Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Help Me Howard: Old Debt
A South Florida woman is locked in a bill battle. She says a collector suddenly called her, out of the blue, saying she owes thousands from something she rented years ago. Does she have to pay? The answer, in tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- There are a lot of nice things you can say about Alfreda, but there's one thing she doesn't want you to say.
Alfreda Porter: "And I have four grandkids."
Johnnie: "Holy cow! You're a grandma?"
Alfreda Porter: "No, no! Don't put that. I don't want people going around saying, 'Oh, she a grandma, she got four grandkids.'"
A young grandmother with a great sense of humor, and then this letter came in the mail and wiped out her smile.
Alfreda Porter: "I think it's a rip-off."
In the early 2000s, Alfreda had a store in Homestead.
Alfreda Porter: "It was a community clothing store where I was selling urban wear clothes."
In 2004, Alfreda went out of business. Then, in 2013, the letter came saying she owed $2,288 for a credit card machine she had leased for her store.
Alfreda Porter: "I don't know if I turned the machine back in to them or if I kept the machine. I don't know what happened, because it's been so long ago."
Alfreda no longer has a copy of the contract she signed with the credit card machine company, and the collection agency didn't show any of that paperwork either, just telling her she owed them money.
Alfreda Porter: "They went about it the whole wrong way. They should have billed me, but I never received a bill for the money."
The machine was probably worth $100. The fact the collection agency wants $2,288 amazes her.
Alfreda Porter: "The letter is actually trying to tell me that I didn't pay the money for the period of time that I was supposed to have the machine, during the leasing, saying I never paid the money."
And that's what really infuriates Alfreda.
Alfreda Porter: "They waited 8, 9 years later. I'm very angry. I'm angry because my credit is going to be messed up."
Well, Howard, can a collection agency wait nine years to come after you?
Howard Finkelstein: "In most cases, no. The law has a statute of limitations that says, if the debt collector does not act within a certain number of years, they lose the right to collect on the debt. In Florida, it's 5 years, so if they try to collect under Florida law, they cannot make Alfreda pay."
We tried to contact the collection agency, Pushpin Holdings. They did not return our calls. We did find dozens of complaints about the company for going after people who once leased a credit card machine. Other people claim Pushpin came after them, and they never even leased a machine.
Howard Finkelstein: "If you get a letter like Alfreda did, write the debt collector within 30 days of receiving their notice telling them you believe it's too old to collect on. They then have 30 days to respond, and if they ask to settle or give a partial payment, don't do it, because that wipes out the statute of limitations and they can start trying to collect again."
Alfreda can now smile and relax, convinced that she does not have to pay that 9-year-old bill.
Alfreda Porter: "Because if it wasn't for Help Me Howie, this would have never took place, and I would be stuck with $2,200 on my credit."
Help Me Howie. I guess I can get used to it. Anyway, with so many people struggling to pay their bills, it's not surprising that we get a lot of complaints about collection agencies. Just know there are strict state and federal laws that protect consumers from outrageous behavior from bill collectors.
If you catch them breaking the law, complain to the Federal Trade Commission. They may investigate, or you can sue them and collect if you win.
Collecting troubles like bill a collector collects complaints? Don't let them leave your ears ringing. Store the mess with us. You won't be indebted to us, but Howie might like a little credit. He is gonna love that.
With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.
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