Why is Dish still trying to collect from me?

Will Leeper owes Dish money, but not the $352 it’s trying to collect. Why won’t it back off?

Question: I recently received a phone call from a company called Diversified Consultants about a debt I owed Dish Network for my satellite TV service. I owe Dish about $74, but it was trying to collect more than $300 from me. I requested a statement of debt be mailed to me at my correct address.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines. The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Since that time, Diversified has continued calling me almost daily. I have stopped answering the calls. Today, I received another call and decided to answer. I asked if the statement had been sent, and a representative said they “do not send letters.”

I cited 15 USC 1692, the section of federal law that deals with debt collection, and a representative changed her tune, claiming a letter had been sent on Nov. 29. I had been first contacted on Nov. 5. The law is clear that a dunning letter must be sent within five days of the initial contact.

I told the representative that I would be forwarding my complaint to my state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. After researching this issue, it appears Diversified Consultants regularly uses these tactics, and in so doing, violates federal law. Since then, I’ve received a letter from Diversified saying I still owe $352, which is confusing. I owe Dish Network $74. Can you help me get Dish to clarify this? — Will Leeper, Waldron, Ark.

Answer: Diversified Consultants (DCI) should have sent you an itemized bill immediately, as required by law. In its defense, Diversified’s records do not indicate you asked for an itemized bill. I guess it didn’t record the call or maybe it did record the call and accidentally deleted it.

DCI, which describes itself as a “full service” collection agency, claims it has a reputation for its well-trained agents, according to its website. You’d think that, as part of that outstanding training, it would teach them the finer points of federal law. You can find a helpful summary on the Federal Trade Commission website.

Here’s the full text of the applicable federal law.

I’m impressed that you were able to cite chapter and verse of federal law to the debt collector. But I shouldn’t be. You’ve been a volunteer advocate for this site for the past several years.

DCI has quite a rap sheet. Once you realized who you were dealing with, it wasn’t hard to figure out your next steps: contacting the Arkansas attorney general and the feds.

DCI, which either received the wrong information from Dish or came up with a wrong number for your debt, tried to fix the problem after it heard from the regulators you’d contacted. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it continued to demand the wrong amount.

I contacted Dish for some clarification. The company stopped its collection efforts and restored your account without charging you more, which is an unexpectedly generous resolution.

Should Dish have dropped its collection efforts?

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Update (noon): Leeper asked me to post this letter, in the interests of clarifying some of the questions.

2014-12-12_-_Complaint_14-04546_Diversified_Consul

45 thoughts on “Why is Dish still trying to collect from me?

  1. Well, I am on the opposite side of the fence today. Usually I’m writing as a moderator or as an official of this site. Today however, I am going to be writing as the LW.

    In my opinion, no Dish should have charged me, I owed them the $74, and was more than willing to pay that amount. I simply wanted answers as to where $74 turned into $352, Dish took the liberty of zeroing the balance.

    I will also add that the Dish representative that contacted me referenced my “attorney general complaint.” And not anything to do with Chris, so I’m not even 100% sure where the resolution originated.

    For those of you interested, $74 became $352 because of unreturned equipment fees, and Dish didn’t loose any money on this matter. I was assured that they would get their money from Diversified Consultants.

    1. Since we get the unique opportunity to grill the LW…

      How long did you owe the money? What happened that you didn’t just pay the $74 when it was initally owed?

      Glad to see the zeroed out the balance.

      1. I never received the statement from Dish. I switched from my rural route to a PO box, and I failed to inform them. I had temporarily disconnected the service prior to all of this.

        1. Everyone should be aware that these kinds of “unreturned equipment charge” collections happen ALL THE TIME.

          It’s a scam, and I’d like to see a full article on it. If you go read the YELP reviews for any cable or satellite TV company you will see they do this regularly.

          I found out because it happened to me.

          I was paying for my son’s cable TV in Phoenix. When he moved to a new apartment, Cox Cable said they didn’t serve that area. I asked how to get the box back to them, and they sent a guy out to his new place…NOT to pick it up, but to deliver him a self-addressed postage-paid box. Hmmm…seems mighty suspicious. Why not just take it?

          So my son put it in the box and mailed it. End of story? HA!

          Several months later my husband and I were trying to buy a new house, and we were declined for the mortgage…because my credit had dropped from absolutely perfect to something in the 600’s! Why? Because Cox Cable says they never got the box, and sent my account to a collections agency for the $174 unreturned equipment fee. And this was the FIRST I was hearing of it.

          No bill. No phone calls. Nothing. Just…BOOM, credit ding. When I attempted to clear up the problem through Cox, they refused to discuss it with me because it was sent to collections.

