Charter Bills For Returned Equipment, Sends Account To Collections

Charter accused Kevin of failing to pay for unreturned equipment, even though Kevin paid his final bill in full and has a receipt for a returned cable box. Charter customer service representatives were happy to play whack-a-mole whenever the bogus charges for the equipment appeared on Kevin’s bill, but Charter eventually tired of the infuriatingly unwinnable game and sent Kevin’s account to collections.

He writes:

My wife and I are in a really tight spot right now with a cable company, and being an avid fan of what you guys do I wonder if there is anything I can do to either fix and/or shed some light on our situation. We had been customers of Charter Communications in Southern California for roughly a year, and at the end of our service we returned our equipment and were issued a final bill from the company. The bill was paid, however, the company made an error when we returned our equipment and issued us further notices that the equipment had not been returned, and that we owed an outstanding balance to pay for their loss. After numerous phone calls to their customer service, and after presenting the receipt we were given when the equipment was returned, the company admitted their error and issued us another statement stating that we had a zero balance. Months later we received another bill from Charter requesting, once again, the money for the unreturned equipment. When we called to find out why an additional error had been made, a Charter Customer Service Rep assured us that the bill had been issued in error, and that we had a zero balance.

This evening we received a threatening letter from Credit Protection Association, stating that due to our “Refusal to pay our outstanding balance,” our “Repeated disregard for their past notices,” and my own “Ignoring possible damage to my credit” that they had reported an unpaid balance to the National Credit Bureau. This balance, a random amount not represented on any other previous statement from Charter, was going to damage my credit rating and that I must pay them immediately or face further antagonizing calls/mail from their organization.

When we called Charter to receive further information about this issue we were completely shut down. Customer Service was not only rude, not only threatening, but called my wife a liar and stated that they could not pull up any information on what the outstanding balance was for, and even after conceding that we had called the previous week and been told otherwise, this was now our burden to deal with and that they would not let us speak to any supervisor, billing department, or other party who could assist us in fixing their mistake. To reconfirm we called a second time and spoke to a woman who told us that although Charter had not sent us any of the bills mentioned in our letter from the credit agency, our own powers of deduction in sifting through previous bills of what we owed, what we had paid, the equipment cost and the equipment returned would have given us incite to surmise any outstanding balance ourselves.

Who do we speak to with regards to having this issue resolved? Charter, from all my previous experience, is one of the most coarse and difficult companies to deal with. Their poor service, numerous blackouts, and horrible bookkeeping make this situation a nightmare when they are fumbling with our credit. Is there any way I can ascertain their records? The Customer Service agents we spoke to refused to allow us to speak to any supervisor. Who should we get in contact with to right their error?

We have numerous documents to back up our story, but who in an organization such as theirs do we give them to so we can be taken seriously? Any assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated. We are huge fans of this site. Thank you.

Your account may now be nothing more than chum for the debt collection sharks at the ‘Credit Protection Association.’ Your receipt for the returned equipment will prove invaluable. Make copies, and read up on how to deal with abusive debt collectors by phone, and how to dispute a debt collection notice. It is also worth calling Charter’s CEO to try one last time to resolve the issue. If you live in Los Angeles, you can always sic the Chief Administrative Office on Charter; they just love spanking telecoms on behalf of abused consumers. You can reach their hotline at (213) 974-2323.

(Photo: Stephanie Costa)


Edit Your Comment

  1. vex says:

    This is exactly why we need more consumer protections. What a joke. Every company you deal with can create any random bill whenever they want and extort more money out of you. The infuriating web of inept employees who can do nothing but read their computer screen only worsens the living hell that they create. There is no accountability for any of them, as Kevin discovered when several reps told him his balance was paid, that they had made a mistake. No, it doesn’t matter, they don’t listen, they don’t care. They know it will take you months of agonizing work to clear it up. They know the majority of people in Kevin’s shoes will just pay.

    And maybe, just maybe, there’s a nice arbitration clause Kevin is unaware he signed that pretty much eliminates any possibility that he will get this fixed to his satisfaction.

    I have been in his shoes (Qwest billed me twice, plus for service after I had canceled and moved from the address) and I eventually just had to pay them several hundred dollars to clear my credit (no Consumerist then!).

    Anyone besides me getting sick of it all? It’s a wonder there isn’t a hammer-lady/guy out there every day smashing up their offices.

  2. P41 says:

    I’ve always wondered whether the postal inspectors would actually investigate a case like this as a bona-fide mail fraud. Or while we’re at it, extortion. ‘Cause you know if it were the other way around, that if Kevin sent Charter a bill for billing consulting services or something, and Charter filed a complaint with law enforcement, Kevin would most likely be prosecuted.

  3. davere says:

    Every city has some kind of cable franchising monitoring agency type thing in the local government. Find their website or find their phone number. They have a lot of pull since they control if the cable company’s “monopoly” will be renewed or not. They are also not used to receiving a lot of complaints from consumers and they have contacts with the higher ups.

