Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Unexpected Follow-Up

Some of you may recall me complaining a couple of years ago about having let myself get sucked into a "debt reduction" scam that started out with an automated, unsolicited robo-call that came in on a day when I was feeling particularly depressed about my finances. After letting myself get led a fair bit of the way into the scam (for which they charged me between $900 and $1000 for doing something that I'd already done myself and for "referring" me (i.e. transferring my call) to a relatively legitimate credit-counseling service that was also going to charge me for doing something I can perfectly well do myself, I decided that I'd had enough and that I was going to take advantage of the promised "satisfaction guaranteed or money back" offer.

It was exceedingly difficult to contact the company that had started this. The contact information didn't seem to lead anywhere. By a little bit of research online, I more or less found the company, but it was still difficult to figure out how to contact them. There seemed to be several different names, some of which were similar to the name they gave me when I was talking to them. They'd gone to elaborate lengths to impress upon me the "recorded verbal contract," but didn't seem to want to actually send me any written documentation. (I should have realized they were scammers right there.) They transferred my call back and forth several times and similarly confused me, although I was taking notes.

I tried sending a written cancellation notice to what seemed to be their mailing address. It came back marked "no such address." Depending on the phone numbers involved, they might have been in New York City, but more likely were a phone bank/boiler room in Puerto Rico.

Eventually, a charge from a new name -- not any of those with whom I had been dealing -- showed up on my credit card for the amount they said they'd charge. Note that the consumer-credit-counseling service was legitimate, sent me a written document, and when I called to cancel (following it up with a written cancellation), they tried to talk me out of it, but went ahead and canceled the service without further problems.

After I got the bounce on the written request from the first "service," I called my credit card company and protested the charge, explaining that I'd tried everything they say to do but was stymied at each turn. They put the charge on protest hold. Meanwhile, I took out a 401(k) loan and paid off the remaining balance except for that charge. When the credit card company sustained the protest -- I expect the company defaulted on the protest documentation, actually -- I canceled the account. I didn't want scammers having an active credit card number on me. The wisdom of this was proved a month or two later when a different company name charged the exact same amount of money to that account, which the credit card company had not properly closed. I called the credit card company, explained the situation, and they reversed the charge and properly closed the account entirely.

I also opened a new bank account, moved all of my money across to it, and closed the old account. I was concerned that they might have my checking account number. And I wasn't using many of the services on the old account anyway, so moving to a new, free checking account was a good deal for me in any event.

My guess is that, "recorded verbal contracts" aside, the scammers business model is to hope that most of their victims don't realize how flimsy the "contracts" are and therefore won't do what I did, so they can simply pocket the fees. The smaller number of people like me who stand up and fight are just a cost of doing business.

I filed a protest of the violation of my listing on the national Do-Not-Call registry, which the original robo-call was. I assumed nothing would actually happen, and that the protest list is just a feel-good measure, since the government seemed unlikely to me to spend resources on stuff like this. After all, we need to spend infinite amounts of money on ever-increasing Security Theatre to Make Us Feel Safe. (Note that my wording "feel safe" is deliberate.)

To my surprise, I got a call yesterday from a staffer at the Federal Trade Commission's office that works on the Do Not Call Registry. They were actually following up my complaint and asked me for more details. Alas, being here in Columbus, I couldn't get my file on this (Yes, I still have it back in California), but I told him as much as I could. Whether it will make a difference, I don't know, but I was still surprised that anyone paid any attention to it at all, even if it did take them this long to get around to it. Maybe some state's Attorney General is chasing that particular scammer and is trying to accumulate evidence. I can but hope.
Tags: finance
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