          Now here’s where it gets weird — I contacted the collections agency and explained the situation…and she agreed with me that my case had been handled poorly and promptly cleared the account! My credit is now back to normal. Oh, and we got the house, and moved in over Christmas.

          Who has ever heard of a collections agency doing the right thing? 🙂

          Anyway, so I went online I found dozens of similar reports of Cox Cable doing the exact same thing…and charging the exact same price. But most of these people had no choice but to pay it to get their credit cleared.

          It’s a scam.

          1. Interesting post because I’d always wondered about that. I’ve had to turn old cable boxes back in but it’s always seemed like they care way more about the equipment inside the house than the outside. The house next to mine was a rental for a number of years and it seemed like every new tenant either signed with a totally different dish company or the equipment had changed, because their side yard was this huge pile of dishes. No company ever collected their stuff and the landlord made me happy by eventually throwing all the junk away. I wondered if anybody would ever get grief over that.

          2. We’ve got TWO old dishes rusting in the back yard at our new house. One of them is Dish Network’s. We called them…they don’t want it.

            My understanding is that these unreturned equipment charges are usually for cable boxes and DVR boxes, not so much the satellites. I think they are able to re-use those boxes or something. Or maybe not…maybe they toss them when they get them back, and the whole thing is just set up to scam people out of these fees.

          3. My dad recently moved from San Diego to NJ and we don’t have Cox in our area. Exhausted from packing, we checked into a hotel and lo and behold, there was a Cox technician in the lobby! I asked him where the nearest place was to return a box and he said we could give them to him. I was skeptical but we called to confirm the equipment had been turned in and it was! Lucky us.

          4. You are lucky indeed. I still find it suspicious that they would send a guy out to my son’s apartment to deliver a mailing box, but he wouldn’t take the unit himself. Hmmmmm…..

        2. So, how long passed before a collections agency became involved? From your description it sounds like it must have been fairly quick but my experience has always been that companies try to get in touch with you for a good while before resorting to that since they get the full amount rather than just a percentage like if an agency collects. Maybe they expedite that process when mail starts getting returned?

          1. In my case with Dish, mentioned below, I got one bill, called Dish to argue it, and within a week got a letter from a collection agency.

          2. Weird. Collection agencies typically get to keep a huge portion of what they collect so in your case they’d be settling for like a 50% or more reduction in the bill after a single week? Everywhere I’ve ever been has worked pretty hard to collect on their own with collections being the last resort before totally writing it off the books. But nobody writes debt off that quickly.

            And in your example if you called right away after getting the bill were you even delinquent yet by the time the collection agency got involved? That close to the billing date you’d think they’d run into all sorts of issues where the payment was in the mail to the company while the collection agency’s letters were going out.

          3. I did make it clear to dish that I wouldn’t pay the extra month. So maybe they immediately placed me in collections. That was my only thought. And 50% seems steep, the agencies I used to use got 20% for first placement and 30% for second placement. Of course I always made every effort in house before placing an account too.

          4. When I signed up with Dish 4 years ago, they required a credit card on file. I generated a single use card for the startup fees (knowing they would keep it on file) and when they terminated my service and were unable to collect off of that card, it went to collections within a week.

      1. They charge for the receiver when it isn’t returned; however, it is hard to return the equipment when one never received their return label.

    2. Apologies if this comes across a little harsh, but…I cut my DirecTV off one month ago today; how could you possibly not know where the extra charges were coming from?

      When I called to disconnect they told me about 5x that I needed to return the equipment immediately or if have to pay for the equipment. I later got an email warning me to return it immediately or I’d have to pay. About a week after they sent me this giant prepaid shipping box….to return the equipment immediately.

      Also, if you were more than happy to pay the $74, why didn’t you just pay it? They just didn’t turn off your account and instantly send you to collections. They turn off your account, attempt to get their equipment back and then attempt to collect final payment. When they can’t collect, then they turn it over to collections.

      I have a feeling there’s a lot of missing information from this story.

      1. I dumped Time Warner and they never discussed how much a fee would be if I did not return the equipment within x number of days. I returned it the first day I had an opportunity to as their center was only open 9-5 monday through Friday. Even after returning the equipment (weeks later) I actually got a bill claiming I owed them for the equipment I never returned. So I can totally see it happening.

        1. One of my few positive experience with AT&T was returning their equipment after canceling the service. Just took everything in to a UPS store, thumped it down on the counter, and the guy there knew just what to do… he scooped everything up, handed me a receipt, and sent me on my way. No muss; no fuss. 🙂

      2. I had temporarily suspended the service using what they call “Dish Pause.” With the service you pay $5/month, and your account remains active, but you have no programming.

        In essence, I didn’t disconnect the service.

