How to Guarantee a Call From a Debt Collector

This story is by Adam from Money Relationship. Check out how much debt he paid off last month.

This post isn’t about defaulting on your credit cards. It isn’t even about not paying your mortgage payment. It’s a story about how my wife and I got into a little trouble buying some “items” online.

It all started with a daily trip to Facebook by my wife. While perusing through the endless status updates of people she probably didn’t even know, a beautiful white smile started shining back at her on the sidebar. The ad read “Have a Beautiful Smile In Under 5 Minutes a Day!” Having been thinking about getting Crest White Strips, this interested her very much. So, she clicked.

The deal seemed amazing. They claimed that they could get you a white smile in less than 5 minutes a day. All of this for only shipping and processing! So, she bought it. I mean, what could go wrong?

Later in the week, I inquired about the transaction on our bank statement. It was for $7.95 so I didn’t think much about it but I was just curious. She told me she purchased some teeth whitening and being the guy that I am, I thought we were going to save a few dollars since we didn’t have to buy Crest White Strips. Boy was I wrong.

A few days later, a charge for approximately$97 showed up on our account from 20 Minute Smiles. After the initial anger, I thought OK, when we get the stuff, we’ll just send it back. Well, even before the package arrived we got ANOTHER charge on our account for a little under $90 from Pristine Health! What the heck were the charging me for? I didn’t even get the thing yet!

Well, the next day the box arrived. What a bunch of crap! It was a syringe and a mouthpiece. I could have made it myself! We thought enough was enough. We called the company to get our money back. We were greeted by an answering machine stating that they were busy and to leave a message. We left a semi nice message asking them to call back. Well, after they didn’t call back, we called back again. Nothing. We left a more threatening message. After no response two days later, my wife called and screamed at the answering machine. I sure hope someone was there to hear it!

Since we couldn’t get our money back, I decided it was best to go to the bank and shut down the card she used to purchase the items. The bank was pretty nice about it and let us file a complaint. They shut down the account and actually credited our account with all of the money we were out.

The next day, another charge appeared! The bank said they slipped it in before they got the account closed. I started getting REALLY angry.

So, more weeks went by and we thought everything was great. I cooled off by then. We learned our lesson and actually made out pretty good since we got our money back. Then came the dreaded letter in the mail.

It read, “Dear Mrs. Adam, this letter is in regards to Mrs. Adam vs. Everbright Smiles (how many freaking names does this company have?). You have 30 days to pay $58.95. After that date, Everbright Smiles may pursue legal actions against you and we will report you to the credit agencies.” Yipee!!! Actually, this wasn’t even our first encounter with a debt collector, so we knew what to expect.

I had my wife call the debt collector and settle some kind of deal. I wasn’t in the mood to counter sue for $59. Of course they wanted her to give access to our checking account over the phone. She said we will be sending a money order. She got the charge down to $29.50 and we sent the check the other day. What an ordeal!

All I know is, this better not happen again. What’s stopping them from attempting to do it again? I mean, we can’t get a hold of the people to cancel the dumb thing!

I guess the moral of the story is: DO NOT BUY STUFF ONLINE FROM COMPANIES YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT! It will surely end bad.

Comments

  1. I’ve known several people who have had similar problems with Acai berry suppliers. They also auto-enrol you in other programs and sell your info. Was the “collection agency” Natural Wellness Resources by any chance? Fake, just like their “dentist approved” sticker and testimonials.

  2. What a horrible situation. Don’t you wonder how the people that run these companies don’t end up in jail? Its like consumers have no recourse in situations like this.

    I do a lot of my transactions on line. I am really glad I read this though, because who knows what an errant click might do.

    And to think your wife’s teeth are no whiter through all of this!!

  3. Yup. never done this, never will. Also beware of anything that says “try it free” – sure, but almost impossible to cancel after the “free” period.

  4. I was burned by the ‘free trials’ (pay s+h only) of acai berry as well. They give you something like 10 days after your initial order to cancel automatic reordering. However, how can you cancel when you aren’t even made aware that you’ve been enrolled (the details are tiny sentences at the very bottom of the site, buried beneath tons of ads).

    I had to dispute the $139.95 charge on my credit card and Citicard issued me a new card # so that they wouldn’t try to charge me again. Of course, this caused me to have to call up all companies that auto-bill on the old card #.

