80-Year-Old Woman Files Lawsuit Over $6 Sears Datebook

Margaret Vail (pictured left), an 80-year-old woman from Mansfield, OH., is fed up with Sears and the numerous collection agencies that claim she ordered a $6 datebook back in 2003. According to the Mansfield News Journal, Margaret never ordered the datebook, yet Sears sent her one anyway and put it on her Sears charge card. Her local store won’t accept returns on mail-order merchandise and she refuses to pay shipping to return it. Over the years, the balance has ballooned to $130 which doesn’t faze Margaret who is spending over $200 in fees to file her lawsuit. Details, inside…

The article says,

“It was like somebody decided ‘we’re going to send stuff to her, and she’ll pay for it,” [her son] Teddy Vail said.

Over five years, anywhere from 6 to 10 different agencies have asked his mother to pay for the unsolicited datebook, Teddy Vail said.

Vail said he must have explained the situation to collection agencies 30 times.

“They listen patiently. Then they say, ‘Well, can we work something out here to get this paid for?’ It’s like they’re not really listening. All they want is the money.” Teddy Vail said the amount the credit card company claims is owed has risen to about $130.

He paid $200 in fees just to file the lawsuit, he said.

“Yes, she could have paid for it a long time ago. But that’s not my ma. I know it sounds frivolous, but you’d have to be here, getting phone call after phone call after phone call, for five years. There’s a principal involved —- feeling like we’re being extorted and strong armed by these collection agencies,” he said.

Most people would just roll over and pay the money, but that’s probably what Sears is banking on. Being harassed by debt collectors for five years is no way to live, especially for something you never ordered. We hope Margaret’s lawsuit sends a message to shady companies that make a practice of pilfering our nickels and dimes.

Mansfield 80-year-old fights Sears with lawsuit over $6 datebook [Mansfield News Journal] (Thanks to Rachel!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Randy says:

    Hasn’t anyone suggested that she contact the Virginia attorney general for an investigation of this incident?

    If these allegations are true, then the state Attorney General really should start a criminal investigation against Sears, the CC company and the collection agencies in question (if possible), since these kinds of activities are illegal. A clear and strong message needs to be sent that these shenanigans are not permissible. Pity it didn’t happen in NY State, the AG there is difficult on some issues. ;)

  2. Randy says:

    I forgot to add:

    Kudos to Margaret Vail and her family for standing up against these sharks.

  3. I would say to the collections agencies: Everytime you want to send me a letter, take the money for the postage, and put it towards my balance. Everytime you want to call me, take the salary of the person who you were going to have call me for the time they would be on the phone from me, and put it towards my balance. Would have been paid off in a week. :)

  4. opsomath says:

    That headline seems to imply “She’s feebleminded and crotchety, so she’s starting a fight over six dollars.” I mean, doesn’t it? “80-year-old woman files lawsuit over $6 Sears datebook.”

    I think a better headline would be “Mansfield resident files lawsuit, alleges harassment by Sears.” Or maybe “Sears accused of harassing 80-year-old Mansfield resident over $6,” if you insist on being ageist about it.

    If they pulled this kind of stunt on me or my wife, aged 24, the only way you’d be getting the damned money is if you sent thugs to knock me down and take it from my pocket.

    It’s interesting, though, that they evidently charged the bogus stuff to her credit card (conveniently allowing them to accrue fees). Since she presumably never signed any receipt or otherwise authorized the purchase, couldn’t she have merely charged it back?

  5. nicless says:

    @opsomath: I’d say let’s leave the writing to the (alleged) professionals. I’m WAY more likely to read about an 80-year old woman filing a lawsuit over $6 than I am to read about a “Mansfield resident files lawsuit, alleges harassment by Sears.” Stop looking for discrimination when none exists.

  6. VicMatson says:

    Git Em SteveDave has a…

    If she did that wont the debit be re-aged?

  7. thelushie says:

    Who is doing the harassing? Sears or the collection agencies? The article is taking way too long to load so I have not read it but from the OP it sounds like the only proof that we have that she didn’t order is is that she says she didn’t order it. Is it possible that she forgot she ordered it? And Sears does take in-store returns for mail order and online items. I used to work there and they were a pain in the neck.