        If you want any other info, just ask me, I’ll be happy to answer any questions. The main issue I had all along was the collections agency not following the law.

      1. Diversified agreed to drop the charge because they had violated the law, and in writing agreed to notify Dish. When they did, Dish sent the account to a different collection agency. That’s when Chris got involved for me.

    3. You seem to be pretty knowledgeable about the FDCPA… you know you can get $1,000 per violation, correct? Personally, I’d sue the debt collector in small claims court and get my 1k out of them. I used to be a collector and I did collections law for several years. I absolutely hate people who don’t follow the law. There’s no excuse for it. What they did goes way beyond the underlying Dish Network problem.

      They didn’t send the letter until 11/29 (so they say) but called you on 11/5 – $1,000 violation.

      They didn’t send you the validation letter as requested – $1,000 violation.

      They kept calling after you asked them not to – $1,000 violation.

      Go after them.

      1. I did not actually know that there were penalties in place for violations. THANK YOU. As you can see in the noon update to this story, they admitted in writing that it was a “systemic error.”

  2. Ah, Dish. My favorite company.

    1) Lock you into a two year contract.

    2) Drop channels from your lineup, due to a contract dispute. Maybe replace them with channels you don’t care about, but most of the time don’t replace them at all, and in all cases continue to charge the same price, or:

    3) Raise the monthly fee during your contract term, but if you want to cancel instead, they’ll want to charge you a termination fee.

    Just want to add my two cents, and confirm that the only practical way to deal with these issues, with this company, is to send snail mail to attorney general, and a few other places.

    Then they’ll stop harassing you.

    Helpful tip when dealing with Dish: never give them your credit card number. They’ll want a credit card number when you sign up, give them one of yours that’s next to expire. Any card they have on file they’ll try to charge for whatever cockamamie fees they’ll come up with, and when you dispute, they’ll claim their terms of service allows them too. The easiest way to avoid the headache is to simply make sure they never have a current, valid, credit card number on file for you. Always pay their bill through your bank, never through their web site.

    1. Where I live, a company can continue to charge your credit card if you have agreed to a payment plan (a gym, for example) even if the credit expires; even if you cancel the card. This happened to me – it took me two years to prove I had cancelled the service, in person, in writing – and another 5 years to get the debt off my credit report.

      1. I don’t know where you live, but this is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing, insofar as it relates to the period after the credit card expires, or gets reported lost or stolen, or gets cancelled.

        I’m 100% certain that this is the story that the gym’s customer service will try to convince you is true. I can easily believe that this is what they told you when you called to complain after you saw the charges.

        But I distinctly recall reading dire warnings, in the past, from both credit card companies, and various merchants, to make sure you update your credit card on file with merchants that auto-debit it regularly. Otherwise the debits are going to fail, and you’ll have a mess on your hands to deal with.

        My ISP starts sending me notices every time my credit card’s expiration comes up, reminding me to update it. They wouldn’t do that, if they could simply continue to charge it.

        But I also recall, at the back of my mind, some story from Mr. Elliott some time ago that had a component of someone continuing to charge someone’s credit card in this situation; as I recall there’s some kind of a new “service” that some credit companies and banks now have that automatically notifies merchants when your card is renewed, or changed. How convenient.

        The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

        1. Yes there is a service that all the major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, AND Discover) offer called something along the line of Account Updater (actual name varies by company). This service notifies the merchants that subscribe to it when your expiry date changes, you get a replacement card with a new card number on it for any reason, or your address changes. Most major companies that have repeating payment use this service. Many smaller companies don’t so the notice to keep things up to date is valid.

          If you owe a legitimate charge to a merchant (recurring or not), canceling your card does not mean you will not see that charge on a future bill. This is noted in your card agreement. Of course the definition of a valid charge may differ between you and the merchant charging you.

        2. After the Target credit card fiasco, I had to notify several companies of my new credit card number. I did not, however, notify those I did not wish to continue to draft my bank account. Visa very kindly gave those companies my new number and the draft amounts again began to show up on my statement. I think the best thing to do is notify the credit card company of those companies you do not wish to use anymore.

        3. Like others, I have been billed even after getting a new card. In fact, I’ve even asked my bank how they can keep billing me when I’ve gotten a new card. i was told I have to cancel the service with the other company and that any charges that come through are considered legit unless I then file a fraud claim/dispute.

    2. Citibank offers a Temporary CC # you an get where you can set the expiration date or the maximum amount that can be spent against it. Charges go directly on your “real” credit card. I do that for XM (whoops, “SiriusXM”) each time. They can’t charge my regular CC, nor do they have the #.

