Lil ‘ole me.
I got a call the other day, from a friendly guy, an auditor. He’d seen an upcoming claim for nearly $300 and he wanted to save me some money and hassle by offering me the opportunity to pay it now and keep it from going on my record and stuff.
So I racked my brain quickly, what paperwork have I thrown out recently? Well, there was the stuff from my gall-bladder operations, it’s been a year so I doubt I need to keep ’em.
It turns out the payment is for HEB Emergicare, November of last year. I guess the dumpster-diving lady has been at our trash again; I really still haven’t bought a shredder?
I’ll try and cut this short, although it’s tricky because it’s so rich with nuances and tidbits that everyone should watch out for to alert them to scams.
But unfortunately, it seems it might not be. I mean, it was a scam, but there may actually be a bonafide outstanding balance that I’m now not paying because … well, I only have this guy’s word for it. My insurance seem to think I was covered… And I already paid $290 back in January for some piece of missing paperwork to do with the same medical treatments.
OK. So, the guy that called claimed to be “an auditor”, and was careful – I mean you could hear the care in his voice as he ran thru a mental checklist of ground work phrases – to explain that “we don’t usually make calls” etc, to set the picture of him doing me a personal, off the record, favor and not in any way calling me on behalf of the company.
Yet, this guy was authorized to take a “phone check” (???) or my credit card.
When I didn’t leap at this opportunity, out started coming the mentions … that he’s in court every day at about 9.15am. Several mentions of court, judge, lawyer. But happy to take my money. Times are hard, every penny helps, the economy, it’s a great opportunity to save some money – pay now.
I tell him that it was all covered by my insurance, and he explains it was out-of-network (strange, he said he didn’t have any details, maybe they are arriving on a teletype as we speak?). Aha, I say, I already paid for that! $290 in January! No, he says, it’s outstanding and I owe it. Well, I say, I’ve never had any kind of notice or anything.
He tries to reassure me that it’s real: by telling me that if I pay now I won’t have to pay the additional filing costs and other stuff, and we’ll save it from going onto my credit report, which it hasn’t done yet.
So I try to be practical about this: Give me something that will allow me to confirm that this is an actual debt, and I’ll talk to work about it etc. I explain, I’m afraid I’ve recently had some issues with identity theft, and you’re not doing anything to inspire me.
I must have made him think I was stupid: First he tells me they’re not sophisticated enough to do something like that. Then he qualifies that it’s not like he could just run off with my credit card number, they have a system.
Then he reassures me that nobody else can help settle this amount now, except me, if I pay him right now. Insurance isn’t going to help, work won’t help. I stop him right there: actually, my work will, we’re a small company.
But he’s not having it. They won’t even try to help me, but if I want, he’ll take my money now and I can try to get reimbursed later.
So – I stipulate as plainly as I can – that if I owe an amount of money, I’ll pay it, and have no problem with that, but I want to know that I actually owe the money first, so I’m going to speak to the folks at work and then call him in the morning.
You can literally hear him snarl. “Don’t bother, I’m just going to let this one go thru and in a few days you’ll get the court summons, hire an attorney and ” etc etc ” and you’ll go before the judge and pay this one, and maybe we can settle on the other one before that one goes through”.
See … What these guys are doing is bending the law, and agreeing to let me call back – that would probably mess with their pretense that he’s not actually a debt collector.
The FTC has guidelines mean that the company is obliged to provide written “advance notice” within 5 days of contacting you. “But we didn’t call him, Stan Cole isn’t a debt collector”. But he sure as hell appears to believe he can accept a payment from someone, and when I called later and spoke to someone else, in an effort to reassure me that it was ok to pay over the phone, he gave away that the calls are part of Stan’s job (he was giving me the “you have to understand what we have to deal with” when he mentioned that Stan has to make calls like that most days, usually to people who are looking to avoid paying).
What the hell is a “phone check”? I’ve never heard of one, and that was part of my going into protection mode — that’s a textbook sweetner strategy: “<slow blah-blah to get breath> … and you can pay by GiantPenisInTheSky bonds or I suppose I can take a credit card <more slow blah-blah to give you chance to think “I don’t have bonds, crap>”
Psychologically, by sounding reluctant to take your credit card, he creates faux empathy… “We – the caller and oneself – don’t really want to do it by credit card, but the other option was such a hassle… I just went ahead and paid; the guy’s just doing his job, I was glad he was willing to help me out there”.
The whole thing really, really irked me. If the ER thinks I owe them money, and I’ve missed the invoices or something, I’ll frickin’ pay and then chase my insurance to get reimbursed, because I’m pretty sure I’m covered. I don’t like having an outstanding debt, either. I also realize that debt collectors are only necessary because some people will try so hard to avoid paying, others will just fail to out of laziness or negligence, or in some cases a company just needs reimbursing for work/materials expended that the consumer can’t now afford to repay for…
None of those things are part of my anger. It was the deliberate, willful evasion of the law, the wholehearted use of scammer techniques and strategies, and the subtle but nasty attempts to apply what little threat-pressure they can still get away with thanks to the FTC trying to protect us from being raped by random J “pay or die” types.
If he’d called and said, “You know you owe 259.93 to <blah> right?”, I’d have said “what? that’s the first I’ve heard”. I’d have asked for something on paper – in the mail or via fax – and I’d have offered to pay it out-of-hand while I found out why my insurance hadn’t, and worry about getting them to reimburse me. That’s the way I think things should be done.
But he didn’t. He tried to con me out of my money. It’s irrelevant that he may be representing a genuine claim. What he did was try to scam the money from me.
That, I can’t abide.
I can’t file this under Satan’s Sphincter. It’s worse than that.