Uh-oh, I owe Bright House Networks $430 – what should I do?

From a distance, the paper notice from Bright House Networks looked like one of those “room service please” notices you hang on your hotel room entrance. It was carelessly affixed to our front door knob one afternoon, with the hole slightly ripped, as if someone had hastily placed it there and then bolted.

“SORRY WE MISSED YOU!” it lied. “As a valued customer, we need you to know that if we do not receive payment from you within the next 48 hours, your service will be scheduled for disconnection.”

Bright House is our local cable company. I live in a modest central Florida neighborhood, and I pay all of my bills promptly, so this notice — and the threat of cutting off my service — worried me.

But the story quickly turned into the latest episode of Is This A Scam?, for several reasons. If you receive a similar notice, you might want to check it before paying. It could be scammy.

The first sign the “room service” notice wasn’t legit? It wasn’t delivered by regular mail. Why were they not using the U.S. Postal Service? Perhaps they’re wary of bumping up against federal mail fraud statutes that prohibit using the postal service to knowingly misrepresent the truth or conceal a material fact to my detriment.

The second tip-off? In addition to the $420.20 Bright House claimed we owed, the company wanted to charge us a $20 “collection charge” for the bill.

By now, Kari was deeply troubled by this “room service” bill that had been delivered, so she called the toll-free number on the back and was connected to someone named “Dustin.” He didn’t sound like a Dustin — the call felt far away and Dustin’s accent suggested he might be in the Philippines.

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Dustin politely explained that we owed a grand total of $440.20 from a Bright House bill originally sent to us in 2003. Settling up would be easy. We could pay by credit card, check or cash.

Just one problem: We didn’t live here in 2003. Someone else did. We moved to central Florida in 2004.

Any leverage “Dustin” and Bright House thought they might have had quickly vanished when we explained to him that they could feel free to disconnect our service. We don’t have a TV and have never been Bright House customers.

Dustin agreed to zero out our balance. But we weren’t done with him yet.

“How did you get our address?” Kari asked.

Dustin explained that he didn’t actually work for Bright House. He was employed by a collection agency that he declined to name and the debt had been sold to his agency. These third parties buy old debts for pennies on the dollar and then try to collect them.

But suppose I had lived in this residence in 2003 and was a longtime Bright House subscriber. Then things might have gone much differently. Like so many consumers who are concerned about having a good credit score and paying every bill on time, I might have reflexively coughed up the $440.20 without asking questions, which is exactly what this collection agency would have wanted.

A review of my rights under the law suggests that Bright House may have come close to crossing a line with our “room service” notice. It provided no evidence that we had an account with the company or that we owed it any money. It just asked us to pay and threatened to cut off our cable if we didn’t.

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Sadly, this says more about the frayed relationship between consumers and corporate America than it does about us or Bright House. The company is just trying to collect what it believes it’s owed, which is its right. The debt collectors it hired are doing their best to collect the money within the law, even if they might be coming close to breaking it.

And the customers? Well, we don’t know how many uncollected bills Bright House has. It’s an LLC, so its annual reports aren’t made public. But a company like Time Warner, which is publicly traded, listed $131 million in bad debts in 2013 on net income of $1.9 billion. That’s a lot of deadbeat cable customers.

So the next time you see a collection notice on your front door, ask a lot of questions. If you owe the money, please pay up so that these ham-fisted efforts can end. If you don’t owe, then complain to the company, to local authorities and to federal regulators, or to the whole world, so this nonsense can be stopped.

Is Bright House's collection effort a scam?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • polexia_rogue

    was it even a legit phone number?
    1. google the phone number- if it’s a scam MANY message boards will come up.

    no messagboards? fine then step 2- go to the actual business’s site. ask their help section.

  • Andre_K_FL

    It sounds like this may not even be Bright House but just someone else using their name without their permission simply to scam people into paying fake debts.

  • Penn Dalton

    What’s the difference between “regular mail” and “U.S. Postal Service”? To me they are one and the same.

