Verizon Unleashes Zombie Debt Collector Scourge On Innocent Consumer

Reader Kevin has a problem with Verizon and the zombie debt collectors they’ve unleashed on the account Verizon said was paid off and closed…

To Whom It May Concern:

I’ve been a fan of consumerist.com for a while now. I consider myself a pretty well-informed consumer and never thought I would ever have to email y’all – that was until I got home from work today and opened the mail.

I received a notice from a collection agency about an old Verizon DSL account that I had. When I moved to my current apartment, I called Verizon to cancel my telephone and DSL service as the apartment already had cable and internet through Comcast and I had a cellphone and wasn’t planning on getting a new land-line.

A month after I moved, I received a bill from Verizon for DSL service but not telephone service. I called Verizon again and explained that I had closed my account and that I didn’t have the DSL service anymore. They issued credits for the incorrectly billed service and I thought I was done.

I then received yet another bill from Verizon the next month for DSL service. The funny thing about this bill was that it showed the credits for the incorrect bills on them from the previous month. I called again and thought it had been taken care of. I should have known better.

That Januray, I received a letter from a collection agency saying that I owed Verizon money. Being the pack-rat that I am (I keep anything that resembles a bill) I did some research and found all of my paperwork from when I had called Verizon. I called the collection agency (AFNI) and Verizon (again). I spoke to someone at AFNI and she said that all I had to do was fax in the copy of my Verizon bill showing the credit and that it would be taken care of. Again, I thought it had been taken care of. This happened on January 23, 2006 – I saved the fax confirmation page (I moved November 1, 2005).

Almost exactly a year later, on January 13, 2007, I received a letter from another debt collection agency (AMO Recoveries) about the same debt. I called them to (again) dispute the debt. I then called Verizon who said that they saw that the account had been resolved and then the guy who I spoke to (Brian was his name I think) said he was going to call the agency (AMO Recoveries) while I was on the phone.

This brings me to tonight and to the letter I received from the third collection agency (Penn Credit Corporation). It is for the same everything as the two previous credit agencies.

I have already called the collection agency (Penn Credit Corporation) and notified them that I was disputing the validity of the debt. I plan on sending a written dispute tomorrow via certified mail (return receipt requested). I also plan on calling Verizon again – not that it will do much good.

I was hoping that someone could offer some tips as to how to take my efforts with Verizon to the next level. Do you know where I could find an address or email address of someone I could write at Verizon’s corporate headquarters?

This whole situation has left me somewhat cynical about anything remotely related to Verizon and any affiliated companies. I had been talking with my roommate about switching from Comcast to Verizon for Internet (our building isn’t wired for FiOS). Now, I would rather deal with Comcast then have to endure dealing with Verizon again.

Any help/advice/assistance that you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Kevin K.

Verizon gave rise to the first generation of zombies by selling a bunch of old accounts to AFNI. It looks like in your case, after AFNI failed to collect on your account, they sold it to AMO Recoveries, who sold it to Penn after also failing to collect. Debt collectors try to collect on the debts that they can, and the ones that aren’t worth their money to try, they to other debt collectors down the zombie food chain. Verizon doesn’t care about you anymore, you’re no longer their customer, and they have no control over the account they’ve sold. What’s worse, zombie franchises love sequels almost as much as human brains. But with your trusty fire (copy of your Verizon closed account verification information) and shotgun (boilerplate dispute notice), you should be able to hold them at bay until they die off from lack of sustenance.

Otherwise, the only thing we can think of is reporting them for mail fraud, since they’re asking you for money you don’t lawfully owe and thus their collection attempts are unlawful. (See: Unlawfully Billed? Threaten To Report Them For Mail Fraud)

(Photo: Zed & 2 Naughts)

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  1. bohemian says:

    I had the exact same thing happen with a wireless account. They changed my account number and moved the small balance to my new account, that was promptly paid.

    About a year later I started getting letters from I think AMO. It was showing up on my credit reports too. Verizon refused to do anything after 10, count them 10 phone calls even after admitting I didn’t have any bad accounts.

