Update: Zombie Utility Bill Uprising Defeated!

Mike, the subject of the post “When Zombie Utility Bills Attack!,” has an update for us:

After filing a complaint with the PSC (no help, of course…), I’m trying to figure out what to do next. As if it were a miracle come down from heaven, Tallahassee Utilities calls me! Shanna, the rep who ended up being assigned to my case, actually tracked down the current residents, and found out that they had basically sublet the house during the summer. The guy who lived there racked up the current outstanding bill. They even have payment checks on file with all of his information! As Shanna tells me this, I’m thrilled, because it obviously means that since they have clearly verified that I was not living at the house AND they know who ran up the bill, I’m off the hook! Open and shut case right?


Shanna tells me that despite this seemingly indisputable evidence, I’m still liable because….wait for it….I don’t have the damn utilities transfer paper from January 2003. So, trying to stay calm, I repeat this information back to Shanna, and ask her if I’ve understood her right. She confirms it, and I can barely contain my rage in asking her if there is any supervisor, any recourse, ANYTHING I can do to convince them to resolve this in my favor. She says that she will look into it, but assures me there is almost zero chance anything will change. She promises a call back that afternoon. When I don’t get a call back by five, I call first thing next morning. Shanna is out. I leave a voicemail. Next day, same thing – Shanna is “out”, I leave a voicemail.

Now it’s the weekend, and it’s been 3 days since I speak with Shanna. So, on Monday I called back into the general customer service number, and I ask to speak with Shanna, thinking I might catch her. The rep says he can put me through to her voicemail, and I decline and ask to speak with any available supervisor. He then asks for my name and phone number, which I give him, and he proceeds to tell me that he will pass along my information to Shanna. I then repeat my request to speak with any supervisor. He then starts to say “I’m sorry sir, there are no–” and I finish the sentence “no supervisors available? No problem, I’ll hold for one.” Then he tells me that they’re all busy helping other customers. I repeat my request to hold for a supervisor. He tells me it could be a while. I tell him that my problem is so important that I will waste as many minutes on my cell phone as needed to get it resolved. He finally asks me to hold…and SURPRISE! He has found a supervisor for me to talk to!

Now I get on the phone with supervisor Mike (not the same Mike as before), and relay my ENTIRE story. I think Mike can tell just how pissed off I am, and assures me that he will look into the matter. He also promises a call back that afternoon, and although I’m skeptical, Mike gives me his direct line, and repeats his promises.

Fast forward to 6:40 p.m. I’ve pretty much given up hope when my phone rings, and it’s Shanna. She has apparently worked all day, and finally has the right answer for me. Shanna informs me that I am no longer liable for the debt, and that they are notifying the collection agency and credit bureaus first thing on Tuesday. Of course, I ask for verification in writing (which I receive right away), and I decide not to press for answer as to why the sudden change of heart. Maybe Mike reads the Consumerist?

Of course, I guess this whole thing isn’t officially over until it’s off my credit report (Thursday is the promised date). But, I do have written proof that the debt is no longer mine, and there was no call from MAF collections today, which had become the norm.

Just wanted to say thanks to you guys for posting the story and thanks to all the readers who offered advice!

Yay! Congratulations, Mike!



Edit Your Comment

  1. SuffolkHouse says:

    If you want responsive and caring consumer protection don’t live in Florida. Why would anyone think that a state that doesn’t tax has an interest in quality constituent services?

  2. Buran says:

    @SuffolkHouse: They don’t have a state INCOME tax. Believe me, though, they have other taxes. My bf lives there and I travel there a lot as a result.

  3. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    I’m glad this worked out but I also can’t help but wonder what changed their mind. Did they finally find the form?

  4. Beerad says:

    Perhaps someone with the requisite authority realized this was a completely absurd situation and with the proof staring them in the face decided to fix things. Common sense prevailed, in a rare moment. Hooray Mike!

  5. When will people learn that paragraph breaks make text infinitely more readable? That’s more than a screen’s worth of text in a single block that I don’t have the patience to read, let alone skim through.

  6. azntg says:

    After waiting for a reasonable amount of time and if the collections and all that doesn’t fall off, write to the CRAs disputing the collections as obsolete. Send that written proof.

    Problem solved.

  7. pdxguy says:

    I can see how frustrating it was for Mike, but… and this may not make much sense at the time, but in retrospect it makes a huge amount of sense… simply get a envelope or file folder, and put things like cable box turn-in receipts, utility disconnect or transfer forms, and any other form or receipt that shows you returned equipment, transferred or terminated service, and ended your responsibility and obligation. Keep this envelope or file folder in a safe place – treat it like your passport – keep it up to 10 years (or longer if you like.) Then when you run into a situation like this you can produce the receipt or form and shut up the collection agency lightening fast. I’ve followed this process and it has worked quite well a couple of times.

  8. mac-phisto says:

    OP: check your report to make sure the trade line has been removed (supposedly this can take up to 30 days) & then check again in 3-6 months time. it’s typical for deleted info to reappear – happened to me with a dozen entries that migrated from my father’s report to mine when he passed away. took me nearly 3 years to break that cycle.

    evidently, “soft deletes” occur where the CRB will eliminate the trade line while it is under dispute, but the reporting company fails to delete the proper information from their reporting file. after 90 days or so, the soft delete will expire & the item reappears. yay!

  9. erica.blog says:

    @pdxguy: I do similar, but scan everything in and burn to CD once a year. Saves space.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    Paragraphs — they do an eye good.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    @erica.blog: What are you using for scanning/cataloging software? I still haven’t found a “perfect” solution yet. Been scanning everything as searchable .PDF files for now, but not entirely happy with trying to retrieve the files.

  12. Rastas says:

    Yup. I lived in Tallahassee (Grad School) back in the 90s. Several times I was turned over to a collection agency by various utilities (public and private) and everytime for amounts I had paid on time. It was always found that I was in the right, but only after hours of footwork on my part. Guilty until proven innocent.

    I honestly think they did it because it was so much easier to pay the $10 late fee than to be on hold for an hour, request a copy of your canceled check from the bank, and call three credit agencies to have your name cleared.

    Extortion. Pay the fine, or we’ll wreck your credit.