Dealing with a collections agency (or, remember to pay your bills!)

Yesterday, I received a surprising phone call from a collections agency stating I allegedly owed $211 on a past Telus account (phone/internet/cable company). Naturally, I was somewhat shocked – I’m a personal finance blogger, how the hell am I being contacted by a collections agency? I have never missed a payment on, well, just about anything! After I got over the initial adrenaline burst and calmed my urge to tell off the agent and hang up, I put on my detective hat and got to work. It ended up being a good experience in dealing with collections and a reminder how important it is to stay on top of your bills and cancel services when you move…

Photo credit: wsssst via Flickr

Photo credit: wsssst via Flickr

Get the facts

I asked the agent every possible question I could think of. The agent noted that they purchased the file from Telus on May 25th and have been trying to contact me since. I have noticed this number call me quite a bit over the past week, but assumed it was a telemarketer. The agent also claimed that someone spoke to me on May 28th and offered a settlement of $171, the original amount owing. She noted I was being charged 12.5% interest daily, which led to the $211 balance. I asked what the bill was for (she couldn’t tell me). I asked if there was an account number associated with the file (she couldn’t tell me). I took her name and number and told her I would do some digging and get back to her.

Do your due diligence

Despite her assertions that contacting Telus would be a waste of time, I decided to give them a call and see what other information they could provide. Besides, her claim that someone had talked to me on May 28th was completely false, and I had the phone records to prove it, so I wasn’t putting a whole lot of faith in her story at this point. After speaking with Telus I was able to gain a lot of useful information. The original bill owing was for internet services at an apartment I lived in for three months back in 2009/2010. I moved there in November 2009 and moved out again in February 2010 after we bought our first condo. I forgot to cancel my internet. Telus continued sending bills to my old address and eventually cancelled the service due to non payment. They have continued sending bills and demands for payment to that address for the past two years – twice monthly. I confirmed that they had my current phone number on file and the representative noted they called and left a message in April 2012. Another questionable phone contact, as I certainly would have called them back had I received a message…

Negotiate a settlement – owning up to your mistake

At this point, I had to face the fact that I made a mistake. This was my bill to pay, despite my fantasy that someone had stolen my identity and were scamming free internet off me! That said, I certainly wasn’t prepared to pay the full bill, interest and all. I also had determined from Telus, that the original bill amount was $116 and that interest charged by Telus brought it up to $171 before being purchased by the collections agency.

I called the collections agency back and told them I would settle the account immediately for $116, the original bill amount. The agent I spoke with, noted he was only able to authorize a reduction to $171, the original amount they were seeking when they received the file (progress!), so I asked for him to check with his supervisor. He did, but I was greeted with a resounding no. Still, I asked for the account statement to be sent to me by email (no way I’m giving out my credit card number over the phone with no backup!) and that I would call them back the next day, so I had time to consider my options.

Sadly, I think I’ve exhausted my options. I’m going to have to own up to my error and make the payment to restore my credit. While this has been a good reminder how important it is to stay on top of your bills, it’s also a reminder to check your credit report on a regular basis (you can get a free report once a year). Had I checked my report in the past three years, I probably wouldn’t have been in this position?

What about you? Ever had to deal with a collections agency?

Posted in: Credit and Debt

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