  2. Erik_the_Awful says:

    I think I’d investigate the mail fraud idea. It’s easier for me to send several letters all at once then one letter every three months when the alleged debt is sold to yet another collection agency.

    Bastards!

    I wonder if you could nail them in small claims court for time and trouble lost. Maybe someone should look at at class action.

  3. remusrm says:

    who eve says that paying your bills does you good credit is wrong… had cingular, after 3 days of canceling account i had them trying to collect… billing was enting 15-17 days later… go refered to collections some ER solutions, told them i wait for my last bill and i do not deal with them… they still put it in my credit. paid cingular since they owed me credits for all the bs i had with them in 9 months of being there… opened a verizon wireless acount. i asked for a nice number, the moron opens a new number then changes the number and also tells me i have to pay for the calls since i did not port a number in… verizon billed me 71 dollar for 1 day of use since i got that mistake… even now i got some idiots call me for this account even being paid, rather canceled by them and i got a 0 balance due from verizon. same went with time warner, canceled service, paid them, still got collection from cmi or something like that. i am tired of this… 3 collection for false info…

  4. Mr. Gunn says:

    I had a item for a previous cell phone on my report once for a number I never had. I disputed it and it went away. I think the collection agencies the cell phone companies use must really the the worst of the lot.

  5. remusrm says:

    not sure… but it seem they are out to put you in debt… make mistake only in their favor

  6. squikysquiken says:

    Welcome of the wonderful world of collection agencies where debts never dies, death threat are common and nobody cares. Watch out to whom you complain about collection agencies or don’t bother requesting more oversight of what is just legalized racket; after all, “you wouldn’t be here if you were paying your debts; it’s your fault”…. oh wait.

    I’ve had to deal with my share of debt collection for things that my wife owed and for things that my wife didn’t actually owe (identity thief). I’ve just come to terms with the fact that it will never stop whether you pay or not. They all rely on the fact that it is, more often than not, easier and cheaper to pay them than to assert your rights. I’ve been called a deadbeat, a liar, threatened with prison and judicial harassment for standing up to my rights under the FCRA.

    Although funny enough, the most egregious collector I had to deal with was Capital One. They wanted $1250 for an unpaid bill of $70 on a *secured* credit card with a $100 limit 6 years ago. I ended up paying $666 (I kid you not). They made money on the card from the deposit, made pure profit on the settlement and they will report a $660-ish loss on their tax while I magically incurred $650 of income that never existed. It’s all legal; because they are the original creditor. There is a special place for them in hell; next to debt collectors and wheelchair thieves.

  7. Zombietime says:

    I love collection agencies. I just beat a lawyer for one in court and collected a few grand on fdcpa violations. Sue me will you!

  8. fluiddruid says:

    A similar problem happened to me with Qwest and MSN DSL. I cancelled service, never heard anything, then got collectors calling and writing. It took about 3 months to sort out with Qwest – originally, they claimed I hadn’t shut down my service, and refused to pay it. They gave me several stories, even after making BBB complaints, and dealing with “executive resolutions”, still couldn’t provide in writing why the charges were there and why I got different excuses as to why I owed it despite not receiving any bills.

    Finally, I had enough. I emailed the CEO (this was several years ago, before I knew about Consumerist and executive email campaigns). Within a few days, the CEO responded back that he was sending my complaint to someone for resolution. That person found that in fact, I was being billed for dialup – for months during my DSL service! Obviously, I had never asked for this. All the charges were cleared by Qwest.

    I came to find out later, through people I know who work at the Qwest call center, that this isn’t abnormal. Essentially, CSRs have sales quotas and commissions, so you can call for a normal customer service request, and get “slammed” with recurring charges… and, in my case, this was put on a new account so it didn’t show up on my monthly bill. The bills never got sent.

  9. timmus says:

    @Zombietime: Really? This has the makings of a Consumerist story. A lot of people whine about the injustice they get, but when you try to get them to go to court the excuse handbag comes out. I’ve always been curious what it’s like suing a big company in small claims court, but the tales are always scarce.

  10. TechnoDestructo says:

    @fluiddruid:

    Bet that CSR got promoted.

