I don’t love answering calls from unknown numbers, especially now I’m out of journalism and don’t feel obligated to pick up every incoming call. But often these mysterious calls are from one of the market research groups I belong to and HELLO free money!
This was a different kind of call, though…
Debt collections calls … sound surprisingly scammy
I thought it was some kind of weird phone based scam at first.
As soon as I put the phone to my ear, I heard an automated message start repeating itself. This soulless robotic voice told me I had to stay on the line for a very important matter to do with Dun and Bradstreet.
WTF? I was tempted to hang up, but I stayed on hold. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, a human came on the line. She started asking me personal questions to verify my identity and to be honest, I still wasn’t sure this was a legit call. But reluctantly, I confirmed a few details, trusting that they were who they said they were (seedy automated call aside).
Long story short: they told me I had a $50 ACC debt that had just gone to collections. Except I had literally never received any notification of this at all. Apparently it had gone to a very old address from about 3 years and 3 houses ago. And as I told the rep, I am always careful to keep my details up to date with the government (through IRD, because taxes!) and if I did owe this debt you’d think they’d tell ACC where to find me. Also, I’m not self employed, so I don’t know why I would owe ACC anything at all.
Without proof of this alleged debt, how was I even meant to begin sorting this out? Seeing as I had literally no documentation relating to this alleged debt I asked them to send me whatever they had on file.
A few days later I got a lovely letter full of capitals and red and threats of legal action. Standard template, I’m sure. It wasn’t exactly proof of the original bill, but it was something at least.
Armed with a reference number and a dollar amount, I contacted ACC. A couple of days later they told me they would be withdrawing the debt from Dun and Bradstreet. Sweet, I thought – that puts an end to this saga.
Debt collectors are relentless
Of course it wasn’t that easy. I continued to get calls from unknown numbers during the weekday and in the evenings – many of which I missed, and the rest I actively ignored. Then they started texting… Seriously.
I forwarded my email from ACC to three separate email addresses I found on the Dun and Bradstreet website (two of which immediately autoresponded with out of office replies).
Then, I also emailed ACC back to see what was happening…
Bureaucracy reigns supreme
Dun and Bradstreet eventually responded, only to tell me that a) I needed to call ACC because b) they had just spoken to their contact at ACC, who had said there was no intention to withdraw the invoice and c) it remained outstanding at this stage.
Uh, NOPE. I’m not going to waste time on the phone, particularly when that does not generate a paper (or email) trail. A lack of documentation is what brought this whole mess about.
Then, I heard back from ACC again. Another email saying the invoice had been withdrawn from Dun and Bradstreet…
The calls seem to have stopped, so I am assuming the message has finally gotten through to the right people.
It’s a stressful and dehumanising process
Look, I know Dun and Bradstreet were just DOING THEIR JOB. But from where I’m sitting, their systems and processes suck. I felt thoroughly dehumanised throughout the whole thing. Stalked, even.
I’m probably being oversensitive, but I didn’t like feeling like I’m being treated like subhuman scum. Not a debt dodger. Not even a legitimately decent person who’d fallen on hard times and fallen behind. I was literally someone stuck with a mess because someone in a big agency made a mistake. It’s scary how little power individuals actually have and how hard it is to sort things out that other people have screwed up. Here’s another story from a fellow Kiwi in that vein.
Yep, some time after grad school. I seriously don’t even remember what it was, but the amount was paltry ($25?). I made initial attempts to resolve it but it got to be a huge mess. Since the amount was so small, I just paid it rather than dealing with the back and forth and paperwork surely involved. It probably was a scam but I was ill and stressed and just didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with it at the time…normally I fight tooth and nail to not have to pay for something I feel I shouldn’t have to!
I really need to write a post about the money I have written off for the sake of sanity! Sometimes that needs to prevail over principle.
I’ve never had to des with this and I’m glad because I was getting really anxious reading your story. I’m glad you got it all sorted out, but that sure does seem stalkery.
Ugh I just dealt with this for a years old medical bill. Except it should have been covered by my insurance and they just flat out billed insurance wrong. And then never told me. And then sold”my” debt. It’s a PITA. Eventually I just started ignoring, too. I did everything I could do, and if anything ends up on my credit report I’m getting a lawyer right quick.
Oh yeah, debt collectors are the worst. I had a medical bill appear from a supposedly free clinic, which I was notified about once, and then it quickly went into collections before I could dispute it. It was ridiculous. I tried to dispute it then, but it seemed like it would be never ending/impossible and the debt collectors were ruthless in bothering me. It ended up just being less hassle to pay the damn thing, unjustified though it was.
It’s awful, isn’t it? When I was in med school I got billed by my own training hospital for a procedure I’d never had. I contested it, but they sent me to collections and it was scary and annoying and frustrating and dehumanizing and… and… I worked crazy hours and didn’t want to be woken up all the time by mean people who didn’t seem to have even two neurons firing in their noggins.
I eventually paid the stupid fradulent bill to keep from ruining my credit score, but it sure didn’t make me love my med school any better. It’s just a good thing I had insurance and my share of the charges for this nonexistent procedure weren’t that high.
You can run but you can’t hide hehe. A long time ago I had one of the other companies chasing me because someone I had done some business with decided that I owed them some money (I didn’t agree to pay them for something I never received). Long story short, this company pursued me for months in every more imaginative ways. I tried explaining, early on, the situation but was told that the debt lodger was the only one who could withdraw it. In the end they just stopped. I assume that cost of recovery was exceeding the value of the debt.
My suggestion is to contact D&B and make sure that the debt has been removed from your record or it could come back to bite you later on.
That’s so crazy that is seems so much like a scam. I’m glad you were able to get it all sorted out though!
Hahah, at least they gave you documentation in a few days! About a year after I moved from Christchurch to Auckland, I got a call from the debt collection agency. Something about not having paid my final electricity bill. I was really suspicious since it sounded a whole lot like a scam (why do they need all of MY details? surely those exist on my invoice?), but I told them I would pay if they sent me documentation from the electricity company.
Fast forward a month, I received no documentation so I assumed it was genuinely a scam. Then I get another call from them telling me I was late in paying the bill and was now in default, which would affect my credit rating! I explained to them that I requested documentation and didn’t receive any, so how could I pay a bill without a… bill? Their response was “Well, you should have followed up with us, that’s your responsibility.”
I went apeshit and said I would contact law enforcement. The person on the other end simply hung up. So I called my old electricity company to see if THEY could send me this elusive documentation. They confirmed that I owed them money, but apparently they had no records of the bill because they had already sent all their records to… the debt collection agency. /facepalm
I looked them up and apparently they COULD screw up your credit rating if they wanted to. Eep. I finally ferreted out a way to contact the debt collection agency via email, and threatened to escalate to law enforcement (I honestly didn’t know if the police would help, but I figured I’d try anyway) if they insisted on downgrading my credit rating for not paying a bill that I hadn’t received an invoice for.
Fortunately, someone higher up got the memo and they sent me the invoice, along with an apology and a reversal of the default. So I paid them.
But yeah. I feel your pain… :/
I’d be extremely annoyed being treated like that too. I’d have done exactly what you did – go to the source and sort it there (ACC). I guess their job is to look scary & official enough to make people pay but it’s really bad.