  • Jim

    Federal law requires debt collectors to identify who they are, what company they work for, provide the contact info for the company, and provide proof that you actually owe the money.

    Sounds like a scam to me…

    Showing up at the door is a new tactic for scammers. It does avoid mail fraud charges.

    But legit collections can happen in person, for instance the IRS or state do show up in the flesh. Just remeber that anyone, private or government, must provide you with proof of the bill and a timeframe to pay.

  • SeaBee3

    If it was genuine, I would imagine they would have wanted to use postal service or some other mail service that would have provided proof of mailing (and possibly delivery). How are they to know if the wind just carried away their notice (or the owner throws it out and claims they never received it)? Very scammy sounding to me.

  • backprop

    Can someone describe the “room service” references to me? I am completely lost.

  • sirwired

    Well, IF the debt was legit, they don’t have to mail you anything or give you any kind of notice. It’s perfectly legal for your first notice of an unpaid debt to be a summons for a lawsuit.

    Certainly if they do initiate collection efforts outside of the courts, they have provide all sorts of information on request, and it protects them if they respond to your requests with a verified form of mail. But for the initial contact, they can use bulk mail if they so choose.

  • sirwired

    Debt collectors only need provide proof of the debt if you ask. They need not do any such thing unless you request it.

  • sirwired

    I guess he means it was a door-hanger, similar to the Do Not Disturb signs.

  • sirwired

    Not to mention that this debt is so old that it is WELL out of the statute of limitations. Even if you DID owe the debt, you could safely ignore it, and you cannot be forced to pay it, nor can it appear on a credit report.

    Of course, the law doesn’t say that they can TRY to collect, and any requests to cease communication don’t apply to the next collector the debt is sold to.

  • Jennifer M.

    I don’t think he was saying there was a difference. He said it was hand delivered and did not come through regular mail. Why weren’t they using the US Postal Service? So I believe that he was using them interchangeably in this context.

  • backprop

    That’s what I thought at first…but then wondered how all that information was printed on a paper door hanger. OK, glad I wasn’t way off.

  • I argued with my editors about this one. Yes, U.S. Postal Service – regular mail. Same thing. Sorry for the confusion.

  • MissFitz88

    We still get collection notices for the former owner (7+ years) of our house. We sent them back for five years; now I just throw them out. I agree with Andre; it sounds like someone is using the Bright House name to run a scam.

  • Chris Johnson

    You know, as scammy as this all sounds, anybody who thought this might be legitimate (i.e., they were actual Bright House customers in 2003) should call the regular number for Bright House Networks, and not the number on the notice. That would clear up any confusion real quickly.

  • Jim

    The length of time the debt can be collected varies greatly from state to state. The age of the debt and judgements can have a big impact depending on the state and other factors depending on where the person lives.

    I’ll pick Pennsylvania for example. A judgment is valid for 20 years, but loses standing if not refilled every 5 years. Whereas in neighboring New Jersey judgments are valid for 20 years after filing with no further action required by the creditor.

    It can be very dangerous for someone to just assume because the debt is old it’s not valid.

  • When you get a notice like this, or a suspicious email, NEVER call the number in the message! Go to the billing on your account, assuming you are actually doing business with the company, and call that number. The company will also want to know if scamming is being done in their name and using their logo.

  • sirwired

    If no lawsuit was filed (certainly no evidence of that in this case; I’m pretty sure if there was an outstanding judgement, the notice would have mentioned such a thing), and the alleged debt is from 2003 (with no acknowledgement or payment since then), then in no state is it collectible.

  • deemery

    The laws on debt collecting should be well known to any company trying to collect. There’s no excuse for ‘non-conforming’ notices.

  • Joe

    I used to get calls out of the blue from someone claiming to work for Comcast and their collection department telling me I owed money on my account. Generally I would hang up and call the main customer service line to verify that in fact my account was up to date. If I were a Time Warner or Cox customer, this would be an easy scam to spot, but being with the company they claim to represent, the only way I’ve found of actually getting to the bottom of the issue is calling the company directly and not speaking with the person on the other end of the line, despite their claims and threats.

