DirecTV Account Closed In 2004 Goes Zombie, Creates Billing Nightmare

Way back in 2004, Cameron had DirecTV service. When he moved, he ended his service and turned his equipment back in. At least, he thought he did. It wasn’t until this year that he learned the account had gone zombie back in 2005, charging the debit card of a bank account he didn’t watch closely for two years before going dormant–likely because the debit card expired. The zombie account had been slain, and a collection agency tracked Cameron down earlier this year to make him pay the balance on the account that he had never reactivated in the first place. Never mind that he had paid almost two years’ worth of bills without noticing it or even having a dish at the time.

In 2004 I was living in a house in Boston and had DirecTV service. This account was automatically billed to my debit card. I closed my account in good standing when I was moving to NYC. Unbeknownst to me, DirecTV automatically opened this account a year after it was closed (while I was living in an apartment in NYC and thus couldn’t possibly have DirecTV service). The debit card that they had on file was linked to a bank account that I did not monitor as I didn’t suspect any activity.

In January of 2012 I received a letter from First National Collection agency that I owed DirecTV approximately $189 for service in 2007. Obviously this could not have been possible because I had closed my account in 2004. I sent First National a letter stating that fact and to provide me with proof. I never received any proof from First National and in June of this year First National filed derogatory actions on my credit reports.

I have since contacted DirecTV (as per First National’s request) for more information on this account. I was told that they considered my account “suspended” in 2004 instead of closed and therefore they were authorized, without notifying me, to reopen my account and charge my debit card.

For over two years apparently DirecTV charged this account monthly without sending me any paper or digital statements. I have not had DirecTV equipment since 2004 and didn’t notice any charges on my debit card as it was not an account that I monitored.

I wholeheartedly contend that my account was not “suspended” in 2004. There is no doubt in my mind that the account was “closed”. DirecTV has stolen money from me and damaged my credit and good name.

I seek an immediate refund of all charges by DirecTV to my account from 2005 on and an immediate cleansing of the derogatory actions on my credit report.

Important lesson learned from this story: if you’re not going to watch a bank account closely, deactivate any debit cards attached to it.

DirecTV has an executive customer service contact form linked from their officers directory, which is probably our fault for encouraging readers to e-mail the CEO. But if no one at that form listens to you, the company e-mail format is firstname.lastname@directv.com, and that directory of officers is right here.

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  1. Peter V says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but If the collection agency doesn’t give your proof you owe them within 60 days, they must remove it from the credit report. So I’d advise to dispute it with the Credit Bureaus

    • dragonfire81 says:

      The problem is that apparently DIRECTV only “suspended” his account, they didn’t cancel it outright so if it continued to accrue charges with DIRECTV, the collection agency could in theory produce information showing that, according to DIRECTV (who they bought the debt from) the account was still open and had a balance owing on it.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        They also need to show that the customer asked for it to be suspended, instead of what the customer asserts, which is that the account was closed.

      • who? says:

        He says that the collection agency hasn’t shown him any proof of the debt, despite the fact that he asked for it. Then they dinged his credit. My recommendation would be for him to try to dispute the debt with the credit reporting agencies. If they can’t show him proof, they won’t be able to show the credit agencies proof, either. So he may be able to get the problem to go away that way.

        • chatterboxwriter says:

          The problem is, the credit bureaus will just use E-OSCAR to verify the debt and they will send him a letter saying it has been verified. He needs to send the collection agency a request for validation, specifically proof that he received service from DirecTV for the period in question. If the agency does not respond, then he can write to the credit bureaus, dispute the debt, attach the validation request, and then go through that process.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    This is the way they work. You may have owed DirecTV a dollar or something like that; not enough for them to even send a letter to you advising you of the fact. They start tacking on interest and penanties and suddenly a few years later you owe them thousands of dollars. DirecTV then sells the debt to a collection agency for, let’s say $500 (not a bad return on a dollar debt) and now the collection agency is after you for the full amount. The collection agency will offer you a deal such as if you pay us $1000 in a lump sum we will forgive the remainder of the debt (see how nice they are?).

    DirecTV wins, the collection agency wins, you, as an individual, lose.

    • Steevo says:

      DirecTV in general is using more questionable business practices today.

      They have taken a lesson from the Cellphone carriers with their contracts and risky schemes as to pricing.

      They advertise low prices but after a year they want to raise the prices to what they call “normal”. But that’s not what’s normal, what I call normal is what they charge yokels off the street, not the $83 or more a month they try to charge their *old* customers like me. I won’t stand for it.

      Remember those Ally Bank commercials? “It’s not nice to treat your old friends worse than your new friends”.

      Companies should figure out what to charge for their service and if they don’t get enough takers they will have to adjust or go out of business.

      Don’t give huge fake discounts to new customers and try to gouge your old customers. If you do that you can’t keep your old customers!

