Yesterday, I received a letter dated late last week from a collection agency. Let’s call the agency Confluent Collection Company. That’s not its name, but it’s far enough away from its name that I believe firmly that libel and slander laws don’t apply here. Plus, what I’m saying is true and it’s a nice alliteration. Anyway, I think the alliteration is nice.
The letter said I owed someone else some money, so I should pay them. Actually, it said I owe Ken’s Hospital $20, and maybe I do. Who knows? I certainly couldn’t tell from the letter because it didn’t give an account number, a patient’s name, a date of service, or any other detail than the collection agency’s account number and an amount, $20.
This is a fault of many collection agencies, sending you a demand letter without giving you enough information for you to tell whether you actually do owe the money. If I sent you a letter and it said you owe Frank some money (with no explanation at all), so you should send it to me, would you? If you would, please send me your address and I’ll send you such a letter. I won’t, however, guarantee in that letter that you actually do owe Frank any money.
What happens, if you don’t know, is that frequently corporations sell their debts to a debt collector for some percentage of the original amount and the debt collector gets to keep anything they can collect. Frequently, the sale is just a spreadsheet with no documentation. Less frequently, I hope, the debts are invalid or beyond the statute of limitations for debt collection. If you should receive such a demand, do not admit to the debt. Ask for proof. If you receive proof and if you owe the money, by all means, pay it. That’s what I do.
On Tuesday, I got a letter dated three days before the one from the collection agency. This one was from Ken’s Hospital telling me that I owed them $40 and I should pay it.
Following my own advice, I called Confluent Collection Company to ask them to send me documentation of the debt so I could determine if I owed it. I called the number on the letter I received yesterday. I didn’t reach anyone. I didn’t even reach an automated phone attendant. What I got was a recording, several minutes long, containing various ads, and telling me I won a free, five-day cruise. Don’t fall for that one, by the way. At the end, it told me the number I called (from the letter I received yesterday) had been changed. Seething, I called the other number. Same damned thing, except I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out if the number had been changed again.
I steeled myself for the loathsome task of writing a snail-mail letter, but before that, I called Ken’s Hospital (actually, I called Ken’s Hospital’s parent corporation) to find out if and why I owe them $40. After minor problems with their automated phone attendant, I spoke to a very pleasant woman named Noreen. She answered my questions. She explained what it was all about. I now understand that I do $20 and may owe the other $20. Noreen said she would send me the documentation. If I do owe all the money, I will send them all the money sometime next week.
Noreen was also able to tell me that the other $20 was the account that had been sent for collection. She said she’d remove it from collection. Good job, Noreen. I did explain to her that I objected to being notified I owed money without being told by the collection agency what money or given the opportunity to find out what money. I also said if they were going to send me a collection notice over the 4th of July weekend, they ought to give me time to sober up and answer them before submitting it to a collection agency.
Minor mistake on the part of Ken’s Hospital’s billing department to go along with my minor mistake in not paying them promptly. I usually do pay my bills quickly and if I miss, I usually catch up the next month because it was an oversight on my part.
As an aside, as far as I’m concerned, Ken’s Hospital is one of the best hospitals on the planet. If you get sick or injured, I hope you have a place as good as that one to get treatment.
There are two lessons collection agencies should take away from this. If you want someone to pay you money, tell them what it’s for, not just who it’s for. And, if you don’t tell them what it’s for, but you do give them a phone number to find out, let them find out at that phone number. Maybe there’s a third lesson. I was so offended by the phone response that I will never buy anything from the companies that were advertising on that reverse robocall.
The lesson you should take from this is that if you receive a collection notice, find out what it’s for before you pay them. If they can’t tell you what it’s for, don’t pay them.