  8. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I believe if someone sends you something in the mail you did not order, it’s yours free of charge.

    Show me the proof that I did in fact order this.

    Here I must add that I am no lawyer :)

  9. Nighthawk Foo says:

    Shouldn’t “which doesn’t phase Margaret” be “which doesn’t faze Margaret”?

  10. topgun says:

    @doctor_cos: I agree with you totally. My elderly parents get things sent to them like this and I think a datebook was one of them. They come bulk rate and my advice to them takes it one step further: “Prove I received it”.

  11. buyer5 says:

    I’d respond, what datebook? You must have the wrong person (datebook sitting in trash).

  12. thelushie says:

    @doctor_cos: They would show you the credit card transaction record. And in most cases, that would be enough. This one, I am not so sure of.

  13. Ryan Duff says:

    I thought sending something in the mail (unsolicited) and demanding payment was mail fraud. Or course, this only applies if it was sent through the US Post Office and *NOT* UPS, FedEX, DHL, etc.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Vail said he must have explained the situation to collection agencies 30 times.
    “They listen patiently. Then they say, ‘Well, can we work something out here to get this paid for?’ It’s like they’re not really listening. All they want is the money.”

    Of course all they want is the money!! They’re a collection agency. Why would this person think the collection agency would want to help them resolve their issue with Sears over merchandise they didn’t order but were charged for?

  15. @VicMatson: Perhaps, but it would be gone in literally maybe a month. Every letter requires .42 postage. If they didn’t send her 2 letters in that month, that would be .84 down, and 5.16 left. If the operator who called her made 8.00 an hour, they would only have to not be on the phone for 40 minutes to eat up the remainder of that balance. Given she’s 80 years old and had to explain the story, it would probably take her about ten minutes. All she would need then is get one call a week to eat that up.

  16. MrGutts says:


    You are correct, it’s a law also. If it was sent via USPS.

  17. Angryrider says:

    It’s not a matter of principal, it’s one of principle!

  18. Kudos to the Vails … My wife thinks I am crazy when I make a stink over “little” things like this. In this case there is no difference between them trying to stiff her for a $6 date book, or a $400 “Personal Digital Assistant” (PDA).

  19. JasonSmith84 says:

    This is actually from Mansfield OHIO. The sears departments store here is by far one of the crappiest

  20. Skipweasel says:

    In the UK they’re yours after six months if you don’t tell the sender, or one month if you do. In either case, collection is at the expense and trouble of the sender; the recipient need do nothing apart from not be wilfully obstructive.

  21. TechnoDestructo says:


    I think the headline highlights her heroism.

  22. DeepFriar says:

    @agiorgio: seems right to me

  23. startertan says:

    If she really didn’t order it then I’m all for backing her on this one!

    I am currently being hounded over a $30 dentist bill. A $30 bill which came 6 months after I had my work done with the reasoning that it was denied by the insurance company. I opted not to pay them since it appears they just decided to bill my ins co for something extra after the fact. They sent me to a collection agency over $32.50 (late charges) which has ballooned to $46 (collection fees). They sent me a letter (btw, the jack@sses are Vengroff, Williams, & Assoc) and I responded asking for copies of all services rendered, payments by me, ins co, etc. and the agreement I signed to pay the collection fees (all that I am entitled to under the FDCPA).

    All I got from them was the agreements I signed (no detailed statements nothing) about the collection fees, followed by a letter stating that I got everything and need to pay them. I called them up to ask “wtf”. The first lady was nice but then the one actually handling my case was a straight up bitch. She told me, “It’s just $46, it’s obvious you owe it, just pay it”.

    I responded, “There isn’t anything obvious about it and I never received the detailed billing statements” She says, “I didn’t send them to you? I have them so I must’ve sent them. Fine, I’ll send them again *click*”. Bitch hung up on me. That was weeks ago (early June) and I have yet to receive another letter. Even if I do get the statements and I really do owe it, I plan to drag this out (within my rights of the law) as long as possible b/c I’m sure that these debt collectors have metrics just like everyone else and I’m sure that my itty bitty case sitting there is just ruining her metrics.

