Cell phone contracts, debt collectors and the dead

November 5, 2010

Consumer stories, Personal

The Ugly Truth About Contracts After A Love Ones Dies

We canceled my father’s cell phone service the same day he died in July.

His death was sudden and we were shocked by the news.

Days after I returned from my father’s funeral, cell phone bills began to invade my mail box. Debt collectors began to call my home number asking for my father by name. I explained the situation over and over again.

Nobody listened. The calls didn’t stop.

The issue was simple: My father died on July 8 so any contract he had with the cell phone provider died with him. So it would be impossible for him to pay the $221 bill in fees and fines the cell phone provider was attempting to collect for terminating the contract.

My father paid all his bills and he had no debts when he died.  This bill was ridiculous.

I knew that I needed to provide proof so I faxed his death certificate when they asked. I called two days later, but they claimed the fax never arrived. I mailed the death certificate and waited for a couple of days before I called again.

In my attempts to document everything and have proof at hand, I requested a letter indicating the company received the document (Yes, they finally admitted to have received two copies of my father’s death certificate).

“We don’t do that,” a woman on the phone said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Sorry we just don’t do that,” the woman replied.

Two weeks later, I received another call from a debt collector. Another bill arrived that afternoon.

Don’t they talk to each other? Are these people incompetent?

I had about enough at this point. I was not going to allow these bullies to intimidate me.

I find this to be a coincidence but I had just written about debt collectors early this year. I interviewed consumers who vividly described the abuses they suffered at the hands of scrupulous debt collectors.

I’m well aware of state and federal regulations and common abuses. I kept meticulous notes about each call with dates, information and what it was said.  And I was on the verge to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and Florida Attorney General’s office.

But I decided to wait.

Not surprisingly, other consumers have gone through this wrenching experience. I’m sure people make up all kinds of lies to escape a contract, but people die as well. It is a fact of life. Companies should be a little sensitive, and at the very least, efficient to resolve these issues fast.

And it was clear to me that these guys (debt collectors) didn’t care.

So I didn’t waste my time with them, but I was very clear: My father’s contract with the cell phone provider ended when he died. I didn’t care if the cell company wanted to slap him with a $221 early disconnection penalty. The contract was between two parties and one party had expired.

The contract was not legally binding. That was my legal position and I was going to stick to that.

It was that simple.

After my brief conversation with the debt collector, I called the cell phone provider and was transferred to the consumer relations department. I explained the situation to a woman who was nice and helpful during the call.

She advised me to write a letter directed to customer relations and explain the situation. I should enclose a copy of my father’s death certificate, she said.

I wrote the letter that same day (Sept. 22) providing all the information. I did request some sort of acknowledgement from them, an attempt to obtain a record for future reference.

Was that too much to ask?

Two weeks later, another debt collector called. I threatened to file a complaint.

He said: “There’s no need to threaten me. Why don’t you call the cell phone provider?”

Déjà vu all over again. I was livid.

I dialed the number one more time. The man on the phone was nice and apologetic after I explained my predicament.

“This should go through the next billing cycle,” he said. “It should be fixed by Oct. 14 after the next billing cycle closes. You will receive a letter showing a balance of $0.”

By Oct. 22, another bill arrived on the mail showing a balance of $221.

I ignored it. I don’t even know why.

Then last week (Oct. 27), a letter from the cell phone provider arrived.

The envelope didn’t look like a bill.  I waited for a while before I opened the letter dated Oct. 20. It offered condolences for my father’s death and noted that my father’s account had been canceled. The remaining balance had been removed, the letter said.

I can’t explain how I felt, but I got the document I needed.

The real irony here is that my father hated that cell phone.

I didn’t.

The cell phone kept me connected to him. That’s how we communicated. And even though he criticized the technology, he would answer my calls.

And there were days that he seemed to be waiting for my call. He lived alone and I knew he was lonely.

I could be driving to work in the morning and I would dial his number. Or after a bad day at work, I would call him as I drove home. We talked about everything, politics, money, work, history, the family and the economy.

It was unreal. We never had these types of conversations before.

The cell phone he hated so much gave me a level of comfort that I can’t explain. It gave me memories about those last years of his life.

I’m happy to report that I have not received any calls from debt collectors. Yet, I couldn’t help to wonder: Will they call again?

 

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