    I had to file a complaint with mine once all the normal customer channels had run out (Brighthouse Networks in FL if I can name them.) The franchising authority contacted me within 24 hours asking for more details and the next day a person from the cable company contacted me and stayed on the phone with me for 2 hours while she researched and fixed their own screw up.

  4. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    Great advice, that calling the CAO. I had to do the same thing because Comcast was harassing my elderly mother for 4 returned boxes they were still billing her for, plus the monthly service charges. They even accused her of forging the return receipts! In the end, Comcast had to issue her a $1500 credit.

  5. goller321 says:

    What kills me is that we as customers have to spent hours upon hours straightening out THEIR mistakes. I feel we should be compensated for such actions. Maybe it’s time Kevin looked into filing a small claims action against Charter.

  6. BigNutty says:

    This is the stuff that local news media loves to cover, especially if you have proof in your hand with the receipt showing you returned the equipment.

    Sue them for the amount of time it was in the collectors hands. I’m sure a lawyer might take this case just for the publicity it would bring.

  7. Cowboys_fan says:

    My advice is minimal however I may be able to make some sense of the situation. Firstly, OP says they have a receipt, however a receipt for giving to ups(or whoever) is alot different then a receipt showing Delivered. If they did not deliver the box, then its on the shipping company. As for Charter, it sounds like they temporarily reversed the charges but likely still could not find the box so put the charge back on. As for the collection agency total, they are 100% allowed to add their own charges for collection, interest, etc on top of the Charter charge.
    This kinda crap happened to me as a csr. If I couldn’t prove we had the equipment, or at least was delivered, then the customer was SOL. Once that charge was put back on, I assume OP went back into immediate past due as if the charge was never removed and was then quickly turned over to collections for having a bill so late.
    I’m sure there is a way out, but I think its out of Charter’s hands now as it is in ownership of the collection agency.

  8. reviarg says:

    I had a similar problem with Charter in Michigan a couple years ago. I returned the equipment and then received several unreturned equipment fees on my bill. Luckily I was able to get everything straightened out fairly quickly. The tech took my equipment and didn’t turn it in to the main office until the first of the following month. Since the equipment wasn’t returned until the next month I ended up with an extra $200-300 on my cable bill. Luckily I did have a receipt from the tech so the CSR was able to straighten everything out over the phone. Good luck with your situation, since you have receipts you should end up on top. For everybody else, GET WRITTEN DOCUMENTATION!!! You can’t take cable companies “word” anymore.

  9. timmus says:

    Who do we speak to with regards to having this issue resolved?

    Small claims court!

  10. MonkeyMonk says:

    This same thing happened with me when I tried to cancel my cell phone service with MCI Worldcom. I got a monthly bill each month for nearly 18 months after terminating service and had to call in each month to get the charge removed. Even though they admitted their error every time I called they eventually forwarded my claim to collections. Suprisingly the claims company was more receptive to my paper trail and the charge eventually got dropped.

    I put a curse on MCI Worldcom which (I like to think) eventually caused them to go bankrupt.

  11. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    Yep, that’s how Charter works. It took my roommate 3 months and a visit to a store to work it out. Right now they overcharge me $5 a month for the modem I bought 3 years ago. They flat out told me I’ll just have to call every month to get it removed, rather than forever.

  12. AD8BC says:

    I had a similar problem with a medical company that was paid in full by my insurance company but decided I still owed them a deductible. The medical company told me that although I had all the required paperwork that they could no longer fix it because they had sent it to collections. The collections agency didn’t want to help me either. Soooo…

    I paid the collections agency and then sent the company a very well written letter explaining:

    a) I paid the collections agency to protect my credit rating;
    b) I consider their answer that they could no longer help me because the account had been sent to collections unacceptable because I consider their collections agency to be their vendor and, as such, they are still responsible to help me;
    c) That they had one month to repay me the entire balance that the collection agency collected;
    d) if they didn’t then I would file a small claims claim with the clerk of the xx district court (be specific, shows that you did your homework), and that such claims would include all court costs, postage fees, lost work, etc. “to the extent permissible by law” — which means you may or may not be able to sue for all costs but you will let the judge decide.

    I sent the letter certified with signature confirmation and included copies of all documentation.

    They ignored the first letter, although I got a signature receipt. I sent one more letter, granting them an additional 21 days, and put in bold letters that there will be no further time extensions.

    They replied to this letter. With a check for the full amount, with another check (voluntary) for all of the postage I had used for both letters, and with a sincere looking apology.

    I recommend that Kevin do this — pay the collections and write the demand letter. He likely will not need to file suit, although if Charter ignores the letters he can go ahead and file suit. Charter will most likely be found to have not acted in good faith, if they even show up.

  13. yg17 says:

    @Cowboys_fan: I’m not sure if Charter in CA is any different than Charter in MO (other than the fact they both suck), but here in MO (St. Louis to be exact) there are several Charter offices where you can pick up, drop off equipment. No shipping or anything. I’ve had to do it a couple times, you just drop off the equipment, they give you a receipt, and hopefully take it off your account.

