For 8 years, Anthony LaMantia was a loyal Comcast customer. In 2015, he moved his office from Charleston S.C., to the neighboring town of Mount Pleasant, and ran into trouble when he called Comcast to move his line.
LaMantia had been paying $150 a month to Comcast for three office phone lines and internet service. The Comcast phone representative told him he had been getting a deal. “Comcast asked how I had been paying so little for so long, and said that my contract should have been rewritten long ago,” he tells us. “Comcast said if I moved my office, they would have to rewrite my contract, and I had no choice.”
LaMantia did have a choice. He decided to shop around for a new carrier, and found a telephone company called Windstream. “I called Windstream and they said they could give me the same services I had with Comcast for only $140 a month,” he says. “We went over the details and they assured me my bill would include three phone lines with unlimited calling and internet for a total of $140. I thought it was a smart move.”
The move to Windstream was one LaMantia would soon regret. His case highlights the difficulties faced by consumers when they enter into a contract over the phone, and it shows how things can go horribly awry when the company fails to live up to its end of the bargain. It also leaves us wondering what consumers can do about it.
“The first bill arrived and I almost became physically ill,” he recalls. “Windstream didn’t charge me $140 as promised. The bill was for $335.”
After he calmed down, LaMantia picked up the phone and called Windstream to complain about the bill. “Windstream’s position is that the bill is accurate,” he explains. “What they didn’t disclose is that they are a telecommunications company — not a cable company like Comcast — and have tons of fees and taxes that I didn’t have as a Comcast customer.”
How much in fees and taxes? $120 per month. Among them, a $33 “Access Recovery Charge,” a $56 “Federal Subscriber Line Charge Fee,” and a $24 “Federal Universal Service Fund Fee.” Add these to the $188 they overcharged for the service, plus $17 in itemized long distance calls, and another unspecified $10 categorized as “other charges,” and it brings the bill to a grand total of $335.
LaMantia did what any customer stung by sticker shock would do. He called his former company, Comcast, and said he wanted them back. Comcast was happy to oblige, on a new contract at $180 a month.
He also called Windstream and told the company they had misled him, misrepresented what the true cost would be, and that he wanted to cancel his service. The representative noted the cancellation, stopped service and ended the call.
If only it were that easy.
Seven months later, LaMantia received a letter from a debt collection firm in Illinois threatening legal action. The letter reads:
Regretfully, you have chosen, thus far, to ignore our requests for a voluntary resolution to this matter. Therefore, we have chosen only one alternative in our efforts to represent our client with competence and professionalism. Your continued failure to cooperate will cause us to further discuss with our client, the various legal options, in compliance with governing rules and regulations, allowed under the law to protect their interests.
We are, therefore, providing you a final opportunity to resolve this matter amicably. I trust you comprehend the gravity of your situation and that your decision will be to immediately take care of this long, overdue obligation.
Accordingly, should we not hear from you within the next 3 business days, the final resolve of this matter will be made by your decision not to cooperate. Please refer to our File Number on all communications.
This communication is from a debt collector. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
Really? If he doesn’t respond it will cause them to further discuss legal options? He should comprehend the gravity of the situation?
Despite the poor grammar and use of punctuation in the letter, it is intended to intimidate consumers into thinking they’re about to be sued. And if you’re not a lawyer, being on the receiving end of this letter might cause you to immediately pay the amount in full.
Windstream, through its debt collector, claims it is owed and is trying to collect a whopping $6,210.
LaMantia happens to be a lawyer and didn’t ignore the letter, however. He called the debt collector, who argued with him and said that he would file suit against him in New York state court. Of course, Windstream is based in Greenville, S.C., and LaMantia lives in Charleston, S.C. Defending a lawsuit in New York would be very inconvenient.
Debt collection agencies are one of the most frequent plaintiffs in the civil justice system, and often file suit in the hopes that the defendant consumer will not answer the complaint. When consumers ignore lawsuits, the debt collection company wins by default.
But debt collection companies have to abide by Federal Trade Commission regulations known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Among other things, the Act prohibits debt collectors from bringing suit against the consumer in a court other than where the consumer signed the contract or resides.
Unfortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act doesn’t apply to business accounts. But the tactics are the same. The debt collector’s threats to file suit in New York are an attempt to further intimidate the consumer into thinking he had no way out. Faced with this situation, many consumers might just pay the bill.
And what about this bill? By my calculation, the company is trying to collect $188 a month for 33 months of service it didn’t provide. Is that reasonable, when no service was provided? Threatening the customer with a lawsuit over early cancellation, in particular when the cancellation was due to the nondisclosure of the full cost of service, seems like bad business.
I reached out to Windstream executives, who have not responded to my requests for assistance. LaMantia is considering filing a complaint against the debt collector with the Federal Trade Commission for threatening to file suit in New York. In the meantime, he awaits communications from the debt collection company in the form of a lawsuit. If that happens, he may be representing himself in court, where he’ll have the opportunity to argue his own side of this deal gone bad.
Update: Windstream executives finally responded to my requests for assistance. The company admitted its billing was incorrect, and reduced the $6,210 claim to around $400 for three months of service — what LaMantia should have been charged.