This month, I started getting collection calls. Apparently my Internet provider wanted $61 for a modem that I returned last May. I’d been trying to resolve the problem for months, but nothing seemed to work. No matter how many times I asked to speak with a supervisor and was promised that the matter would be taken care of, that “I’ll be the last person you’ll have to talk to,” I was getting nowhere.

During the umpteenth call, I began to wonder if I was in the first circle of my very own inferno. Maybe I’d been damned to an eternity of crappy, staticky on-hold music, interrupted only by the assurance that my call was very important. Damned to repeat my story over and over to people whom I began to suspect were dwelling somewhere in the eighth circle.

Eventually, I hit a wall. The last supervisor I spoke to said that since I couldn’t prove that I returned the modem, I had to pay for it. So now what?

What the pros say

“I always advise people to send collection companies a letter through certified mail that states that you don’t owe the debt, to stop calling, and that you’re refusing to pay,” says John Smith, president of collection company FMS. By law, the collections company has to stop calling you. “They can call back one more time to explain why you owe and notify you that they’re going to sue you,” Smith says.

That would take care of the collections calls, but what about my credit? “You have a right to dispute any debt on your credit report,” he says. And if the collections company reports the debt on behalf of the Internet company, they’re required to include the fact that I’ve disputed the debt too. “It depends on the rest of your credit, but if you have good credit, a $61 debt isn’t really going to hurt you, even without filing a dispute,” he says.

So, I wasn’t going to pay. Yes, it was only $61, but it was the principle of the thing. I didn’t owe this money.

Going to the CEO

As I complained about the situation to a friend, he suggested that I email the CEO. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “I’m sure the CEO will really care.” Not that I even thought he’d get my email in the first place. But since I had nothing to lose and no better ideas, I gave it a shot.

After a bit of Googling, we found email addresses for the CEO and the vice president of residential services at Internet R’ Us*.

Here’s the email we wrote:

Dear Head Honcho,

I’ve been a satisfied Internet R’ Us customer for the last eight years, but I have run into a problem and I need your help. I recently moved. During the process, Internet R’ Us “lost” the records showing that I returned my old cable modem. So our old account, #000000, was sent to collections for a modem that we returned in May of this year. Despite numerous phone calls to Internet R’ Us, we’ve been unable to resolve the issue.

Here are the details:

MAY 2013. I went to the Internet R’ Us location at 100 Main Street to start Internet service at my new address and return the old modem. I informed the rep that service at the old house was supposed to be disconnected, as well. However, Internet R’ Us did not disconnect the service at my old house, and since we’re on autopay, we were double-billed for a couple of months before we noticed.

SUMMER 2013. After several calls to Internet R’ Us, the double-billing issue was finally resolved. One of the managers I spoke to said that he did see that the old modem was returned and that the old service should have been disconnected months ago. We were issued a credit on the new account for the months we were double-billed. This part was resolved.

SEPTEMBER 2013. We received a collections letter, claiming that we owe $61 for the old modem. We called immediately to explain that this equipment was turned in, and the collections company transferred us to Internet R’ Us. Internet R’ Us said that they would open a ticket and call us back to let us know if they found the equipment.

THE PRESENT. Internet R’ Us never called us back. In the meantime, we have been getting daily collections calls. We reached out again to Internet R’ Us to try to resolve this. We spoke to a manager and were told that there was no record of the ticket, but that a ticket would be opened, and we would receive a call back by Friday of that week. No one called, and the collection calls continued.

On Monday, we called again. We spoke to a supervisor named Maleficent who told us that we hadn’t provided the date the equipment was returned (we had never been asked for this). She also said that we had to provide proof that we returned it (a receipt). I no longer have the receipt because May was six months ago, so she offered to open a ticket. She said she’d speak with one of the other managers I spoke to in the past, have him look over the call scripts, and would have the warehouse look for the modem, but she would need us to give her at least until Saturday to do all of that. The next day, she left a message saying that they couldn’t locate the modem and she was making a note on our account that we owed the $61.

MY PLEA FOR HELP

I have been a loyal customer for eight years. I always pay my bill on time, and I returned all my equipment properly in May. It doesn’t seem fair to me that I am being billed $61 for equipment that I returned properly. I also think it’s unfair to be getting daily collection calls because of an Internet R’ Us error. Can you help me resolve this situation?

Thank you,

April Dykman
555-555-5555

Let’s look at the letter more closely. My friend, who had spent a few years handling customer complaints, says that letters that get results do the following:

  • Start with the request and end with the request. Don’t delve into a long story and make the CEO hate you. Tell them how they can help you. Do it again at the end.

  • Stress your loyalty. Say it twice, once in the beginning and once at the end.

  • Don’t make threats to leave. You’re loyal, remember?

  • Don’t complain. My inferno theory? Complaining. Also, it makes your letter entirely too long. Also, no one cares except for you.

  • State facts. The only personal opinion in this letter is that I don’t think it’s fair to be charged for equipment that I turned in, something that anyone would agree with (except for Maleficent, of course).

Five minutes after I emailed the letter, Mr. Honcho emailed me back. “I’m on it, and my apologies for this experience,” he said. “Someone will be reaching out, and I will keep an eye on things until resolution.”

An hour and a half later, I received a phone call from the head of the regional branch of Internet R’ Us. She apologized and assured me that I would not owe $61 and that the collection calls would stop.

I was whoaing like Keanu Reeves. It actually worked.

The lesson: If you aren’t getting anywhere with a supervisor, go higher up the corporate ladder. Even big-shot execs aren’t out of reach.

*Names have been changed only because the matter was satisfactorily resolved. Originally, I planned to write a post that not only named names, but surely would have landed me in the “black sulkiness” that is the fifth circle of hell.

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