  • BillCCC


  • EvilEmpryss

    Just FYI, my local gas and power company post overdue notices on the doors like this. As does the city if you violate an ordinance. Don’t know how paying someone to walk around to all the houses on the list and hang stuff on the doorknob is cheaper than a stamp and an envelope, but there it is.

  • Mike Z

    One thing that SHOULD have been mentioned in the story as a way to prevent one from being scammed if you have done business with the company… Do not call the number on the tag or letter, contact the company directly through a known good phone number and speak with someone in billing. If the debt is legit or even if the company has it on their books then they will know and they will know who to refer you to.
    For example, i’ve gotten notices left on my apartment door and I grab an old bill to see if the contact phone numbers match. in either event, I will call the number listed on the actual bill and speak with someone I know for sure is with the company.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Excellent advice!

  • jmiller45

    thanks for the advice about googling the phone number. the first thing I would have done is go to Bright House in person. I never heard of a collection agency not having to disclose their company name.

  • Good advice. Yes, I should have mentioned that in the story. Thank you.

  • Mike Z

    I’ve found out about collection attempts by looking at my credit report. on several occasions I’ve found errors and have fought to have them fixed. Incorrect past addresses, false past due balances, etc. Even now i am fighting with one agency because they have me reported as past due on an account even though the account holder claims there is no record of ever being past due.

  • Harry Baxter

    Of course it’s a scam, and why would you call a number on the hang tag when you get the legitimate Brighthouse number on your monthly bill?

  • Harry Baxter

    It means the kind of tag that you hang over the door knob in a hotel to order morning breakfast or to tell the Maid “Do Not Disturb”.


    never pay a collection agency… only pay the company directly

  • Kurt Akemann

    Not a scam, but a very poor effort on Bright House’s part.

  • EvilEmpryss

    If a bill has been sent to collections, many companies won’t deal with you any more. They’ve charged it off their accounts and closed the account it’s associated with so they can’t and won’t take your money. Once it’s gone to collections, it’s too late to play nice with the company.

  • NakinaAce

    Bright House has no customer service. They very often don’t answer their own phone lines. It is only because of the monopoly granted by local government that all these over priced poorly performing companies can continue to exist. I very much look forward to the day when all of these services can be delivered via the airwaves and we waive goodbye to these scoundrels and especially Bright House and Time Warner.

  • DChamp56

    “He was employed by a collection agency that he declined to name” should have been enough to just hang up.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I wonder what happens when a hanger gets put on the wrong door by mistake and a current Bright House customer gets hit up for hundred of dollars for some decade-old bill? With the contact not even actually being at Bright House. This is a PR disaster just waiting to happen. I’m frankly amazed that any competent manager would sign off on anything that was operated in this manner. I’ve also never heard of collection agencies chasing an address rather than a person.

  • Jim

    That’s why you have to be careful because in some states certain responses to these older debts can be construed as acknowledgment you owe it and then it becomes collectible even after all that time.

  • emanon256

    I voted no. This was not a scam, it was an attempt to collect debt, and the agency used the last known address.

    But suppose I had lived in this residence in 2003 and was a longtime
    Bright House subscriber. Then things might have gone much differently.
    Like so many consumers who are concerned about having a good credit
    score and paying every bill on time, I might have reflexively coughed up
    the $440.20 without asking questions, which is exactly what this
    collection agency would have wanted.

    If you had been a customer and lived there and paid your bills, you wouldn’t have been sent to collection, and even if the previous resident was, you could have checked your current bill to see your balance. Its a shame the previous residents didn’t pay. And the reason for the door hangar was the didn’t have a good number, and if they debtor had ignored the bill this long, they would have also ignored the mail, so it was an attempt to try and get them to contact the collection agency. Also, it could be that the current resident knows the location of the debtor, but won’t open the debtors mail.