  11. @timmus: If they can’t be bothered to show up, it’s awesome. If they bother to hire local counsel*, it’s likely to suck balls.

    Generally small claims is pretty low-key so if you bring your proof and your good argument, you’ll do very well. Collecting on a judgment may be a different matter, tho.

    *Depending on whether your jurisdiction allows lawyers in small claims or not. Some don’t.

  12. darkclawsofchaos says:

    if you don’t owe them, ignore them after telling them once, if they escalate to court, no problem as you have nothing to fear

  13. Skeptic says:

    “BY DARKCLAWSOFCHAOS AT 01:06 AM

    if you don’t owe them, ignore them after telling them once, if they escalate to court, no problem as you have nothing to fear”

    Well, more likely they will have their pet arbitrator find in their favor. Being right and “having nothing to fear” are not necessarily the same thing…

  14. Anonymous says:

    IANAL, but I would think if they sell the debt to a collector, you wouldn’t be bound by the arbitration clause when suing the collector.

  15. FLConsumer says:

    Debt validation is your friend. Make sure you insist upon them removing ANY and ALL references on your credit report in the letter. A friend of mine got a collections letter from Sallie Mae. Only problem, he had student loans through a local credit union, which didn’t come due for another 8 months. Sent them a very sharp, but formal certified return-receipt letter demanding proof of debt and also stated the facts. He also demanded a response back within 30 days. Never heard from them again. He’s keeping a copy of their letter, his letter, and return receipt card just in case something does come of it.

  16. miad88 says:

    This is what you have to do if you have problems with any utility and phone cpmapany….You call the Public Utility Commission of your State and ask for the Executive offices of the Phone company and then you call the executive offices and they usually will make sure that things will be corrected…By the way mention the Public Utility Commission’s name…also, if that does not resolve your problem file a report with the PUC and the FTC-Federal Trade Commission.

  17. olegna says:

    I had to deal with this, too. I called and closed my Verizon landline and moved. But for some reason my account wasn’t closed immediately and I was billed for a landline after I moved: two months. This happened in 2002. I was getting collection notices for years afterwards and my credit score (if I could get it, which I can’t because I live abroad and have a PO Box) probably still has this unpaid bill.

    This experience taught me two things:

    Do anything you can by SNAIL MAIL so you have a paper record of your communications (ie avoid calling the IRS to settle things over the phone, communicate with paper, by mail), or

    RECORD ALL CSR CONVERSATIONS.

    I don’t care if that’s technically illegal or not. I record and I don’t ask permission to do so.

    If companies are going to dick around with account cancellations, you need to have evidence that you made that phone call to cancel the account. There’s no way to do this over the phone without recording the conversation. I even ask the CSR to confirm the date so I have that recorded, too.

    And, unless it serves my purposes (if putting them on guard serves my purposes) I don’t tell them I’m recording the conversation.

    I don’t think this is the same thing as recording calls in general. Recording CSR calls is the only way to have evidence in your possession that you made a phone call asking for account cancellation on a specific date. There is NO other way to prove this!

  18. vex says:

    I’ve dealt with this kind of thing before, which is why I hate dealing with just about any company out there. They can generate any bill they want, validate it themselves, and demand payment.

    Qwest, btw, did the same thing to me that a previous poster went through.

  19. FLConsumer says:

    @miad88: That’s like pissing up a rope in Florida. The PUC here is run by the utilities.

  20. Anonymous says:

    yet another reason to never get a verizon account

  21. gniterobot says:

    I recently had a similar issue with NStar Gas. They had sold a debt that was valid, but I was unaware of. Unfortunately they sold it to the shadiest of all collection agencies, Mitchell N Kay. I tried desperately to pay NStar but had to deal with Mitchell N Kay. I paid the debt to them only to have them then sell that debt (now paid) to a lower form of Zombie. You’re in Zombie hell my friend. Best you can do is monitor you credit report for dings and keep sending proof of non-debt.

  22. Anonymous says:

    after verizon took 18 months to credit me $200 owed to me, i rang up a $500 phone verizon bill, cancelled my account and told the debt collectors that i would never pay that bill and that i’d rather die than give verizon any money. I never heard from them again and my credit score/history remains untouched by this bill. i guess they wrote it off. fu verizon.

