T-Mobile Tells Me My Account Is Paid-Up, Then Sends Me To Collections

UPDATE: After Consumerist put Art in touch with T-Mobile, it was discovered that there was still — in spite of what he’d originally been told — a small balance on his account. They came to an agreement where Art pays for the service that he should have been billed for when he closed his account, while T-Mobile waives all other remaining charges and fees. The company says it will also notify the credit bureaus to undo the damage from having his account sent to collections.

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When you close out your account with a wireless carrier and they tell you that your bill has been paid in full and that you are free to go about the rest of your life without owing the company another dollar, you might be relieved. But if you read Consumerist, you probably know that these happy endings are sometimes short-lived.

In February, Art and his wife decided to switch wireless carriers because their contract with T-Mobile had come and gone and Art’s wife got better reception with the new carrier.

Shortly after the switch, he called up T-Mobile just to make sure all loose ends had been taken care of and their account was free and clear.

“The customer service rep I talked to said that my account was closed and my balance was zero,” writes Art. “Even knowing I technically didn’t have to do this, I was trying to be responsible and make sure they didn’t come after me later.”

Following the call, Art says he never heard another peep from T-Mobile. That is, until a few days ago, when he received a letter alerting him to the fact that his supposedly closed T-Mobile account had been sent to collections.

“This was the first time I’ve heard anything from T-mobile about anything (beyond a couple of sales flyers),” he tells Consumerist. “Confused and a little pissed, I called their customer care line and was routed through a bunch of different departments only to end up talking to someone in Finance who verified that in fact there was money that I still owed on the account.”

Art wanted to get to the bottom of the matter and pay any money that may be owed to T-Mobile. But according to this supervisor:
* T-Mobile could no longer help him resolve the issue because the account had been sold to a collections agency;
*T-Mobile had allegedly made repeated attempts to contact Art by phone and mail (Art says no calls or mail were received);
*Art should just call the collections agency and “work out a plan”;
*That no one at T-Mobile would have ever told Art his balance was zero;

Art couldn’t even get T-Mobile to tell him how much he owed.

“The best I could get out of them was ‘two months plus possible early termination fees,'” he tells Consumerist. “When I pressed on about a specific amount, they told me to call the collections agency.”

He says that at the most, he’d only owe one month — which would be about $170 for the two lines — but, “The early termination fee thing is crap since we specifically waited until the contract was up.”

Making matters worse, Art says he and his wife are trying to buy a house, so they are worried what effect the collections action could have on their credit reports.

“If I truly owe them a payment, I have no problems paying,” he says. “My major issue is the credit ding caused by them never contacting me for months and then sending me directly to a collections agency.”

Art is in a bit of a pickle here. See, if he was 100% sure that he owed no money to T-Mobile he could challenge the collections agency to prove documentation showing he owes the debt. But as he admits it’s possible he owes some amount of money, his best bet is to keep trying T-Mobile.

We’ve reached out to T-Mobile, hoping someone there will be willing to look into Art’s problem and see if it can be resolved. Should the company choose to do so, we’ll update this post.

Comments

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  1. PBallRaven says:

    “Art says he and his wife are trying to buy a house, so they are worried what effect the collections action could have on their credit reports. “

    For gods sake I hope they didn’t tell T-Mobile or the collections agency this.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Sue them for all the hassle with the house buying, too. That’s all part of actual losses experienced by their failed account handling.

  2. SerenityDan says:

    You have a right to be pissed, but maybe do the sensible thing of calling the collections agency to see how much they say you owe. Then if it does have ETF fees or something more than it should you fight it, if it’s what you think you owe THEN you make the complaints about them dinging your credit instead of contacting you.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Good idea, except I’d be worried about calling a collector, considering how underhanded some of them can be. I’d send a registered letter instead demanding proof of the debt, which I believe they are required to provide under the FDCPA.

      • Southern says:

        Probably better to do that through the credit reporting agencies (if it’s showing up on the credit report). That way they have a certain time limit to respond, and if they don’t it’s automatically taken off.

      • who? says:

        Having had this kind of thing happen several times over the years….

        My experience with calling debt collectors is if you know your rights before you call, and are legitimately interested in paying any money you actually owe, they are fine. OP should just call and get the proof of the debt. Once he knows what the collection agency actually has, then the way forward will be more clear (fight it or pay up).