    Also, beware that other online companies entice you w/free shipping offers and it is only after you receive the order confirmation that u realize that you are NOT getting free shipping–just a coupon code for a $15 discount on another order (or a code to sign up w/a shady coupon service that ‘auto-enrolls’ you in their club for $14.95, unless you cancel w/in 30 days!).

    I really wish we could fight back and send these frauds to the cleaners! We need more consumer protections, especially when it comes to online orders!

  5. yep, I got similarly burned by the Resveratrol pay-only-shipping scam. I should have known better, but I have actually ordered free trials of things before, cancelled successfully and not been burned, so I guess I had to learn about this the hard way. What a mess!

  6. The whole reason the FTC stepped in and started asking bloggers to disclose paid links was because of these “flogs”–fake blogs, that looked like real blogs, but sold these scams.

    Google already won’t allow them in their PPC ads, and Facebook is cracking down too. The good news is that Visa and Mastercard got into it and started shutting down these companies’ merchant accounts. The companies were blacklisted, too, so they now can’t accept credit cards with any U.S. merchant.

    A lot of discussion is going on about this in the Internet marketing industry. The good news is that several companies have teamed up to make it nearly impossible for these guys to do business. The bad news is that it’s harmed some legitimate sites, too (like a friend of mine who got suspended from Google PPC for running a product review blog and lost 25% of his income.)

    -Erica

  7. The worst part is that the sites really do look legitimate and the one I fell for had an endorsement by Oprah and Dr. Oz (of course, they didn’t endorse it–it was fake).

    Also, even so-called ‘reputable’ companies are permitted to use shady practices. One scam I fell for recently is a large, well-known online flower delivery company…too bad they fail in every way imaginable: you are told you will pay $5.99 shipping, then find out upon placing the order that there is a Sat. spec. delivery charge, on top of a morning delivery charge, on top of a holiday deliv. charge, on top of the original s+h charge! The charges become over 50% of the costs! And when you call to cancel, they tell you that they can’t cancel the order. Then the flowers show up in a BOX, delivered dead, three days after the expected delivery date!!!

      • As for the acai berry scam, it happened over a year ago and I can’t remember the company’s name because the name on the sample (which I threw away promptly) was diff. than the one on my credit card. In fact, the only reason I found out it was a ‘fraudulent’ card is because the credit card co. called me and asked me if I had made the purchase (I didn’t). I did not even recognize the name of the company. It was based in CA.

        Sorry, I would disclose the online florist’s name, except I don’t want to give a biased (skewed?) critique of a company based solely on my less-than-ideal (understatement!) experience. I would simply recommend that readers google “the name of company + reviews” prior to placing their order. They received a 2 out of 10 stars composite review on one particular comsumer site.

  8. What a rip off! It’s good to read the info that Erika Douglass provided above!

    I only trust a few online sources for purchases. You never know. At blogs, I’ll click the add to read about them, and then if I’m interested I’ll pursue it with caution or try to find such a product in a local store (call me old-fashion :) )

  9. Contact your state Attorney General’s office to find out what the laws are about returns. There used to be a law that anything could be returned, money back, within 30 days. If you ever get in this situation again, threaten to involve the Attorney General’s office. It may help turn things around.

    Also – I’m always very careful to review terms…the ‘cancel within 30 days’ type stuff. Sometimes I’ll try a shipping-only deal to sample a product, but ALWAYS put a reminder in my computer or on calendar to follow up and cancel. Some things are definitely not all that follow up and trouble.

    • If you can even find the company. These are companies set up for this specific purpose–a shell corp of a shell corp of a shell corp. You’d need a PI just to track it down. And often, you’ll find the trail will lead you to Grand Cayman or another location where you just can’t do much. :(

      -Erica

      • Yeah, we can’t find the company. Like I mentioned in the post, they also use about 5 different company names. It’s horrible. I mean, you can’t get them to answer the phones either!

  10. I have read some pretty awful things about fraudulent charges and debit cards. About a year ago there was a story in Reader’s Digest about a woman who’s savings account was drained because someone stole her debit card number and overdrafted her checking account. Apparently the bank wasn’t all the helpful or quick in providing assistance – something about there being less protection with debit cards than credit cards.

    After reading that I started being very careful about how and when I use my debit card. Anytime I buy anything online, I use my credit card – and I sign into my cc company’s website to generate a secure one-time-use cc number to be used for one online purchase. I know some banks are starting to offer this service so check with yours to see if they do.

  11. @Melissa
    Another nice feature of those one-time cards is that you can often set the credit limit. If they charge your card and it’s declined, and they ship you the product anyway, they don’t have a lot of recourse.