    Also my all-star gf sent me some choice excerpts from the FDCPA so if she gets mouthy again I’ll just have to quote a few sections to her. I’m still surprised that the dentist came after me for less than $50, my gf said it costs that much just to come after me.

  24. chemmy says:

    The Mansfield News Journal (and hence, this Mansfield) is in Ohio.

  25. Jay Slatkin says:

    @chemmy: Thanks.

  26. P41 says:

    Well this is a welcome change from stories about 80 year olds that were swindled out of $500k or some outrageously large amount of money. Good for her. Almost certain sears doesn’t even have anything to justify the charges, but it’s standard practice these days for corporations to blame their customers.

    startertan: You must be a new reader or you’d already know about sleezy collection practices. They’re not going to follow the law. DUH! They’re collectors, following the law is a bad business practice. You can tell them never to contact you again (the head-in-the-sand-approach) or just sue them in small claims court. They won’t send anyone, it will cost you a couple hours time, but once you have a judgment against them you can send them to collections like they deserve!!

  27. muffinpan says:

    Go get em Margret, Don’t take any crap. If more people like you stood up for what’s right then we would be in better shape as a country.
    You Go Girl!

  28. girly says:

    @opsomath: I sometimes get confused by Consumerist headlines as well. Sometimes they seem like they are going to blast a company, and they it’s actually a positive post when you read it.

    It seems like it’s been a while since they’ve done that, though, because I can’t recall an example offhand right now.

  29. girly says:

    Seems like Sears itself may never have been contacted? Other than the lawsuit? I hope Sears does the right thing!

  30. RagingBoehner says:

    @opsomath: This is the peril of Store Charge cards. You would be doing a chargeback with Sears credit, not a third-party bank or CC company.

    Store charge cards are almost never a good idea for this reason — you are totally beholden to the merchant.

  31. razdigital says:

    Why did she file the lawsuit? Isn’t the statute of limitation on credit card debt collection in Ohio 4 years. She is well past the mark, and collection can’t be enforced.

  32. IrisMR says:

    Well I hope they are filing for way more than 130 bucks. For all that annoyance they deserve more.

    Shame, Sears. Oh wait, you don’t have any.

  33. ThunderRoad says:

    @razdigital: Doesn’t it renew each time it passes to a new collection agency, or if she reponds telling them to stick it?

  34. BeThisWay says:

    Really, shame on Linda Martz and the editor of the Mansfield News Journal. A reporter should know the difference between principal and principle, and if he or she doesn’t then the editor certainly should!

    I’ll put my grammar police hat down and say kudos to grandma for filing suit. Companies should have a better way of correcting false billings.

  35. SacraBos says:

    @girly: But they have been contacted. She drove to a Sears store and tried to return the datebook and they refused to accept the return. That’s probably more than she really was required to do.

  36. BoomerFive says:

    Geriatric Fury is my new gaming name.

  37. picardia says:

    May she triumph over the Sears Overlords.

  38. girly says:

    @SacraBos: I’m talking about contacting the corporate offices, but you are right, she doesn’t have to.

  39. ludwigk says:

    Roll over and pay for something I didn’t buy? No fucking way. Of course, I would have nipped this in the bud 5 years ago, instead of waiting for it to balloon to $130.

    I once started receiving Newsweek magazine at my mailbox in college. I thought that this was funny, because I’d never even tried to order it. But complimentary magazines used to show up all the time, so it wasn’t that out of the ordinary.

    About six months later, they sent me a bill. I ignored that. They sent me another one. They warned that I had lapsed on my bill payment, and if it wasn’t remedied, they would have to turn me over to collections.

    Being the snarky lad that I was, I mostly copied the verbiage of the letter, and sent it to most of the Newsweek senior editors as an invoice for a “Magazine Storage Invoice”, which is a service that I provide, and that they had agreed to by sending me so many magazines.

    That all really went nowhere, but a few weeks later, the collections notice appeared.

    It was pretty calm, and apologetic saying something to the effect of “We all make mistakes sometimes… why not fix this one, it’s only $xx.00?”

