Terminix Tells Me I Have No Balance, Sends Me To Collections Anyway

If there’s one thing you’d think the bug-killing folks at Terminix would be good at it would be putting an end to pests that keep returning no matter what you do to make them go away. But apparently their expertise in this regard does not extend to the company’s own billing practices.

Consumerist reader Ethan had been using Terminix to make regular pest-control treatments. But he decided in November of last year that all the rescheduled and cancelled appointments were enough to terminate his relationship with the company.

A week after he cancelled, he received an invoice in the mail, even though he hadn’t had any Terminix visits in months. He called the company and was told that only one of his two service agreements had been cancelled.

So he immediately cancelled all his agreements and confirmed that he had no balance due on the account.

Of course this was not the end of the invoices.

In January, he received yet another bill and a phone call from Terminix.

“I spoke with at least two levels of customer service,” says Ethan. “I was told there was no balance due by the highest level CSR. They tried transferring me to a person who could send me a letter stating a zero balance but the transfer disconnected the call.”

The next day, Terminix called Ethan again and he once more climbed the CSR ladder, trying to find someone who could confirm that he didn’t owe any money.

Eventually, he was transferred to the local Terminix manager’s office, where he left a voicemail with his contact info. That was January 31.

Three weeks later, that call still hadn’t been returned and Ethan hadn’t received the letter showing his $0 balance.

Instead, yesterday he received a letter from a collection agency for the Terminix bill.

“I called the local Terminix manager’s cell phone, who told me that he only returns active customer calls,” says Ethan. “He also said that they wrote off the account on January 31 [the same day he’d left the voicemail]. I explained that each time I called Terminix (11/26, 12/1, 1/30, 1/31) they said no balance was due.”

We have told Ethan to contest the collections notice in writing and demand that Terminix and the collections company prove he actually owes the debt.

Comments

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  1. Power Imbalance says:

    F.C.R.A., make them pay.

  2. Silverhawk says:

    I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. We’ve had issues with Terminix billing practices for years. We’d cancel but they’re pretty much the only game in the area that handles home pest AND termite contracts, AND shows up. But they are horrible about billing correctly. They’ll send a bill for a balance due every single time they do a treatment, even though we’ve purchased a prepaid annual contract. We call, they apologize, fix the error, rinse, repeat.

    In fact, that goes for pretty much all of our experiences with Servicemaster companies – AmeriSpec and American Home Shield were awful experiences as well.

  3. Lyn Torden says:

    I’d call that manager’s cell phone number one more time and tell him that he needs to get a good attorney.

  4. KrispyKrink says:

    Reads like my fiasco with DirecTV. Cancelled service, confirmed I owed no money. Six months later I get a collections letter stating I owed $0.00 to DirecTV + $35.00 service fee to the collection agency.

    • tbax929 says:

      DTV is the company that keeps your payment info on file, even if you’re making a payment for someone else, so they can charge you when they think you owe them money.

      They keep telling me the credit card on file with them is expired. No, DTV, the credit card I have on file with you doesn’t exist anymore. Good luck erroneously charging me if I ever cancel my service. It’s too bad they’re the only one with the football package, because it’s the only thing keeping me with them.

    • 420greg says:

      Keep this letter. It is worth $1500. Collectors are not allowed to add fees. This is a cut and dry settlement for FDCPA violation.

  5. MrEvil says:

    When I had a house it made me glad my dad has a pesticide applicator’s license. I didn’t have to sign up for this regular service BS. About the only service I don’t mind paying for regularly is my cleaning lady.

  6. topgun says:

    Sounds like my experience with Chase Bank. I had a checking account and a savings account. Chase would automatically deduct a sum from checking each month to put into savings. I closed both accounts. Then months later I received overdraft notices from them because the attempted to withdraw funds from the zero balance checking account that was closed so they could deposit it in the savings account that was also closed.

    • Difdi says:

      They reopened those accounts as a convenience to you. After all, nothing is more convenient than free money for the bank…

  7. TasteyCat says:

    Pay your bills.

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Darn right! If you’d only paid that $0 bill when they first sent it you would’ve avoided all this mess! Deadbeats like that are what’s wrong with this country!

    • AstroPig7 says:

      Troll Consumerist… oh wait, you already did. Well, keep up the good work.

    • Difdi says:

      The OP did pay the bill. He paid them the zero money he owed them, and they kept pestering him for no more money.

