Friday, January 19, 2007

More fun ways to ruin your credit

I am a recent college graduate and last summer I decided to go on a two month road trip before getting down to business. My first stop was to visit my aunt in upstate New York and for reasons beyond my control (car trouble) I ended up spending about 10 days sitting around watching TV there. I decided to break up the monotony by getting a new cell phone, since the one I had was purchased through my school and was about to expire. I wanted to get T-Mobile, because my entire family used T-Mobile, and I wanted to keep my number, so I wouldn't have to tell all of my friends a new number. Fortunately, Congress passed a national law that said you could "port" in your number to a new cell provider.

So, I went to the T-Mobile website to look for a T-Mobile Store near my aunt's house and one of the closest stores was at Wal-Mart. I decided to go to Wal-Mart because my aunt knew where it was, and I certainly didn't know my way around. So off to Wal-Mart I went and I picked out a phone I liked and bought it. While it was getting set up, I asked if I could port in my old number. The lady didn't know how to do it, so she called T-Mobile and was informed that it was relatively simple to do and I could do it at home. Satisfied, I bought the phone, went home and called T-Mobile.

This turned out to be something of a nightmare. My old service provider, Alltel, didn't acknowledge that the phone was in my name, because I had purchased it through the University. So I had to call the University and get them to call Alltel who then had to call T-Mobile. I would say conservatively that I spent ten hours on the phone trying to get my number ported in, as even after Alltel released the number, T-Mobile was struggling to assign the number to me. Finally, two days after I got the phone, a lady from T-Mobile informed me that I couldn't port my number because T-Mobile didn't have any towers in that area code. I immediately told the lady I was going to return the phone and cancel service, since I asked when I bought it if I could port in my number and was told then that I could. T-Mobile has a two-week money-back policy and so easy-breezy I returned the phone to Wal-Mart and got my money back.

That same day I got a Cingular phone and recently re-upped with Cingular for two more years.

Flash forward to last weekend, where I was home celebrating a late Christmas with my family. I wake up Friday morning and my mom informs me that I received a call from a creditor that morning and she had gotten a call back number. I call the agency back and lo and behold, I owe $360 to T-Mobile and they have now turned the account over to Amsher Collection Agency, and now they were calling my parents. When I signed up for T-Mobile, I used my parent's home number as my home number, since I couldn't very well use the only other number I had-- the cell number I wanted to port in. I more or less go ballistic on the phone ("I'm not paying anything, don't call my parents, don't fuck with my credit), but to be fair, collection agency's aren't known for their customer service, I had gotten the phone in late May of 2006, more than seven months earlier and this was a spectacularly bad piece of news to get at 8:30 in the morning.

After taking a few days to collect myself, I called T-Mobile and get some information. It turns out that the phone was never disconnected and I owe $200 for breach of contract, plus four months of service at $40 a month (the phone was turned off for lack of payment in October 2006). I told them what happened, but I was told to call the collection agency as T-Mobile no longer controls the account, however, they would extensively note the account so that the agency could refer to my call to T-Mobile.

So I called the agency and I was transferred to a supervisor, and again I relayed my story of misunderstanding. He said he would have to check with T-Mobile and he would get back to me, so I gave him my Cingular number and waited for him to call back.

An hour later he left me a voice mail (I was on the subway, so I didn't get the call) saying that I am libel for the phone, because I "returned it to Wal-Mart, which is the same as returning it to someone on the street. [I] should have returned the phone to the T-Mobile warehouse."

What the hell is the T-Mobile warehouse? Obviously, I was never told this by T-Mobile, in my extensive phone conversations with them, or Wal-mart, when I purchased or returned the phone. I was supposed to simply figure this out, and if I didn't figure this out, it would be a very costly mistake indeed.

I called Amshare back today and was informed that they would settle the account for $280 (the equivalent to seven months phone service) or they would refer my account to an attorney. I asked to speak to the supervisor I spoke with yesterday. I informed him that I couldn't possibly have known to return the phone to the T-Mobile Warehouse and that I only learned of its existence yesterday when he told me about it. He responded: "That's business."

I told him that I can not and will not pay $260 for a phone I only used for a week before returning it to where I bought it from. "Then you will be liable for the charges and we will get an attorney to get the money from you, including legal fees, which will come to more than $360."

I called T-Mobile and asked to speak with a supervisor and I was told that I would get a call from someone. I am currently waiting for that call, but obviously I am not optimistic. T-Mobile says that they have no control over the account once it goes to collections, and the collection agency has no incentive to let me off. In fact, their entire business is based around not letting people off. Collection agencies and car towing service both operate on the principle that no one can afford to do anything other than pay them. When push comes to shove, common sense and fairness never enters the picture because the consumer has no leverage. When a supervisor from T-Mobile calls me back and tells me that he can't do anything for me I will be faced with the choice between ruining my credit and probably being tried in absentia in some court that almost certainly won't be near where I live, or paying more than half what I owed in the original contract despite never receiving any of the services of the contract. I'll let you know what I choose.