  23. paco says:

    I’m dealing with a similar situation right now.

    Verizon screwed up the transfer of my FiOS service when I moved in May. They billed me for continuation of my old service, and when I got the bill, I called to clear up the situation. The CSR turned off both accounts. It took two weeks to get my service up and running again.

    Once it was, I thought things were settled only to receive another bill for the old service, as well as charges for equipment and breaking my agreement. Again, I got on the phone with the CSR who helped resolve the first situation–and whose direct line I have–and we resolved the billing issue. Except somewhere in the bowels of the Verizon system, it wasn’t resolved. Instead, it was sent to AFNI.

    Now I’m back on the phone with that same CSR trying to resolve it and get Verizon to contact AFNI.

  24. Anonymous says:

    i would have to wonder if the accounts they are trying to collect on are on your credit bureau. if they are not, i’d tell them when they call that you don’t owe the money and never did and good luck collecting on a fruadulent debt, and that if they made any other attempt to collect, i would take them to court.

  25. klondikedog says:

    This happened to us with an old credit card account. We paid it off and Capital One (very helpful) knocked off interest and removed it from our credit. We have written proof of all of this. Lo and behold 3 years later (at this point, 4 years after the statute of limitations) we get a letter from a collection agency. I sent in a debt validation letter (available online) and got a notice they were “investigating.”

    A month later I get another letter from a different agency, for some reason on the same stationery with the same address as the other collection agency. I sent a validation letter, received a notice they were “investigating.”

    Three months later, I get a third, follow the same process and haven’t heard anything in a year.

    That is very bad advice to just pay it. This never showed up on our credit, but paying it may activate the account and make it a collection account. Try getting the collection agency, creditor or credit agency to remove the listing. The best solution is to keep using debt validation. If you don’t owe them the money, don’t pay! Courts don’t like these cases and because of the small amounts will likely be in a small claims court. Judges and the lawyers involved know this is ridiculous and the lawyer is happy to bill for a trip to the court. It costs the collection agency more money to fight this than it is worth. Their only goal is to hope to get someone to pay a junk debt which they bought for pennies on the dollar.

    K.

  26. Notorius_VMG says:

    Back in 1999, I moved and cancelled an old cell account. I called up the company (I think they are defunct now) and got my payoff amount, and I paid it promptly. A month or so later, I received a refund in the mail from the company of the full payoff amount (as if I would have overpaid them!). I called the company to clear it up, and they insisted that my account was closed and I owed them nothing. Ha! So I took my $60 and thought it was over. A year or so later, I got a call at my new office from a collection agency, looking for that SAME EXACT amount, which had been reported to them as unpaid. First of all, how did they find my WORK number? I felt a little bit stalked. I was so shocked by the call and the rep charging into “what credit card would you like to use to pay off this amount?” that I was speechless for a moment. But truthfully, I knew I owed the money and the company had mistakenly refunded me, so I went ahead and paid them. They didn’t ask for a dime more than I owed, so it seemed fair, just annoying.

  27. dualityshift says:

    @olegna: Providing you don’t plan to use the recordings as evidence, but only to make more in-depth notes, call recording isn’t illegal.

  28. bonnie says:

    I’ve been dealing with AFNI because I supposedly owe Verizon $48 from 2000. Thing is, I’m a current Verizon customer. Funny that Verizon has never mentioned this supposed $48 to me in all that time.

    In my searches for info on what to do, here’s what I’ve come up with:

    - Collection agencies can ask for pretty much anything. They are limited in what they can sue for, though, by the statute of limitations and other laws.

    - Do not call the collection agency. Communicate only in writing (certified return-receipt mail) and state that they also must only communicate with you in writing.

    I sent this –
    “This letter is being sent to you in response to your recent communication. Be advised that this is not a refusal to pay, but a notice sent pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 USC 1692g Sec. 809 that your claim is disputed and validation is requested. This is NOT a request for “verification” or proof of my mailing address, but a request for VALIDATION made pursuant to the above named Title and Section. I respectfully request that your offices provide me with competent evidence that I have any legal obligation to pay you within 15 calendar days of receipt of this letter.

