There are a lot of people trying to reach celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk. Sometimes, though, they get Lyndsay Tucker, a 25-year-old skin care consultant.
Tucker, who works at a Sephora beauty store in San Jose, Calif., had never heard of the Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO until a couple years ago, when she began fielding a steady stream of calls and text messages intended for him.
"I asked my mom, 'Hey, I keep getting these text messages' — and I was also now starting to get phone calls — 'for this guy Elon Musk. I don't know who this is,' " Tucker said. "And my mom's jaw just dropped."
Turns out, Tucker's cellphone number used to be registered to Musk. On any given day, she receives at least three calls or texts intended for Musk, whom she has never met.
If the maverick billionaire provokes a scandal, as he is wont to do, her phone blows up with a torrent of messages. (Full disclosure: I reached out to Musk during one of those controversies, when he threatened to sue the California county that is home to Tesla's manufacturing plant over its coronavirus-related restrictions. Instead, I got Tucker.)
She has accidentally intercepted far more interesting calls than mine, however. One woman volunteered to go to space with SpaceX. Another person sent a blueprint for a bionic limb. "Which is, No. 1, really cool," Tucker said. "But I have no idea how it's built."
A South African businessman asked about buying 1,000 trucks. The Internal Revenue Service called about a complicated tax issue.
"I assumed I had messed something up," Tucker said about that call. "It was a huge relief they weren't looking for me."
Former Walt Disney executive John Lasseter texted about the Tesla he bought, calling it a "magnificent car!!!" and adding, "The self driving is a trip!"
"I actually ended up going to the same college as his son," Tucker said of Lasseter.
"I got to talk to him and apologized for never messaging his father back," she said. "We ended up laughing about it."
Recently, Jeff Gold, an Atlanta-area inventor, who did business with Musk in the 1990s, sent a text about some coronavirus research.
"He gave me his number a long time ago," Gold said. "I just went on and tracked down the correct number and resent my text."
Public records show that Tucker's number was once associated with a condo Musk bought and sold years ago in Palo Alto, Calif. After Musk got rid of the number, AT&T randomly reassigned it to Tucker. But online, the number took on a life of its own. It was replicated on dozens of listing websites as Musk's current digits.
NPR reached out to Musk to see whether he knew about his long-lost number. He replied with a short email.
"Wow," Musk said. "That number is so old! I'm surprised it's still out there somewhere."
Some of those who texted Tucker said Musk himself provided the number to them. When NPR asked Musk whether he gave out that number to people he was trying to dodge, he did not respond.
However people obtain the number, it is often up to Tucker to convince them she is not Musk.
"They say, 'Oh, how do I know you're not Elon?' " she said. "And they suddenly want proof that I'm not him even though they're obviously talking to a woman on the phone."
The incessant calls and texts offer Tucker a rare window into the life of the flamboyant tech CEO, a glimpse she finds "amusing." Yet sometimes it can feel like a full-time job.
"Whenever I see his name pop up in the news, I'm like, 'OK, I have to actually learn what he said because, chances are, someone is going to message me about it or call me about it,' " Tucker said. "Even though I find it funny most of the time, it does get irritating sometimes when it's like call after call after call."
She intends to keep the number, since she's an aspiring actress with a network of contacts who know her by those digits.
But she acknowledges that her ability to respond to all the Musk calls and texts changes by the day.
To those who think it is Musk ignoring them, Tucker has a message.
"I'm sorry. Sometimes I don't respond if I'm having a rough day. So if you didn't get a response, it's probably me, not him," she said. "Don't feel too let down."
A previous version of this Web story misrepresented the California county in which Telsa's headquarters is based. It is in Santa Clara County, not Alameda County.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now, there are a lot of people trying to reach Elon Musk. One woman in California knows this firsthand because she has his old cellphone number. The woman tells NPR's Bobby Allyn what it is like to accidentally field the celebrity entrepreneur's calls.
(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE RINGING)
LYNDSAY TUCKER: Hello.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: This is Lyndsay Tucker. She's a 25-year-old skin care consultant. She works at a Sephora in San Jose. A couple of years ago, people started calling and texting her, but they were looking for a very different person - someone she had never heard of.
TUCKER: I asked my mom - hey, I keep getting these text messages. And I was also now starting to get phone calls for this guy Elon Musk. I don't know who this is. And my mom's jaw just dropped.
ALLYN: Her mom explained Elon Musk, the flamboyant visionary behind electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX. And he has a reputation. He once smoked pot on camera during a podcast taping. He captured headlines recently for bashing shelter-in-place orders.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELON MUSK: To say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do - this is fascist.
ALLYN: He's a person people want to reach - the investors, the engineers, the journalists. But often, they get Tucker.
TUCKER: I had one where a girl just wanted to say like, hey, if you need volunteers to go to space, I'll do it. And I was like, sorry, sis - I'm not him.
ALLYN: She's been sent a blueprint for a bionic limb. A South African businessman inquired about buying a thousand trucks. The IRS called about a complicated tax issue. Sometimes it's just an old friend. Recently, it was Jeff Gold, an Atlanta-area inventor who did business with Musk in the 1990s.
JEFF GOLD: I think he just said wrong number to me. So - I didn't know. And I just - I went on and tracked down the correct number and re-sent my text.
ALLYN: Tucker says she gets about three calls or texts a day for Musk. If he makes a splash by saying something outlandish, like recently when he threatened to pull Tesla's headquarters out of California, her phone starts constantly buzzing.
TUCKER: Whenever I see his name pop up in the news, I'm like, OK, I have to go, like, actually learn what he said because chances are somebody's going to message me about it or call me about it.
ALLYN: But how did this happen? NPR tried to reach Elon Musk to find out. We called him at his manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif.
AUTOMATED VOICE: Thank you for calling Tesla. If you are a Tesla owner or would like to be, please press 1.
ALLYN: I couldn't get through to him there, but I emailed him about the number mix-up. And he wrote me back. He said, quote, "Wow, that number is so old. I can't believe it's still out there somewhere."
Public records show this was actually Musk's phone number years ago. I asked him if he still gives it out to people he's trying to avoid. He wouldn't answer that. However people get the number, it's often up to Lyndsay Tucker to convince callers it's not Musk holding the phone.
TUCKER: They were like - oh, well, how do I know you're not Elon? It just gets very aggressive when they're like, how do I know? And they suddenly, like, want proof that I'm not him even though they're obviously talking to a woman on the phone.
ALLYN: Tucker says having this rare window into Elon Musk's life is amusing. But sometimes having a tech billionaire's old number can feel like a full-time job. Here's her message to those who think they've texted Musk and haven't heard back.
TUCKER: I'm sorry. Sometimes I don't respond if I'm having, like, a rough day or anything. So if you didn't get a response, it's probably me and not him. So don't worry about it.
ALLYN: And Tucker says she's keeping this number. She's an aspiring actress. And who knows? Maybe one of these random callers could give her her big break.
Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.