    Luckily, one such office is literally a 5 minute drive from my house, as their cheap piece of shit cable boxes and modems seem to like to break often. It’s easier to exchange it, than set up a tech to come out in 3 weeks and wait at home from 9-5 only to have the asshole show up at 7.

  14. Buran says:

    Run, don’t walk, to small claims court and ask for a judgment from a court that they close your account as satisfactorily paid in full and to stop all collection efforts. If they don’t, they’re then in contempt of court. Can you recover costs of having to deal with their crap?

  15. Major-General says:

    @ad8bc: I wouldn’t have granted them the extension. I would have just filed with the court.

  16. zyodei says:

    It’s his own damn fault. He should have hand delivered the cable box to the company. Then, gotten a signed, notarized statement that they received it. He was simply negligent just handing it in.

    No, seriously…
    Two things this makes me think

    1) The credit reporting bureaus need to have a complaint department like the BBB. If a company receives too many valid complains about fraudulent complaints to the Credit bureau, they should not be allowed to make any more negative reports for a lengthy period of time. Simple.

    2)This company has committed a criminal infringement on his rights. They are certainly civilly liable. I feel that the executives with the decision making ability should be held criminally liable as well.

    If a corporation has the same rights as a citizen, as our courts hold, shouldn’t they have the same liabilities and responsibilities? If I somehow fraudulently reported my neighbor as negligent to a credit bureau, I would almost certainly go to jail.

  17. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    It’s charter. What do you expect. They cant even keep track of their staff let alone their equipment.

  18. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    I’m glad he has all the letters being sent. Too bad he does’nt have any recordings of the rude Charter representative(s), especially the one where they call his wife a liar. That would have been a perfect posting on youtube.

  19. AD8BC says:

    @Major-General: Sometimes showing a little patience adds to your credibility with a judge…

    I’m just sayin.

  20. guymandude says:

    @vx001: “Every company you deal with can create any random bill whenever they want and extort more money out of you.”

    Dude… you’re an idiot. But I’ll just bet you are a favorite with your creditors for being so totally clueless.

  21. whereismyrobot says:

    I wish you luck. When I didn’t return my cable box right away, Charter sent one of their service men to my house. When I didn’t answer right away (I was in the shower) he proceeded to bang on my door for the next ten minutes.

    At least they aren’t stalking you.

  22. nikalseyn says:

    Good old Charter. They have the worst customer service of any large corporation I have ever seen—even AT&T is better!! It took me four calls to get them to send me a promised book of coupons, and another four calls—all to their people in the Phillipines—to get them to issue a $5 credit they messed up. Terrible, terrible company and an insult to common sense. This is what happens, tho when you have only one cable company in an area. If I thought satellite was any better I would go that route. From what I hear, it isn’t. Thus, when my neighbor braggs about tapping into Charter’s line to get free cable, I smile and say nothing.

  23. The Bigger Unit says:

    Wow…this is basically the same thing that is happening to me with Knology cable, except I haven’t gotten a collections letter yet. However, I could give a shit, because I moved to Canada and have no intention of ever paying them for a cable modem I already returned to them.

    Bottom line: just move to get rid of Charter!

  24. BigBoat says:

    The only way to beat these companies to throw it back at them. I like the idea of complaints on extortion and fraud. Next time you call them and get the CSRs insulting your claim, lineage, make sure the call is recorded. The fraudulent charge going away is probably the least they’d pay to prevent that tape in front of a jury.

  25. Parting says:

    @The Bigger Unit: If ever you choose to come back… Fight the situation, because if ever you have to return to US, you’ll be haunted by this unresolved issue.

  26. Robert Isbell says:

    I’m going through something similar with Bresnan, and I can not get any help, the local agency th is supposed to oversee them got nowhere, and the state agency may take 2 years before doing anything, and calling the corporate office leads to them passing it off to a person local and noone at Bresnan’s corporate office willing to take any responsibility.

  27. The Bigger Unit says:

    @chouchou: It’s true…but I’ve actually taken the initiative to call them two separate times to get it sorted out. First time, they said they found it, and it was cool. Then I get another bill 2 months after I’ve left the country. I call again, and they say I owe them for yet another cable modem. I argue, and they say they’ll call me back. Haven’t heard from them since, either by phone or mail. Any further effort they put into hounding me for a cable modem I gave back is just costing them more money than it’s worth.

  28. swan20 says:

    it’s charter…what do you expect. They sent someone out to cut the neighbor’s line and cut the wrong line, OURS. We spent days without service called over 3 times, and they finally dragged their lazy behind out after 5PM and claim in the receipt he was one time. Of course no reimburse of any kind. Just waisted out time because of their stupidity.x.

  29. rubyred34 says:

    I had exactly the same problem with Comcast, except they NEVER sent me a bill or ANY notification whatsoever regarding the alleged “unreturned equipment.” 14 months later (!!!!!) I started getting letters from the same collections agency; numerous calls and emails to customer service has done nothing. The best part is that can’t even tell me what equipment I allegedly didn’t return. They have no record of it!