    Additionally, I am requesting the following:

    Copies of the agreement with your client that grants you the authority to collect on this alleged debt, or proof of acquisition by purchase or assignment.

    Agreement that bears the signature of the alleged debtor wherein he or she agreed to pay the creditor. Proof of alleged account raised with Verizon Communications, Inc including date opened, type of service, all names on alleged account, complete and detailed written verification how alleged debt was incurred.

    Please also be advised that this letter is not only a formal dispute, but a request that you cease and desist any and all collection activities. I am also requesting that you only contact me via written mail only.”

    - As I understand it, once you request validation, they have 30 days to mail you proof. If they don’t, then that’s the end of it. They may tell you to fill out some form or other nonsense, but ignore anything that is not actual proof of the debt.

    AFNI is under investigation by New York’s Attorney General. I filed a complaint with my state’s AG about both AFNI and Verizon with the hope that others are doing the same thing.

    Oh, and I also canceled all my Verizon service and mailed 4 letters to Verizon execs explaining how foolish it was to sell info about current, long-time customers with accounts in good standing. They made maybe $5 selling my info, but they also sold all my future business at the same time.

  29. miran says:

    A good reference to use when dealing with Debt collectors is the blog caveat emptor – from a consumer law attorney in Minnesota it think.
    He covers debt collection, rental responsibilities – from both sides, etc. He doesn’t try to supply information for any state other than his, but you can use the information provided as a guideline to get you started.
    Below is one of the more recent posts.
    [sjglover.com]

  30. olegna says:

    @dualityshift: Depends on the state; either both parties need to be aware of the recording or they don’t, no matter what the reason. Recording evidence is inadmissible in court if it wasn’t acquired legally.

    In any case I don’t think it’s right to put CSR people in the same category as everyone else. They don’t give you an option not to have the conversation recorded — I’m going to reciprocate by recording them ALL of the time, especially when I’m calling to cancel service.

    Why is it so hard to cancel service? I took me five months to close my CapOne credit card and just today I see my cable teevee provider is billing me even though I called and canceled the service six weeks ago!

    This stuff is getting otu of hand. IF you call to cancel your service, it should be canceled THAT VERY DAY with no further billing, PERIOD.

  31. MartinBaxter says:

    I would file all your paperwork with the Public Utilities Commission in your state (sorry didn’t read all comments above if this is a repeat). You have awesome documentation.

    Verizon did this to me too! Collections agency a year after I had moved said I owed them for 6 months worth of landline phone bills. Never got any bills forwarded to me though I got all my other mail forwarded. Maybe they screwed with my mailman and he wasn’t delivering their mail anymore?

  32. MartinBaxter says:

    @bonnie: NICE!

  33. MartinBaxter says:

    Now that I am thinking about it. They did that to me with a pager in 1997. No bills, but they say I didn’t cancel service and here comes collection agency like 5 years later!

  34. Sam Glover says:

    @miran: Thanks for the plug.

    To Kevin: Get in touch with a consumer attorney. http://www.naca.net is a great place to look. Unfortunately, you are probably in for more of the same unless you assert your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This probably will take more than just a letter, as you already know, because the debt collectors will just pass off the debt rather than bother to verify it.

    Because they almost certainly cannot verify the debt, especially in your case.

    The good news is that, since the FDCPA provides for recovery of attorney fees, you should not have to pay your lawyer up front. Or if you do, you should be able to recover what you do pay.

  35. Sam Glover says:

    @miran: Thanks for the plug!

    To Kevin: Get in touch with a consumer attorney as soon as possible. You need to start asserting your rights under the FDCPA, and it will be difficult to do that without a lawyer.

    http://www.naca.net is a good place to start.

    The good news is that if you have a claim under the FDCPA, most consumer lawyers will represent you on contingency, with little or no fee up front. This is because the FDCPA, like most consumer protection laws, says that if the plaintiff wins, he or she is entitled to have the defendant pay reasonable attorney fees.

    While you can represent yourself, this is a complex area of law where it matters whether you have experience.

