Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Help Me Howard: Soldier & Cell Phone
You hear it often, contracts are binding, but is that always true? One dad with a son in Iraq says a company promised to cancel his son's cell phone service when he was deployed, but instead sent him to collections. The upset father took his fight to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- If you are a parent, you worry when your kid goes out the door to school. Now imagine your son heading off to war.
Dee Perez: "It's kind of tough. I'm sorry, I'm getting a little emotional. It worries you everyday, every second, every minute."
Dee's son Angelo is an Army helicopter mechanic stationed in Iraq. No surprise because Dee was in the Army when he was Angelo's age as well.
Dee Perez: "He wanted to serve his country and follow his father's footsteps and be a man."
He is a proud man, everyday risking his life, fighting for his country, but back home in South Florida, his family is having to fight a little skirmish for him they never expected.
Dee Perez: "My son had a contract with a cell phone company, told them, informed them, that he is being deployed to Iraq, and he would like to cancel the contract because he was no longer going to be using the cellphone or needed it."
Over the phone, the cell phone company told Angelo they would cancel the contract. In January, Angelo headed to Iraq, and the cellphone headache followed.
Dee Perez: "A few months later, after he was deployed to Iraq, we started receiving collection agencies' letters here saying that he owes so much money."
The cell phone company turned Angelo over to a collection agency that wanted him to pay $325.
Dee Perez: "I forwarded the letters to my son in Iraq and he said, 'Dad, I had a verbal agreement with the cell phone company that they would cancel my contract, and I don't think I owe these people any money.'"
Since Angelo is a little busy, his dad tried to explain to the bill collector that his son's phone was disconnected while Angelo is in Iraq.
Dee Perez: "They say, 'No, sorry, Mr. Perez, there's nothing we can do.' I was shocked. I was shocked. Honestly, I was shocked."
Dee's main concern, when Angelo returns, will his credit be in shambles?
Dee Perez: "What if my son wants to purchase a home for a future date or buy a car when he comes back home, that is gonna be on his credit report."
And to a man watching his son sit in a danger zone for his country, it's an insult that a company would do this to him.
Dee Perez: "My son is in Iraq fighting for the country, and these people are worried about $325. It is because I'm a veteran myself (begins to tear up a bit), and I think this nonsense has to stop."
But is it legal? Does going off to war to fight for your country, get you out of a contract, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "The law protects servicemen and women who are in a contract and being deployed. They can get out of an apartment lease or a car lease, and they can suspend a cell phone contract. You cannot bill them while they are overseas, and you certainly can't turn them over to a collection agency."
In Angelo's case, it appears that his last month's bill was not paid after he was deployed. Interest and collection fees probably piled up by the time his family was notified. The cell phone company told us they could not discuss his bill with us, but Angelo e-mailed us, told us they contacted him, and that everything was cleared up, and the debt was eliminated.
Howard says if they had refused, they could have felt the wrath of Uncle Sam.
Howard Finkelstein: "If a company comes after you for an apartment lease or a car lease while you are deployed, they can be charged with a crime and go to jail. If it's a cell phone contract, the law doesn't provide any penalty, just go to court to wipe out any bills and damage to your credit rating."
With this irritation out of the way, Dee can now focus on the most important thing, getting ready for the day his boy comes home.
Dee Perez: "Kiss him and hug him and cook him a good home-cooked meal and make him feel at home."
If you or a family member is in the military and is being deployed, the law requires you to give your landlord or the cell phone company a copy of your deployment papers. In return, make sure you get a release from the contract from them. That way, if there is a mistake, you have proof, and if you are going off to fight, take care of yourself.
Battling a problem so long you feel like a veteran at it? Need to deploy some help? Contact us. We can fight, 'cause we are armed... with a law book.
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