    I have never worked for a collection agency, but I have hired a few to work for me. I will admit that some of them cross the line, which is not okay, butt he majority don’t, and yet everyone hates them. Please don’t blame the collection agency or refer to them as scams, blame the people who don’t pay their bills. Not only do these people this get the collection agencies going, but they also make your bill higher.

  • emanon256

    The current Bright House customer should call the number on their bill, not the hangar, to verify the charge. When the agencies don’t know the person, they go to the last known address, in many cases the current residents know where the previous residents are. The address doesn’t owe, the person does. When you buy debt for pennies on the dollar, and 10% of current residents know where the last resident is now, its not only worth it, its a common practice.

  • JewelEyed

    Both sides, perhaps? A photo would be helpful.

  • JewelEyed

    Are there postage paid envelopes in them? If there are, fold up the notice you received after carefully sliding glitter inside the paper. When someone goes to open it, bang, glitter everywhere. See how many more of them you get. I’ve also torched a spammy letter I received and returned the cold ashes in the postage paid envelope.

  • EvilEmpryss

    That’s what I heard, though I cannot verify that it is correct for certain. If you even say that you *might* owe the bill, you’re either on the hook for it or restarting the clock on the statute of limitations. My sister made a single payment on a ten year old debt and then found out that if she hadn’t made any payments at all they couldn’t have forced her to do so, but now that she acknowledged it she was on the hook for the whole amount plus their fees. I’m not saying that it’s right to welch on your debts, but if you’re going to, make sure you know the collection laws for where you live.

  • emanon256

    In most states the statute of limitations is only a positive defense and only valid in court. So agencies can try all they want, and even sue. The defendant must bring it up in court as their defense. Also, some states statue of limitations are as of the last contact, so if they can verify they spoke to the actual person, the date is reset. Other states it is as of the last payment/charge. So getting the debtor to pay even $1 resets it. Many will pay $1 to get you off their back for a while.

    When I worked in A/R we had many debtors who were past the statute of limitations, if we were able to verify they had the means to pay the debt, we would file in small claims. In most cases they never showed to present their defense and we got a default judgement.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I had one of these affixed to my door saying that I “must call immediately” because I was “deliquent” (spelled wrong) on an “internet bill.”

    So, I called the phony baloney 877 number and spoke to a woman who asked my name and address. I gave those. Then she wanted my date of birth. I said, “Why?” She said to “verify” the account. Nope. Not giving you that lady. Not having you open credit cards in my name or try to steal my identity.

    At this point, I asked her what company I owed money to. She said she wasn’t at liberty to say. I cussed her out and hung up.

    One of my neighbors got a photo of the guy leaving the “notices” on people’s doors. We tracked his license plate and reported him to the cops but no one cares. Apparently distributing scam-related materials isn’t a crime worth investigating.

  • emanon256

    Stamps are pricy, even bulk male. Its much cheaper to pay someone minimum wage to walk around and hang notices, especially if they are all in the same city.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Contact your local news station. Most have a consumer awareness section and I bet they will find it worth investigating.

  • Bonnie Fraser

    I had a collection agency tell me “it’s only $200 just pay it” I responded “it’s only $200 right it off” Every time I asked for proof of the debt nothing came from them. Until they sold the account again…..

  • Mel65

    What made me pause and think it’s a scam is the apparent lack of a name and/or account number and/or address on the door hanger. If I get something that just says implies “occupant owes XYZ” I’m going to ignore it and assume it’s a scam. If it’s a legit debt, they know who owes it and it should be addressed to “Mr. Chris Elliott” stating you owe blah blah. If they are simply hoping whoever lives at that address will freak out and pay the claim without question, then it’s a scam, even if someone at some point lived there and ran up the bill.

  • Mel65

    I agree with most of what you said, but what bothers me is the lack of a debtor’s name on the notice. That, to me, implies they’re kinda hoping to maybe trap the current resident into paying a debt that may not be theirs… that basically the collection agency doesn’t care if the people who pay are really the people who owe.