  36. flyboy37 says:

    I also received a letter recently from the same collection agency about an old early termination charge that Verizon tried to stick me with (that’s another story in itself). Verizon charged it off over a year ago and it appears that way on my credit report. These guys are amazing!!! Like I will pay it now!
    As a side note, when this appeared on my credit report, I filed a dispute. Recently when applying for a loan I asked the loan officer if that chargeoff affected my score. he said absolutely not, those are common these days and unless you have a rash of them showing up, they usually don;t take them in to consideration when deciding your creditworthiness.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Verizon tried the same thing on me. I canceled my Verizon phone and DSL service and sent back the cable modem when I moved out of an old house. Everything was fine until about 2 years later when I got a letter from some debt collections agency requesting about $60.

    I made the mistake of calling the collection agency to try to resolve the problem. All they did was apply some faulty logic to attempt to make me pay, and when I refused they threatened my credit.

    I then put in several calls to Verizon and pieced together the following information. Verizon deletes your account from their common files when they sell your “debt” to the collections agency. All the normal CSRs who want to help (I found some that did) can’t because they cannot locate your information in their computer system.

    For me, the trick was talking to Verizon Collections (a separate entity from normal customer service) and escalating whenever I got stuck. Verizon collections agents claim they do not have information about your account but I found this to be a big lie – I suspect they have some agreement with the collections agency not to reveal account information once the “debt” is sold.

    I was finally able to argue that my phone line was clearly canceled in September, and they had billed me for DSL in November and December which would be impossible because I had no phone.

    They recalled the debt from the collections agency (took 24-48 hours to register with the collections agency) and had me write a write a dispute letter to some “offline customer service” (or some similar name). I haven’t heard a peep since then…

  38. Awed_Job says:

    Qwest owned collection agencies demand written dispute while Qwest local phone service refuses to provide written record that it was them that screwed up!

    Similar story but with a wrinkle. Local phone service provider, Qwest got my money back on December 7th, 2006. I got a collection notice from ERSolutions Inc. dated December 22nd, 2006. I called and disputed. Provided the information from my bank stating when the funds cleared and who got it.

    Contacted Qwest and had them fix my then closed account. Got a call from a different collection agency in June 2007. I told them it was taken care of, dispute the validity, blah, blah, blah.

    September 17th, 2007 I get a collection notice, this time from a different agency, Focus Receivables Management. There was back and forth between Focus and Qwest. It’s still in process.

    When I requested notification, in writing that my account balance was zero, I was told they could not provide that for a closed account. I escalated the call and complained about it affecting my credit score. The CSR told me QWEST OWNS THE COLLECTION AGENCIES INVOLVED. She further assured me that it wouldn’t impact my credit history. Whatever.

    I have been promised a written notification sent by U.S. Mail that my account balance is zero. It has yet to materialize. My next call will be to the state Attorney General’s office.

  39. BugMeNot2 says:

    Any collection agency, after failing to provide proof of the debt in response to a Validation request, can NOT sell the debt to another collection agency without violating the Continued Collection clause of the FDCPA.

    Send a Validation request letter to the current collection agency, reminding them that selling the alleged debt without providing Validation constitutes a Continued Collection Activity which makes them liable for statuatory damages of $1000 + lawyer fees.

  40. lilime says:

    Verizon screwed up on billing when we moved in our new house – they owed us $55.

    Instead of paying the $55 they kept rebilling us for it. I would call and it would be ‘cleared-up’ on the phone, then they’d bill me again. Finally they sent a check for $55. After which we started getting calls from THREE different collection agencies – yes THREE agencies for a friggen $55 bill which was their mistake. The zombie attack would leave daily messages on our answering machine but not say what they were calling about. Finally after weeks of this we’d call them back assuming they had the wrong number. The agencies were shifty with their info. One agency threated my credit would be ruined if I did not give her my credit card info right that second to pay off the ‘bill’. This went on and on with hours of my husband + my own time on the phone with Verizon – told again and again this would be resolved. We were about to call a lawyer and sue them when they finally sent us a letter saying their zombies were called off. Un-f’ing-believable. As soon as my woodsy area gets another phone provider i am switching.