    • GrandizerGo says:

      Well the problem is that the OP owes them $0.001.
      It is a truncating error causing the problem.
      Yeah that’s it. :)

    • Nyxalinth says:

      so is he supposed to send them a check for 0.00?

      You need a visit from OG Readmore.

  8. bben says:

    How about if you send them a bill for your time. Don’t be ridiculous about it. Just the amount of time you spent trying to get them to fix their problem. My billing rate is $125 per hour with a 4 hour minimum – and I have documentation for that. When they get hit with $500 invoice for consulting services maybe they will start paying more attention to their own billing practices. It would be interesting to see what a small claims court judge would do with that.

  9. benminer says:

    This comes up often here. Collection agencies do not have to “prove” you owe the debt. Proof is for court. They just need to validate that, according to their records, you are in fact the person who owes the debt. Validation is not the same as proof. People who think that the collection agency is required to send them documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they owe the debt are mistaken.

    • Difdi says:

      By that standard, there’s no such thing as a clerical error. Because no credit agency will call you unless their own internal paperwork says you owe them money. If validating the debt simply amounts to them checking their call list and seeing you are indeed on it, then all debts are valid, whether they’re actually valid or not.

      If that’s the case, then your only recourse is a lawsuit, because you can’t find out whether they actually own the debt or not without one.

      I don’t think it works like you think it does.

    • Baron Von Crogs says:

      How will that look in court? Copies of certified letters requesting proof the debt was valid acknowledged by never responded to? He can ignore the debt, because they’ll have to sue him and he’ll prove they never disclosed detailed billing. Then he can challenge the debt on his credit report by showing proof the collection agency isn’t responding (not sure if that last part would work) and the debt isnt valid.

      • benminer says:

        I didn’t say the creditor doesn’t have to respond. I said they don’t have to provide irrefutable proof to the debtor.

        • DrLumen says:

          I think you are getting hung up in semantics. If a company expects me to pay a debt that I don’t believe I owe they are going to have to prove it to me. The level of proof, or validation if you will, depends on each person.

          Some people can be bluffed with a one sentence statement from a secretary of some outside collection agency that $xx is owed. That would not work for my validation as I would demand a copy of the initial contract, a full accounting from the first day that the contract started with each charge and payment listed by date and a copy of the collectors agreement that they actually have the right and authorization to collect any alledged debts on behalf of the original creditor.

          Either way, if they try to sue then whatever documentation they intend to provide the judge will be said “proof” and, if you haven’t already gotten it, you should request that info during discovery.

          IANAL but have done a lot of research in preparation of a federal suit against a junk debt buyer. Luckily they turned tail and ran so I didn’t get to use it but the goal was achieved – less all the FDCPA and FCRA fine money in my pocket.

          • benminer says:

            You can demand all you want but they aren’t required by any law to provide all that to you. Now they may choose to if they think it will convince you to pay without having to go to court but all they are legally required to do is meet the standard of validation. If you don’t pay, they can sue. At that point they DO have to prove you owe the debt, but to a Judge not you.

            • DrLumen says:

              Right and since there is no ‘standard’ of validation currently defined in law that could mean all the items I described. There have been many opinion letters penned by the FTC and court rulings that describes what DOESN’T count as validation. A simple restatement of the amount does not qualify as validation. I can get one of the court cases if needed but I’m too lazy to look them up right now.

              By the same token, there was an article a few days ago about the CFNB(?) and the requirements they are proposing for debt collector validations. What they are currently proposing for validation was already part of my validation/proof requirements. I got my requirements from the community fighting improper debt collection so, in that sense, there is a standard even though it is not specifically defined in the law books (yet). IMS, the community ‘standard’ was taken from a few of the FTC opinion letters.

            • Firethorn says:

              The problem is that once it’s going to a judge, you(specifically your defense attorney) has a right to inspect all evidence before it’s presented to the court.

              Thus his statements actually ARE correct.
              1. Every individual has a different standard of ‘proof’. Even judges, though judges may be more consistent between themselves and case by case.
              2. If it’s to go to court, the standard proof of debt is generally going to be fairly high. A judge is going to want to see documentation.
              3. Said documents are to be presented to the defense during discovery – which means the debtee gets to see them. Thus there’s no real reason to NOT provide said documents earlier in the process, before the expensive attorneys and judges get involved.
              4. If the alleged debtee has a standard of debt higher than that of judges, he’s probably screwed, but like I said earlier, generally said proof requirements are higher for judges than they are for common people.