  • emanon256

    That’s a good point. And I hope someone wouldn’t just pay it without verifying they owe it, though I think most people who owe money know they owe it.

    One of the reasons names are often left off collection notices, is because, in my experience, people who don’t pay their bills often hop around from relative to friend to relative’s houses. If we send a letter to Jim at an address, it will get tossed without even being looked at. If we send it to Resident or Home Owner, it will get looked at, and whomever looks at it will call and say, “leave me alone, you want Jim and he moved to such-and-such address.” It’s not meant to trick the wrong person into paying, it’s meant to find the location of the right person, and it works very well. Of course in many cases, it goes to someone who has no idea who owes the money, and they assume they are being scammed.

  • Mel65

    We changed our phone number about 10 years ago and within a couple of days started getting collection calls for the previous owners of that number, whose names I naturally didn’t know. I have to admit I was taken aback the first time I answered and the caller asked to “speak with one of the Hookers.”

  • MikeInMI

    I’m not sure we should have even used Bright House’s name on this as I’m guessing Bright House had nothing to do with this.

  • redragtopstl

    We had similar problems with the previous owner of our current home. We kept getting collection letters for her, but since we didn’t know where she had moved we couldn’t forward them. So we returned some and eventually started trashing them. (The upside, however, was that a nearby horse racing track sent a schedule with discount admission coupons to our address [but the previous owner’s name] every season until this past year — and we moved here in 1996.) The kicker was that about 3 mo. after we’d moved in, there was a knock on the door late one night. I slept through it, but hubby told me that he answered the door to find a local cop and a repo guy on the porch, ready to haul off her car.

    (Hubby, BTW, was in business credit & collections for 40+ yrs. before he retired last summer, so he knows every slimy trick in the book. And he would likely call BS on this Bright House maneuver.)

    Seems our house seller was in very deep doo-doo financially. A week after we committed to buy the house, our realtor called with the news that the seller was being foreclosed on by her lender. (What did she expect, since she hadn’t made a payment in over a year? And the idiot lenders wouldn’t allow us to negotiate with them to take over the mortgage.) Plus, we were getting mailings from various casinos in Las Vegas & Lake Tahoe. So: foreclosed house, car about to be repo’d, letters from collection agencies re: credit card bills, and probably a gambling addiction? Sounds like the beginning of “99 Problems” to me …

  • MissFitz88

    Wow! They stiffed us on the property taxes as well. Luckily we live in a small enough city that the red tape is almost non-existent. PEOPLE!!

  • Hello Chris,
    I am the Forums Manager for Bright House Networks. Please reach out to me at BHNtechXpert@mybrighthouse.com when you get a moment to discuss the recent experience you referenced above or if you prefer our Social Care Manager Ryan has also reached out to you via Twitter DM. Thank you…

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Door hangers to collect bills? Ridiculous. Throw them away.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    But doesn’t going to the last known address typically mean mail? That way it’s crystal clear who actually owes the money. I’ve never heard of a generic door hanger being used that featured the logo of the business, particularly not in regards to this old of a bill. That is absolutely asking for problems particularly for something as widely used as cable where the odds of hitting a current customer with a miss would be very high.

    Relying on door hangers to target specific addresses is a dicey proposition unless the collection agency happened to be local and had their own employees doing it. The businesses that typically do door hangers are accustomed to canvasing an entire neighborhood, not hitting individual houses, and they pay the people doing the hanging almost nothing. It’s typically high school-aged kids.


    Nope,… never pay a collection company. Period.

  • Alia Naffouj

    Actually the hospital I dealt with had sent a bill to a collection agency and when I called to pay it they wanted to charge me an additional fee to pay it. At that moment I hung up, called the hospital back and said if they wanted me to pay the bill they would take it from me directly or not get paid at all. They took my payment and the account was settled. That is my only experience with an overdue bill (thought I had paid it
    all) and if it happens again I will certainly not pay the collection agency,
    only the company itself as that is the only way I feel it is 100% paid and
    acknowledged by the company.

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