      1. Actually, Citibank has an application on their website or for Android (and I presume iPhone) where you can get a one-shot number any time you want it and use that to pay for anything anywhere. I’ve used this quite a few times where I couldn’t be 100% sure a website was secure. Most places I deal with now never see any credit card number, not even the one-shots. Oh, there’s also a small application for your regular computer to get the number.

      2. Bank of America’s version of the same thing (at least on their Visa cards) is called ShopSafe. I use it all the time for any service that has an auto-renew feature that you can’t opt out of, such as Sirius XM, or for any online purchase where I’m wary of the security of my credit card info being eventually stolen.

        I would first negotiate a good deal from Sirius, use a ShopSafe number to pay it, then at the end of that year they’d attempt to charge that credit card on file for the full boat renewal price that almost nobody has to pay if they call in and ask for something better. Instead they’d get a rejection from my bank and were forced to contact me by email every year and ask me to call in with a new credit card number to renew. I’d call in, threaten to quit, and the agent would transfer me to a customer retentions specialist. They’d offer me another good deal for the next year and I gave them a new temporary ShopSafe number. Lather rinse repeat. During one such call the retention agent actually gave me their direct number to use the next time, rather than call in on the standard 800 number.

        I gotta say that Bank of America has never passed any charges over to my regular credit card number if it goes against the ShopSafe info I set up originally, and that’s a good thing.

  3. Good job of the OP to know the rules and report the collection agency. As someone who used to work in AR and used quite a few collection agencies, I like to think I only used good ones. I did take customer complaints seriously and did fire an agency once.

    I myself had a bad experience with dish. I canceled my service one month prior to the end of my contract per the rules. I returned the equipment, paid my final bill, did everything they said, and then they billed me for a month of service after my contract and service ended. I even went back and counted all of my payments, this was an additional payment. I argued with them, and they wouldn’t do anything. I was finally sent to collection, and at that point just paid ti to get them off my back and make sure my credit didn’t get a ding. I am not a fan of Dish.

    1. We just had the exact same thing happen with Verizon, when we moved into our new house in December.

      Unlike my Cox story (see above), in this case we went ahead and paid it. They insisted they’d disclosed this to us when we cancelled, and I couldn’t find proof that they didn’t. So I chalked it up to my own fault for not being more diligent in figuring out all the ways Verizon would try to screw me. I made sure I had proof of mailing the box back (including taking actual photos of me dropping it off at the post office in the pre-paid box they sent me). I kept copies of all of my correspondence to them. But they insisted this was disclosed in recorded phone calls, which of course they wouldn’t give me.

      So this time I paid up. Another lesson learned.

  4. One more bit of advice. If you get contacted by a collection agency and you do not owe the money, or you dispute the money and aren’t getting anywhere, send them a letter stating that per the FDCPA you request they no longer contact you. They legally can no longer contact you. If they do, report them. However, if you do owe the money, and they have proof, they can take you to court and/or ding your credit. But at least they leave you alone. Of course, if the debt is placed with another agency, it will start over.

    I had to do this with AIG once. I bought insurance through them, and pre-paid $450 for all 6 months, which was the rate they quoted me. I then got a bill for $300 more, saying my policy changed to $750. I called and they said that my rate changed because they updated their calculations after I paid, but before the policy went into affect. So I canceled, and stuck with my current carrier for $550, as this was still all before the policy went into affect. I even got a refund from AIG for $450. Then, out of the blue, I got a bill for $500 from AIG. I called and they said it was a fee for cancelling my policy. I argued, and they kept coming up with excuse after excuse. There was no mention of this fee in my contract. They finally sent me to collections. I disputed it, and got a statement showing that I owed the money, and that it was an “Adjustment” on my account. So I sent my letetr certified mail and never heard back. I also never got sued. I think it woudl be hard to prove their case.

    1. Even though letters are better, they aren’t really allowed to contact you by phone even if you tell them not to orally. The good agencies follow the practice of not contacting no matter how they are informed not to contact. It’s just too risky.

  5. knowledge is power good for you.
    Will they change their cockroach ways of dealing with brilliant consumers ? Emphatically not.
    Did the banks, the hedge funds and the the suits on wall street, the credit card company’s go to jail when the market crashed in 2008 and not one person did a minute in prison??? Emphatically no. They did get billions in bonuses for failing terribly at their jobs.

  6. Whatever you do, if you owe some money but dispute the amount, do not think they will “go away”. I got into a flap with a local test provider because I was overcharged for an Xray … I think the amount was $37 and they wouldn’t correct the billing. They finally went away … NOT. Six years later refinancing the house … there it was a nasty ding on my otherwise excellent credit report. I was absolutely steamed but could do nothing by that point.

    1. I think a well informed banker would get the message and let it go. Other banks want the higher interest you have to pay.

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