from the process server’s point of view. You have a stack of papers to deliver all over town. They have deadlines and you need to manage your time to get everything done before it’s too late. If you have phone numbers for some of these papers, wouldn’t you call ahead to see if you can arrange a time to meet for service?
So, yes, if you get a call from somebody who says they are a process server and has legal documents to deliver, they very well could be telling the truth. And you do want to get those papers if you want to respond to the lawsuit.
The Part Where You Need to Be Careful
Legitimate process servers will call you. But that doesn’t mean that everybody calling you is a legitimate process server. It very well could be part of a scam (for more information on process server scams, see our Process Serving Scams article).
So, how do you tell the difference between a real process server and a scammer?
It’s actually not too hard. Remember that a real process server wants to get the documents to you. A scammer just wants to scare you into giving out personal information or paying them to go away. Pay attention to how they talk to you.
Do they sound like all they want to do is meet with you and then get on with the rest of their day? Or does it sound like they’re angry and frustrated and want to bully you into giving out information (besides when you’re free to meet)?
Be aware that legitimate process servers may offer to meet you at home or work. Usually, either is fine and we may already have your work address (and, yes, we can attempt to serve you at work). And if you’d rather not get served at home or work, we’re absolutely OK meeting you somewhere else. For example, we’ve served people in restaurant parking lots and at gas stations. There really aren’t a lot of laws about exactly where a serve can take place. As long as you get the papers and are aware of the case, that’s what really matters.
If you don’t know when you’re free to meet, be aware the server will continue attempting. This means they’ll come to your home and/or work to deliver the documents. Please don’t interpret a server stating that they will come to your house as a threat. It’s just a statement of fact. They need to get the papers to you somehow and home is the most obvious place to try.
From what we’ve heard, some scammers demand you have an ID and witness when they come, but this is probably just to scare you or make them seem more official. Real servers almost never ask for ID unless there’s good reason (like a case of mistaken identity) and while some types of cases (like Guardianships) require a witness be present, these are few and far between and, generally, you know when a Guardianship is coming. If you are asked to have ID and/or a witness, put up your defenses because you might be about to get scammed.
What Happens If You Don’t Answer the Call or Agree to Meet?
Based on what we’ve seen, it seems like people think that if they ignore a process server and don’t take phone calls from the server, everything will just be OK. This is almost definitely not the case. If you don’t take a server’s call or refuse to set up a time to meet, don’t think the server will give up trying to deliver the papers.
Instead of coming to your house or workplace at a time of your choosing, the server will continue making attempts when they think you’ll be there.
This means an unexpected knock on the door at dinner time or somebody ringing your doorbell first thing in the morning. It could also result in your supervisor calling you to their office so you can be served. If you’d rather go this route, then ignoring a process server’s call is what you should do. Or, if you’d rather agree to meet the server at a mutually agreed upon time and location, answer the phone and get the papers.
The real problem, though, is that you will not get the papers, so you won’t know what case you’re involved in. Is it a divorce? An attempt to collect a debt? A subpoena for something you’re only tangentially related to? The best way to find out is by getting the papers. One last thing to note: your refusal to answer the phone or agree to meet will most likely be documented on the affidavit the server turns in to the judge. So the judge will know that you did not cooperate with the server’s attempts to notify you of the case. That probably does not bode well for you on the trial date.
The Root of the Problem: Shady Debt Collectors
Based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Southeast Wisconsin Process has served a lot of papers locally and all over the country. While we can’t say with 100% certainty why so many people believe all calls from process servers are scams, we do have strong grounds to state the problem has to do with shady debt collectors. We work with a lot of real debt collection firms and they are not quite what you may think. They’re very well run, above-board organizations. People get into debt for a variety of reasons and these firms exist to get everything back on track. Debt collection is a touchy issue and there are a lot of rules and regulations surrounding how you can collect a debt with serious repercussions for violating them. The last thing legitimate debt collectors want to do is jeopardize their firm’s livelihood by violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Shady debt collectors, however, ignore FDCPA and run more or less under the radar, attempting to scrape what they can from who they can. These are the individuals posing as process servers leaving threatening messages on your phone. Real debt collectors have way too much to lose by engaging in such practices. Unfortunately, then, it’s legitimate process servers who take the blame.
Never forget that process servers are not debt collectors. We will never ask you for money. All we want to do is notify you of an existing legal proceeding that involves you. It very well might not even be a debt collection case!
That’s a long way to say yes, real process servers do sometimes call before they come attempt to serve you. One last thought: professional process servers call the people they’re trying to serve because it works. Most people respond well to somebody trying to help them by delivering legal documents. So please, be aware scams do exist, but answer the phone. And remember, ignoring the process server will not make the papers, lawsuit or legal repercussions go away.