    I went off on a tirade about how I could “donate” $x to Newsweek, but that didn’t make any sense because they were not a charity. Or, I could “loan” it to them if they were willing to draft additional paperwork specifying the terms. What I could not do, was “pay” them $x because that implies an explicit agreement to exchange money for goods and services, which never occurred. And, further, if they wanted to discuss a transaction of some kind, they could send a representative to bumblefuck Ohio, where I was attending school. I then turned their “We all make mistakes” verbiage right around on Newsweek indicating that I did know that people make mistakes, because Newsweek had been making the same one for months. I didn’t hear back from them.

  40. bleh says:


  41. Phexerian says:

    File complaint with the BBB and attorney generals office. Don’t talk to any more collection agencies now that the suit has been filed. Refer them all to your attorney. Basically, tell sears, if you want me to drop this suit, its gonna cost you attorney’s fees, filing fees, and money on top of it for your harassment and egregious conduct.

    If she didn’t authorize the charge, she will win. After coming up in court, sears will have to show a written authorization for it or a recorded verbal authorization for it.

    This is not necessarily past statute of limitations. If it was filed on her credit record, then everyday that it remains on there it is still valid to file a suit against them for this. The fact that they are still trying to collect the debt plus interest 5 years after the fact can also be argued to a judge if sears decides to fight it, which would be foolish for them to do. I’d think she can get about 4-5 grand from sears settling out of court.

    Congrats on standing up for yourself. Need more people like you Mrs Vail.

    -3rd Year PharmD / MBA Candidate

  42. Loki_Monster says:

    First of all, the debt collection agencies are not doing anything wrong in attempting to collect the debt by using the telephone. Nothing in the story indicates that there was any true harassment, but rather that she was inconvenienced by the telephone calls.

    Second, when these debts get passed around from agency to agency, these agencies have no idea what the other agencies did or did not do in attempting to collect the debt. It is highly likely that agency 2 had no idea of the story she told to agency 1.

    If the debt was being passed around to agencies rather than written off, that’s the original creditor’s decision, not the agency’s. The fact that this got shopped around to that many agencies is Sears’s fault. The agencies are only doing what they’re supposed to do and they have no power to make the debt go away without the consent of the creditor.

    I’m sick to death of blame the debt collector stories. Debt collectors saved every American household $350.00 last year by collecting bad debt. The real culprit in this story is Sears, not the debt collectors. Sears should have written the debt off and stopped trying to collect it or it should have made arrangements to allow Mrs. Vail to return the item she didn’t order at no cost to her.

    It would be nice if this article placed the blame where it belongs.

  43. Tiber says:

    @Loki_Monster: Though I agree that it’s more about Sears than anything else, the $350 argument has nothing to do with anything. They can save every household a million dollars, but that they does not mean that they are or aren’t deserving of scorn. I’m just pointing out a logical fallacy (irrelevant thesis). Aside from that, I agree with you completely.

    Sears is the one in the wrong if she indeed not order it, but the collection agencies just make it worse by constantly pushing her to pay. Collection agencies have no way of knowing if the charge is valid or not, they simply enforce it like a police officer might enforce an immoral law. I have no reason to believe they’ve done anything illegal.

    Anyway, I wish the lady the best of luck. The elderly are often targets to scams to get people to pay for things they never ordered. I believe my (deceased) grandmother fell for that as a coin collector. Even if this was a mistake and not a scam, she should not have to be hounded because of Sears’ mistake.

  44. Breach says:

    **** Sears 1000 times in the ass with a red barbed poker. Hopefully they will complete their spiral into corporate bankruptcy hell soon.

  45. Difdi says:

    “Millions for defense, not a penny in tribute.” Words to live by.

  46. girly says:

    @Loki_Monster: well if the collection companies were only concerned about perusing legitimate debts you’d think they’d attempt to verify with their customer (Sears) when a supposed debtor (the woman of this story) tries to point out an error

  47. Nick_Bentley says:

    It’s not even the cost to her, this is why I won’t step foot into a Sears now. I used to know they had high prices for their tools, but I’d go into them anyway for the selection. Now screw it, there’s other places, and a company that does this nickel and dime crap and then sends it to a collection agency for something she never said she wanted? Oh they will pay on the back end from people reading this. They are so borderline with high prices, it’s the nail in the coffin for many of us.