UPDATE: I talked to Legal Aid and they advised me to negotiate with Amsher because T-Mobile has already sold the account to them and thus will not help me. Since Amsher tells me that they need a letter from T-Mobile in order to close the account and T-Mobile says they turned over the file to Amsher, I am pretty much screwed. I am filing a formal dispute with Amsher, which should keep me out of court and hopefully will get T-Mobile to do something.

If not, then I will just have to start writing a lot of letters. $280 isn't a huge amount of money, but it is more than I will pay for nothing.


Andrew Shimmin said...

They're not going to sue you. It's not enough money to bother suing over. You shouldn't bother with the collection agency, directly, since, like you said, they have no interest in resolving this justly. Just dispute the credit report through whichever agency they report to. If you can get it taken off your credit report, then the collection agency can pound sand for all the good it does them. You'll have to monitor your credit reports for the rest of your life, to make sure they don't try slipping it back on, but that's not a bad idea, in any event.

It's a sucky situation, but you shouldn't consider paying them off until you've exhausted all the non-paying them off options. It's not right! Don't reward bad behavior. This advice is more easily given by someone whose credit score isn't in jeopardy over it, but, still.

Annandale said...

Well, I sent a certified letter disputing the charges, that is what T-Mobile advised my mom to do (they never told me this, evidently they are more responsive with a T-Mobile customer on the line). Supposedly, Amsher refers all disputed accounts back to T-Mobile, at which time T-Mobile has an opportunity to respond. At the very least, this will keep it off my credit and out of the kangeroo courts. Understand though, they have lawyers on staff whose only job is to squash people like me, even to serve as a sacrificial lamb. Amsher is based in Birmingham, AL, so just by getting a court date in Alabama they would force me to make a difficult decision. However, for now at least I agree with you that I shouldn't pay anything.

Anonymous said...

"We have used AmSher for the past two years, turning over to them only difficult or stale accounts. Their success has been surprising. . . even more impressive when you realize they have not filed a single lawsuit, as all recoveries have been the result of correspondence or telephone calls."

They're not going to sue you. In Alabama or anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Read the Fair Credit reporting Act and also call your State's Atorney General's office. Amsher must provide the original contact with your authentic signature and any and all proof of the debt. Send a letter to them requesting this. Send then all Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested. Send one every 30 days. They won't sure you they are just bluffing you to try to make you pay. They can't take any action unless including filing suit against you unless they properly validate the debt which is doubtful that they will do. They can't sue you in Alabama they must file suit in the State that the alleged contact was formed in. If you sue them in the state the contract was formed in then they probably won't show up or respond because it would cost more than it was worth for them and you may get a default judgement.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to know if Amsher should be calling you on your job? It seems as if that could be some form of harassment. I received a call from Amsher at my workplace. I called back to speak with a supervisor so that I could inform Amsher not to call my job. I documented the phone call & who I spoke with & the person who actually called me as well. Whom I spoke with one week before stating that I would be disputing the claim from T-Mobile. Amsher has my address, so they can mail me as many letters as they would like, just do not call my JOB!

Benaiah said...

It is illegal for them to call you at work, unless that is their only means to contact you. Here is what I did to make it all go away: get T-Mobile to note in their records your explanation or dispute, then you send a certified letter to Amsher disputing that you owe them money- you will probably have to follow up on this because they will pretend they didn't get it. Amsher will have to contact T-Mobile as part of the dispute process, and if T-Mobile says you are in the clear then it goes away. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Dude, this happened to me with AT&T, the exact story. I still owe them $366.00 and the creditors still call everyday and threaten me with courts, I said take me to court I'll buy you all coffee and donuts. Needless to say I have never been to court and have not paid a dime. Whenever I aplly a loan in fact I just did for an automobile, I simply brought the info in and explained what happened and it did not effect my intrest rate at all. The phone compaines and these f-n collections agencies should not have the power to control your future with such stupid shit!! Good Luck..

Anonymous said...

I'm going through a similar situation with Amsher and T Mobile, the person I spoke with on the phone threatened to "close and persist" this account. I guess that means turning it over to an attorney. Whatever.
Amsher wants $678, but they're willing to settle for $500. LOL
I wonder if they'll really sue me:(

Anonymous said...

I too am currently involved with t-mobile and Amsher... I've taken a different route, sent them a Notice to Cease Communication. They received it on the 20th and have called me six times. Each time I have traced the call via *57. I contacted an attorney who specializes in dealing with FDCPA violations who explained she takes 13% of the amount awarded. So far they have called me six times, at $1,000 per violation I could be in for quite a pay day. In fact, I'm actually looking forward to their next call!!! Wish me Luck!!!

Anonymous said...

I own 565 on my unpaid t mobile bill to amsher, i'll pay it back when i can little by little. I don't believe they can sue you and i wonder can they sue me for 565?