        If it’s a legitimate debt and you’re willing to write a check for the full amount right away, collection agencies will usually waive all of the slimy fees and interest they’ve tacked on. Also, if you call them right away instead of making them chase you, you can often keep them from dinging your credit. If they have already dinged your credit, and you were planning on paying anyway, you can negotiate to get them to remove the item from your credit report in exchange for full payment.

        Also, a single, small, disputed collection account on a credit report is not going to scuttle a home loan. Been there, done that. The lender sent me a copy of my credit report, and I just had to explain the negative item. That was the last I heard of it.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      This is absolutely wrong. You CANNOT clear up any bad credit info this way. You MUST take the matter up with the party that committed the wrong actions … and that was T-Mobile.

      As much as most people hate debt collectors, they are innocent of having gotten this account in the first place. But do contact them to make sure they are aware of the issues with the account and advise them it would be best to return the account to T-Mobile and clear all credit reports about it, to avoid being dragged into court when you sue T-Mobile.

  3. SkokieGuy says:

    What is the problem with asking the collection agency to provide proof of debt?

    He is not refusing to pay and T-Mobile nor the collection agency has any documentation showing he has refused to pay. He simply wants proof of what he owes, prior to paying.

    Contact all three credit agencies to see if the amount shows up. If it does, advise that it is “in dispute”. It will be temporarily removed from your credit score, and the agency will be required to submit proof (I think in 30 or 60 days). If the don’t reply, it must be removed. If they do reply, each credit agency determines if they feel the item is valid. If they do, I believe you can still appeal one more time.

  4. Southern says:

    If it’s already been sold to a collections agency, isn’t it too late now for T-Mobile to do anything about it? As far as they’re concerned they’ve already written it off and don’t even “own” the debt any more?

  5. Scooter McGee says:

    I terminated early with T-Mobile about a year ago and do not recall getting a bill for the ETF (I don’t have a large payment to them in my records either). Since then, I have called several times to get reconfirmed that my balance truly is $0. Maybe I should call one more time and record the conversation, making the employee aware of that. I certainly don’t want to end up in this boat too.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    1). Start phone company called T-Mobile
    2). Create false charges
    3). Sell false charges to collection agency
    4). Screw the customer and collection agency
    5). Profit?

    • econobiker says:

      No that is the Palisade’s Collection business model with old GTE and old AT&T wireless accounts.

      By all reckonings you didn’t even need to have owed money for the GTE/AT&T accounts, just having had those accounts put you in line for the scam-sters at Palisades to come after you.

  7. CounterFriction says:

    My mother closed down her T-Mobile account after nearly 10 years with them to go with a better pre-paid plan. She had been off contract for years. Everything went smoothly, even the porting of the number was done in under half an hour. But then…about three months later she started getting threatening letters from T-Mobile regarding her past due balance of negative $2.13. Yes you read that right, T-Mobile owes her $2.13 but is sending letters demanding immediate payment.

    • bben says:

      I went through this years ago with a Discover card account. When I closed it, I was sent a final bill saying I owed negative 2 cents. Then I got a bill from them demanding that I pay the -.02. Calling didn’t seem to make any difference as the people I talked to all said they would take care of it. After several months, I sent them a check for .02 cents hoping that would make the idiot computer happy – My next bill was for Minus .04 cents. Over the next few months I sent them whatever they said they owed me. By the time they finally caught on, they owed me nearly a dollar. I demanded they send it to me plus interest. Then never cashed the check for $1.01. I estimate that little ‘computer error’ cost them several hundred before they got it fixed.

  8. dulcinea47 says:

    ” if he was 100% sure that he owed no money to T-Mobile he could challenge the collections agency to prove documentation showing he owes the debt. But as he admits it’s possible he owes some amount of money, his best bet is to keep trying T-Mobile.”

    No, this is completely untrue. TMobile does not own the debt, even if they can figure out what you supposedly owe them you CANNOT pay them.

    The ONLY right thing to do here is ask the collection agency for proof of debt. They will either provide it and he will pay, problem solved, or they will not be able to provide it and therefore he doesn’t owe, problem also solved.

    I had the EXACT same problem with a long distance carrier back in the days before cell phones. I was pretty sure I’d paid the final bill, but not 100%. I asked them for proof and they never could provide it. It’s not on my credit report and I never paid a dime.