    @FrugalDad:
    I’d have been too angry to accept the charge personally, even negotiated down. After returning the product, I’m not sure what kind of hold they’d have. Of course I suppose the $30 isn’t worth your time to fight it, but if you can confirm you’re in the right, a suit might not work out so badly for you.

    In general, I don’t buy things from a company without first googling them. Reputation is everything these days, and honest companies, being aware of this, know how important it is to make disgruntled customers happy.

    • I couldn’t find the place to send it back. The return address on the products were both different. I think they knew we wouldn’t be able to send it back. I mean, I bet if I did send it back, they never would have got it. At least that’s what they would say!

  12. I love how these scammers keep changing amounts. First you “owe” hundreds, then $60, then $30, somehow.

    I have had a company manage to charge my account after I cancelled the original credit card number, too, and I don’t think it is because it just slipped by before the old number became inactive. They may have tightened up the rules since then, though.

  13. I had something similar happen when I ordered printer cartridges online without FIRST researching the company. Wrong product, unreturned phone calls, then collection letters. When they started hassling me by phone I told them that I was returning the cartridges, I would not be sending them any money, and I had seen their negative reports on the BBB and did not want to do any future business with them.

    Never heard from them again.

  14. Question #1:

    Why would you settle for a debt you do not owe and never agreed to?

    Question #2:

    Why not deny the debt and then countersue for $10k when they violate the debt collection laws?

    Question #3:

    Why would anybody ever buy anything online with a debit card? I use a program called ShopSafe from Bank of America where they give me a temporary card number that expires automatically in 2 months and is only for a pre-set spending limit. This would then automatically reject all those extra charges above and beyond what you agreed to pay.

    • We decided to settle it because all of the time involved with the things you mentioned are not worth $30. As much as we wanted those companies to rot in hell, it just wasn’t worth the fight. Now if it was for $100 plus, it would have been a different story.

      That ShopSafe thing sounds pretty nice. Hopefully our local bank will offer something like that in the future.

      • Next time send a letter demanding they validate the debt (samples available anywhere online)

        Send it certified mail, return receipt.

        Until they validate the debt, they can’t legally continue collection efforts.

        Still cheaper than $30.

  15. You’ll be amused to know that when reading this article in Google Reader, Google ads displayed an ad to buy tooth whitening strips from Zoom! Tooth Whitening System.

    • DON’T BUY IT!

      To be honest with you, I kinda figured that was what was going to happen. That’s why I don’t use Google Ads on my site except for search engine visitors. I don’t want my readers falling for the same thing I did!

  16. Yikes!

    A few credit card companies offer the “virtual number” for stuff like this… you go to the CC site to generate a random credit card number to use for your next purchase and it’s only good for one purchase! That really shuts down scammers like this…

  17. What a great cautionary tale.

    Call me stubborn, but I would rather lose a reasonable amount of money fighting a scam artist tooth and nail than pay them one red cent. I’ve done it before.

    One question, Dad, did your wife read the ad’s “fine print” before committing? Assuming there was any?

    All the best,

    Len
    Len Penzo dot Com

  18. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. It must have been so frustrating! Thanks for tipping us off to this scam! There are so many out there!

  19. That’s pretty scary stuff.

    With the speed (and excitement) of surfing you can easily let your emotions get the better of you… sometimes after I punched in my credit card and pressed enter, I sit there thinking “What just happened?” I don’t have a story crazy like this though (knock on wood.)

  20. I was also a victim of a similar scam with one of those smile whitening promises. They promised it was free less shipping and handling….$59 later it was not free. Luckily I used my Discover card and they were able to dispute the charge and my money was refunded. Thank you for sharing your experience as others may benefit from knowing about these scams. For more information and tips on disputing a credit card charge check out this post. http://c1c.bz/guk
    Suzanne
    Social Media Specialist
    CareOne Debt Relief Services

  21. Sorry this didn’t turn out like your last phone call with a debt collector! Remind me not to try links from Facebook!

  22. Always, always, always, be skeptical of any kind of “free trial” on the internet. I’d honestly look at any site with a couple dozen “testemonials” plastered across their front page as a likely scam.

    After surfing through their site a bit, I came across their T&Cs: http://www.glowhite-smile.com/terms.html .. basically, it says that if you don’t call to cancel within 10 days, they’ll charge you the full amount for the 30 day supply they sent you. After that, they keep sending (and charging you for) more product each month. There’s something about a $90/month membership fee as well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>