    • frodolives35 says:

      You forget when you dispute the debt they sell it to another scummy debt collector that ads more unjust fees and also dings your credit report. Rinse and repeat over and over.

  3. dragonfire81 says:

    “Important lesson learned from this story: if you’re not going to watch a bank account closely, deactivate any debit cards attached to it.”

    While this IS good advice, I’ve always found it troublesome that we’re really at the whim of banks, cable companies, wireless providers and other companies when it relates to whether an account is truly and permanently closed.

    There have been SO many stories on this site and others about consumers fighting with corporations and collections agencies over accounts that should have been closed but either the consumer was lied to and the account was not closed at all (AOL for example) OR the account was not closed but placed in some other “status” (like this article).

    It really should not be so maddeningly complicated to close an account for good.

    • vnlindstrom says:

      Exactly. I canceled one of my BofA accounts in 2010. About two months later, an unauthorized charge (eventually reversed by the merchant) reactivated my account.

      A simple phone call or two should have fixed this, right? The merchant agreed almost immediately to reverse the charge, but didn’t get a chance to, because the bank (after telling me that they couldn’t access my account any longer), decided to do the logical thing and activate my overdraft.

      From my father’s account, added when I was in college. An overdraft that was cancelled in 2003, after I graduated. Over a holiday weekend. Of course, it included an extra $100 or so in fees because an account I had no access to was overdrawn for the few days that the bank was closed.

      This put me in the ridiculous situation of having a credit from the merchant, and spending hours with BofA on the phone and at the branch explaining that I really do have a credit, because the overdraft paid off the negative balance, and that BofA should never have activated my father’s cancelled overdraft from seven years ago. In the end, they sent me a check (which was a little smaller than it should have been) and re-closed my account, putting me on another six-month zombie watch.

      Miraculously, my father still had his documentation from when he cancelled the overdraft (I guess back when BofA still gave out paper records of things). I walked up to the bank manager who insisted we were mistaken and showed him the document. Not surprisingly, he was unapologetic. I cancelled my other accounts and walked away that very day.

  4. IphtashuFitz says:

    Precisely why I absolutely refuse to allow ANY corporation access to my bank via a debit card, EBT, etc. I watch all my bills monthly and use my banks bill pay service to pay them electronically. That way if/when I terminate service I simply log into my bank and deactivate payment to them.

    If the utility/whatever never has access in the first place then there’s no way that a “billing error” or whatever can trigger this sort of nightmare to begin with.

    • StarKillerX says:

      The way I see it the problem was triggered by DirecTV but it became the current nightmare because according to the OP he didn’t check his statements from that account for the first two years the issue went on.

      • Lyn Torden says:

        I blame the OP for not checking his bank account … for the purpose of any costs that would not have been incurred had he done the proper monitoring. However, DirecTV still owes him the principle amount AND interest on it (because they had HIS money for a while that means they needed to borrow less from banks to run their business). The DirecTV sourced debt should be canceled and DirecTV should pay up.

        • StarKillerX says:

          They had his money for awhile because he never bothered to check his statement for years on end. So while they shouldn’t have taken it holding them responsible for interest because he did not bother checking his statements is just silly.

    • ZachPA says:

      This, definitely, though there is a different trick I use with DirecTV, and here’s why.

      With most merchants, service providers and other companies that bill on a monthly basis, the customer is normally provided 14 or more days to pay his bill. Not so with DirecTV. If you keep on file a credit card (as opposed to a debit card, automatic checking account ACH, etc) for automatic payment, they charge that credit card on the day the bill comes out. The effect is that you get zero days to challenge billing errors, and there’s the possibility that the charge appears on an earlier statement. If you use a debit card, DirecTV will charge your debit card about 14 days after statement, and if you use an ACH (I’m in PA, where the law here is that DirecTV can’t require a credit card), the delay is 21 days.

      Knowing DirecTV’s shady practices, I opened a free checking account with my bank. This new account is devoted to DirecTV payments. I set DirecTV to charge my debit card automatically, and I made sure to opt out of any overdraft protections at the bank. I fund the account automatically with just enough to cover the DirecTV bill three days before it is set to be taken. This has saved me from chasing after my money three times in just the past year alone. If DirecTV tries to take even two cents out more than they should, the transaction is declined. If DirecTV tries to take it out any earlier than they should, the transaction is declined. And if for some reason I ever cancel DirecTV, and they decide they don’t really want to be cancelled, they can’t take my money for months at a time and then leave me to chase it down.

  5. dush says:

    “This account was automatically billed to my debit card.”

    Hopefully this will be a valuable lesson to everyone. If anyone has their debit card attached to a billing account remove it right now. Don’t wait or think nothing will happen to you.

    • racermd says:

      If you read DirecTV’s ToS carefully, you’ll see a clause in there that lets them use ANY previously-used credit card to charge past-due and/or closing balances. I get that they’re doing it to keep fraud cases down but it’s bad policy to assume your customers are criminals from the word ‘go.’

