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.