              Sure, the debt company doesn’t have to provide those documents – but then, they also don’t have to try to collect said debt either. But they have to if they want to turn a profit. If a debtee successfully makes the hurdles high enough, it may not be worth it to collect the debt, valid or not. The hurdles are such that, for those who keep records and fight, the value of fighting for invalid debt is lower than fighting for valid debt.

    • synimatik says:

      That statement you made could not be more incorrect.

      • yabdor says:

        About 3 years ago I got a letter from a collection agency. So I called them. They said I owed them money. I said I didn’t owe them money. I asked if they record their phone calls which they said they did. I asked if they knew anything about negotiable instruments law. They said they didn’t. I explained that I required any and all paperwork regarding the alleged debt that was owed. They, as you claim, said they had no obligation to do so. I requested that they play the recording of the tape for their legal people since it was clear they didn’t understand. I further explained that sending an improper demand for money through the post office was a felony and that to determine whether or not they were proceeding in good faith I needed to see the paperwork and explained they were so ordered to produce the paperwork. They scoffed. The very next day I got a (frantic) call from their legal office, kissing my ass, that there’d be no problem getting the paperwork and that they’d be happy to cooperate. Lawyers don’t do that unless they have a gun to their head. And sure enough, when they couldn’t produce any such paperwork, I had them send me verification of same and a statement that I did, in fact, not owe them any money. So guess what that says about your assertion?

      • benminer says:

        I don’t know if you’re replying to me or yabdor but if you google “debt validation requirement” you will see that a statement from the original creditor is sufficient validation. This is not “proof” by any standard because statements can be wrong. As I said, proof is for Court.

        The following would not be a successful defense if you were sued:

        “Judge, I don’t owe this money because I asked them to prove to MY satisfaction that I owed the debt and all they sent me was a statement from the original creditor.”

    • yabdor says:

      You are, quite simply, wrong. The Uniform Commercial Code says you have the right to inspect ANY paperwork you are party to whether directly or indirectly. You have every right to REQUIRE them to pony up the docs. Yes, you do have to ask for them. But you assertion that they don’t have to show you squat is just wrong.

    • noinamg says:

      Dear Sir/Madam, our records indicate an outstanding bill of eleventy-hundred dollars. Your name appears on this list I have so that verifies it. If you could please send the amount past due to me in large sacks of non-sequential bills we can have this issue solved immediately.

    • noinamg says:

      Dear Sir/Madam, our records indicate an outstanding bill of eleventy-hundred dollars. Your name appears on this list I have so that verifies it. If you could please send the amount past due to me in large sacks of non-sequential bills we can have this issue solved immediately.

  10. Keep talking...I'm listening says:

    I think Terminix is owned by the same morons that run TruGreen Lawncare. Don’t get me started on them. Let’s just say that the only time you get good customer service is when you cancel – and their billing department is completely clueless.

  11. rlmiller007 says:

    It’s called “defamation of credit” and you can sue them for a lot of money.

  12. kevinroyalty says:

    I’ve had dealings with Terminix myself. I called about 3 years ago and asked for a 1-time treatment for ants. my wife was home and they tried to hard-sell her on quarterly treatments. they left a contract with the details for us to discuss. we talked when i got home and decided to not sign. i called and said “no on the service contract offer” they said “ok”.
    needless to say, the next 2 quarters they “serviced” the outside of the home and left invoices on the door. i called to each one and said “thanks for the free service, but we have no contract and services were not requested nor desired, so please zero the invoice as it will not be paid”. both times they did zero the invoice and i ended up talking to the same accountant both times.
    a bit later, i get a letter asking why i haven’t paid for the contract. I called the local office and no manager would speak to me. the same accounting lady and i had a chat where she said “could you fax over the unsigned contract please”. after i did (twice) they agreed i had no agreement with them. later a manager called and tried to tell me i _did_ have a contract and i owed the money. i flat out told him he needed to provide me proof as we would be going to court if i received another bill or collection letter. he said ok.
    i called a lawyer friend and provided him copies of all the above and he wrote them a “cease” type letter and i haven’t received any more free services or bills.

    the downside is they have an annoying autodialer that calls me 3 to 5 times a week and leaves a recorded message about “an important issue regarding my home” and to call Terminix to schedule service. thanks to congress for passing that new law that they can’t call me any more or i can sue (and will after all those calls) and my lawyer said he’d be happy to take the case.