  6. StarKillerX says:

    Looks like DirecTV is trying to pull a fast one.

    “The debit card that they had on file was linked to a bank account that I did not monitor as I didn’t suspect any activity. ”

    Maybe it’s just me but not paying attention to a debit account for 2 years is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard of. I mean on a busy account I could possibly see a charge being missed occasionally but one would think it should be real easy to stop activity on an account that supposed to have no activity on it.

    So, on the one hand DirecTV is wrong to have reactivated the account, but IMO it’s the OP’s fault it got to this point as he should have caught this issue years ago.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      He should still be able to get back the money they did take, plus normal interest.

      • StarKillerX says:

        I wouldn’t disagree, but I simply had to point out that the OP’s inattentiveness to his own finances took what should have been a minior annoyance and let it ballon into a major ordeal.

  7. evilpete says:

    My guess is the DIRECTV rep didn’t want to close the account thus “suspended” it instead of closing ( thus received a retention bonus)

    • scoutermac says:

      This is why I will often call a company the next business day and verify the status of an account.

  8. Lombard Montague says:

    There is no shortage of complaints against DirecTV for “suspending” the account instead of cancelling it. That because of the pressure they put on the cancellation department to talk people out of it. Sometimes when they can’t, they just fudge the paperwork.

    DirecTV is a pretty despicable company.

  9. HotAirConsumer says:

    There are two issues here.

    First this debt is around 7 years old so should have fallen off the credit report. The 7 year date starts ont he date of last payment. On top of that New York has a 6 year statute of limitations for debts. If they don’t sue within 6 years, they can’t collect. They CAN still sue, but you have an affirmitive response that the SOL ran out. If you don’t respond then they can get a judgement and try to garnish, etc. You can send a validation request within 30 days of a dunning letter (first contact from collection agency). Agency needs to cease collection activity until they validate or they are in violation and can be sued.

    Second, in terms of the overpayment of 2 years, I just don’t see that happening. It’s a consumerists responsibility to catch these things in a timely manner. If OP didn’t notice it through the years, then the money isn’t important. I do hope that DirectTV makes it right and refunds the 2 years but it’s up to them.

  10. balderdashed says:

    I hate to blame the OP, but phrases like “I wholeheartedly contend…” and “there is no doubt in my mind” don’t impress me much. Of course satellite and cable companies will stick it to the consumer any way they can; one should expect that going in. But his story frankly hasn’t even convinced me that he didn’t in fact “suspend” his account in 2004, regardless of what he intended to do, or believed he did.

    He notes that Direct TV stopped charging him in 2004, but resumed charging him in 2005. Was that about six months later, perchance? If so, the dates would tend to support Direct TV’s contention, since Direct TV states on its web site that one can indeed temporarily suspend service for “up to six months.” His claim that he just didn’t notice that he was being charged every month for two years, while perhaps true, further undermines his credibility.

    But here’s the kicker: Since Direct TV doesn’t make it possible to cancel online, there was apparently a phone conversation in which he instructed Direct TV to cancel his service — or did he? He says he believes he “closed” his account, but doesn’t provide any information about that conversation. That also seems odd. Yes, it was eight years ago. But in my experience, satellite and cable companies will go to great lengths to try to talk a consumer out of canceling, demanding to know why, offering special discounts, sending one to a retention specialist, and generally making one go through hoops. If he really had made it clear that he was canceling the service, there’s a fair chance he’d remember — and have included in his account here — information about what a pain in the neck it was to cancel Direct TV in the first place.

    • KyBash says:

      DirecTV let me close my account online once I explained that I can’t use a telephone because of my disability.

  11. dullard says:

    Whenever you enter into a transaction such as this you should note the name and identifying information of the individual with whom you speak, as well as the date and time the event occurred. Then ask for written confirmation either by US Mail or email. If the company refuses to give you written confirmation send a confirming letter to them by way of Certified Mail and request a return receipt. Keep a copy of the letter and return receipt for a long time.

    IMPORTANT!! Monitor all your accounts for unauthorized activity on a regular basis.

    While Direct TV is to blame for the charges and should refund them, OP should have been vigilant (I was going to say more vigilant, but it seems he wasn’t vigilant at all).

  12. mcgyver210 says:

    It seems DirecTV as well as many other companies like to reactivate accounts that are closed or in my case they owed me money when I closed my account but instead of refunding since they owed me they made up fees to use up all but a few cents of my balance then they out of courtesy to me just kept my remaining balance.

    Now they just mail & email me frequently asking me to give them another chance to “STEAL” from me again. LOL LOL

  13. yosemitemtb says:

    Wow, the OP didn’t check a bank account for two years? How does that happen?

  14. big brewer says:

    If you in fact cancelled, where did you turn your equipment in? I always thought you had to send it back through a shipping method and get a tracking number which you could ensure it was returned? I