  9. Kate says:

    I’m wondering if we need some massive regulations to keep companies and banks especially from costing the consumer for their own mistakes and for making up fees and phantom ‘amounts you owe us that none of our computers will tell us you owe til we hit you later with huge fees and bad credit reports.

  10. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    demand proof in writing and then deal with them in writing only.

  11. Mike says:

    When you close any account, you should request a final bill showing a 0 balance. Then keep that in case any collections come up in the future.

    Also, forget the idea that “if you owe them money you are willing to pay it”. You don’t owe them any money. You didn’t think you owed them money, and they didn’t think you owed them money. If they think you do now they had better well prove it; it’s most likely a clerical error on their end.

    Ask for proof from collections agency. They have to prove that you requested service, that it was provided, and that you didn’t pay for it. When they can’t provide the proof, ask them zero out your account and remove any derogatory credit reports. Once you are sure they have no proof of a debt, you can tell them you are financing a home loan and you will hold them liable for additional loan costs per the FCRA. They should move quickly to correct it because you can hold them to treble damages, and you stand to lose a lot of money on a home loan. If you have to make such a threat, be sure to include T-Mobile in the loop and let them know you will hold them liable. T-Mobile will have more clout than you with the collections firm and they may apply pressure to get it resolved.

    With respect to the home loan, if you have already applied for a loan the damage is done. If you contest a charge now it may hold up your loan. If you haven’t applied yet, you might contest something on your credit report, but expect the loan to be held up until the matter is resolved by the credit reporting agency. (I have seen this literally handled in 3 days by a credit reporting company, but they have the right to take much longer.)

  12. Lyn Torden says:

    Sue T-Mobile for selling a false debt. Once they realize this engages a lot of laws, including at least one criminal one, they will want to settle. Tell them the settlement must start with all legal fees, withdraw the account from the debt collector, close the account as “paid up in February”, update all credit report entries to show only positive entries, and cover all costs of dealing with any leftovers the debt collector still causes.

    If you did owe money, you had a right be correctly told about your debt, a right to be told the correct about of the debt, a right to pay your debt to the original creditor without hassle or any negative credit report entries, and without having to deal with a debt collector. It’s T-Mobile that screwed up and it’s T-Mobile that needs to take responsibility.

  13. frodolives35 says:

    Sadly the process for disputing a debt is very flawed. We had a disputed debt with written documentation proving we did not owe it about 10 years ago that was placed on my wife’s credit report. A 78 dollar towel rack and toilet paper holder from Spiegel that was more then paid for in full+ turned into over $4000 in bogus late fees and collections costs when they sold the bogus debt to a shady debt collection purchaser. This same company then transferred the debt 3 time to other “companies “all owned by the same parent company and each new “company” dinged my wife’s credit for a total of 4 hits for the same bogus debt. The credit agency was no help at all although sympathetic customer service people did suggest I hire a lawyer to get it removed as that was my only option. We did not pay out of principle and still have a file about 1 inch thick documenting all the registered letters phone calls etc. I almost wish we had just paid the extra $25 Spiegel tried to screw us out of but since it has been off her record for 4 years I guess it was worth not paying but not worth the trouble we went through trying to straighten it out.When you dispute a debt with a credit reporting agency they only contact the reporting company who then says it is a valid debt. The only thing you can do is put a letter of explanation on file with the reporting agency that no creditor EVER reads they just look at your credit score and say sorry. Remember Equifax,Transunion and Experian work for the companies that pay them and don’t care if you are getting screwed even if you have proof. I did sell the towel rack and toilet paper holder for 5 bucks at a yard sale a couple of years ago. To this day about twice a year we get a demand letter from one bogus company or another about this supposed debt. I gave up responding to them years ago.

  14. SilverBlade2k says:

    solution: Take this to a local news station. T-Mobile will ‘magically’ have the means to solve the problem.

  15. Snapdragon says:

    ‘Art should just call the collections agency and “work out a plan”;’

    Uh, yes. Call the collections agency.

    When I worked for an auto financing company, past a certain point we could not legally discuss accounts with delinquent customers. We had to route them to what was essentially a collections department.

  16. chatterboxwriting says:

    I don’t think calling T-Mobile is the best option. I think Art should send the collection agency a debt validation request. He should ask them for the amount owed and an explanation of how that amount was calculated, including interest and fees. He’s not going to get anywhere calling T-Mobile; they probably wrote the amount off as a bad debt and sent it to collections, so they may not truly be able to tell him how much he owes.

