AmEx Incompetence Unleashes Zombie Debt Collectors On Innocent Reader

Richard writes:

I am an MD-PhD, working at a medical center in New York. In 2006 I came here form Wisconsin, and at that point I called American Express (had a credit card with them for about 7-8 years before), explained my move, and the new academic position I was taking on, and asked them if they can help me in the transition period while moving. The rep told me that since my account is in excellent standing, I can go for 2 to 3 months without incurring late fees or penalties, IF I can prove that I am moving to another state and taking on a new job, to which I said, of course, there will be plenty of documents such as rental agreement, job offer, etc., to prove that. I was at the same time told, that “American Express helps its card holders in times of need and transition”.

About 2-3 months later I wasn’t able to make a payment on-line, then found out that my on-line access was inactivated and the account closed and forwarded to collection agencies.

Since then, I have been dealing with collection agencies, some of them – the most nasty ones. Even though I specified that I would like to pay what I owe, I asked for validation, because the amount they indicate is higher than the credit limit and I never used that much. I simply want to see what I am paying. I sent a validation request to the first collection agency, they stopped contact with me and sent the account back to American Express; then a second collection agency contacted me, I asked for validation, and they also stopped contacting me after that. It seems that none of these agencies are able to send me a simple piece of paper, to explain in detail what they are collecting.

On the other hand, they are so aggressive…I recorded the latest collection agency calls. They are asking me to pay “today” or “within 6 hours”, when I ask for their mailing address they are telling me “if you want the mailing address then wait until we forward this to an attorney”, etc. How is someone supposed to make a payment to someone with unrevealed physical contact information? This is not supposed to be like a payment from a Mafia movie!

Simply this account should not have gone to collection in the first place. By the way, even though I notified American Express about my new mailing address when I came to NY, I found out that HALF A YEAR after I moved they still sent me letters to Wisconsin. Of course, I don’t know what letters I might have missed from them, but they didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a letter before placing the account on collection.

And, above all, I am trying to focus on my work. I am a well respected medical scientist in the community, I published about 50-60 articles over the past few years. With my cell phone ringing in the middle of the day, (even though I informed these agencies repeatedly that my phone is only for professional calls during business hours because I work in a medical center), I find it hard to focus.

Kindly please let me know if you have the e-mail addresses for the American Express executive people.

Many thanks in advance, and Congrats for your wonderful web site, it is an amazing place for learning lessons on a daily basis!

Warm regards,

Hi Richard,

Bad news/Good news. One, we don’t have any AmEx addresses. Two, even if they did, they wouldn’t help you. The debt is now the property of the collection agencies and AmEx has nothing to do with it.

The good news is that I’ve heard that if a debt collector fails to provide a validation of the debt, it’s a violation of the FDCPA to sell it another collection agency. You might be able to hold each of those successive agencies liable for statutory damages of $1,000, plus the costs of your lawyer.

Hi, Ben,

Many thanks for your reply. This is good news, in fact I was wondering whether it is legal to refuse validation then just send the debt to the next collection agency. Theoretically, this would mean (since there are hundreds/thousands of them), that I would need a full time job just to wait for these letters from the next collection agency, then promptly send validation requests, and not to have extended vacations just in case I miss one of them…

Actually, I am amazed at how fraudulent they can be. I have them recorded, threatening me with “legal review” and “sending it out to an attorney” during the validation period.

Actually, the latest collection agency that called me, left messages on my cell phone, they are “The Law Offices of [redacted]”, and to the best of my knowledge, (at least days ago when I checked them out), they are not even licensed as a collection agency in this state! I am thinking to take them to small claims court. In addition they left a detailed message, telling me that they are calling me on behalf of their client, and the case is under legal review, and I have to immediately/urgently call back, to explore my options. My understanding is that such a detailed message is a violation itself. Now I am wiser than I was just months ago, and I never call anyone back…they should contact me in writing, since none of them can be trustworthy.

Thanks so much for your help, I will e-mail you in the future with the outcome. This “[redacted]” agency is a particularly creepy one. And I saw on many discussion boards that they are not licensed (as I found out myself).

Have a great week,
Best regards,

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(Photo: Bahman.)