  17. dullard says:

    When terminating any service be sure to obtain a closing statement in writing. Never take the word of a customer service representative by way of telephone.

  18. woogychuck says:

    I’m currently fighting with T-Mobile via the BBB for a similar issue. I highly doubt T-Mobile will do anything, I’ve been fighting them for 2 years on it.

    I closed my account and have everything in writing. However, now they’ve sent collections after me saying I owe two months of worth of service after the date I closed my account. I’ve recently had to escalate things to my state attorney general. :(

    The scariest thing is that they even stated, in writing to the BBB, the account was paid off when I closed it, but still insist that the charge is valid.

  19. missminimonster says:

    AT&T did something like this with my mother’s land line account after she died. I ended up skipping a few bills because of the ensuing confusion after her death but I caught the mistake and paid up. They then sent me a collections notice one day and a refund check for the amount I overpaid two days later.

    That actually got cleared up pretty quickly.

  20. MonkeyMontage says:

    I have been fighting with T-Mobile for over a year now over a final payment that disappeared. The account was sent to collections, I had to deal with two separate collection agencies (thank goodness the second agency actually followed the FDCPA and stopped the collection process). T-Mobile finally admitted, in writing, the payment was made and was ‘lost’ – after treating my husband like a complete deadbeat and forcing me to spend endless hours doing discovery and drafting letters.

    In the end, T-Mobile is still demanding a mystery $40.00, they refuse to take any responsibility for their FDCPA violations or their poor accounting, and to top it off, the legal department has ignored every single one of my letters – this entire issue has been handled by ‘executive customer service.’ Which also explains why T-Mobile has freely admitted liability in writing.

    I need to write yet another demand letter regarding the final $40.00 – I don’t really have the time and of course T-Mobile is not paying my legal fees. An no, the answer is not to file an FDCPA complaint in federal court – the amount in controversy is under $200.00 and we need the stress to be over. T-Mobile completely embarrassed my husband, wasted thousands of dollars in legal work, and all over their own admitted accounting error. Atrocious.

  21. bugpwn says:

    Computer systems do go crazy sometimes. My doctor’s office randomly sent me a $50 late fee on a balance of $0 because their accounting system had rounding errors (Geek shout out: I’m certain it used floating-point and strict equality comparisons). It was just a one-man practice, so when I told them the mistake and they checked their math by hand, they waived it no problem.

    Despite using farms of computers, many systems like that are still largely batch-driven, physically carrying data from one system to the next. Even if that agent’s computer says it’s closed, the wheels could already be in motion to add more charges.

    Innocent mistake or not, it’s unacceptable for companies to take their system’s output on faith, even when shown evidence or agreements to the contrary. Sometimes they really are stuck with no maintenance contract, and without a feature to manually override anything it says.

    But it’s unethical to knowingly use it’s wrong information just because overriding it is difficult. They should have the accountants cut you a check using money from the “We F***ed Up Fund.”

    Preserve your paper trail, resist pressure to auto-pay or go paperless, and second-guess any penalties against you.

  22. hymie! says:

    Comcast did this to me once, over two cable boxes they claimed I never returned. I mailed a photocopy of the receipt, showing the same serial numbers, a notation “account closed” and a notation “balance $0.00″ , and never heard from them again.

    Citibank did (almost) the same thing, charging me $12.00 per month for three months on an account I had closed. Again, I mailed them a photocopy of my “account closing” paperwork.

    There’s a lesson here. :)

  23. LisaES98 says:

    I just closed my account with T-Mobile after almost 10 yrs. One of the things that made me glad I did was that even though my account billing date is the 27th, and I cancelled 2 days ago, they will not close me out effective the date I contacted them. They are charging me in full until the 27th of this month. And I’ve been out of contract with them for years, I was month-to-month.

    After reading this article I will definitely be checking my old account online to be certain things are paid in full and I’ll print out my statement as well.

  24. Kyle says:

    Protip: when ending any sort of contract, get the termination with the zero balance and such IN WRITING. Wow, the number of times doing that has saved my bacon…

  25. iluvhatemail says:

    they pulled a similar thing with me. i canceled, called over and over again to get a final bill amount. Paid it at the store. Then fast forward 2 months later. $212 (2 months) bill needed to be paid in 3 days or i’m being sent to collections. Still havent been sent anything in writing proving the owed amount and i cant log into my tmobile acct since i ported the # to google voice. good luck