Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Dark Side of America

My friend, Tom(a pseudonym) shared a frustratingly familiar story.

"I get a call from someone from Direct TV. He tells me that I owe $397. When I asked him to explain "what for," he said he could not discuss the account with me. I asked to speak to his supervisor.

"Forty-minutes and four transfers later, I was speaking to someone who explained, in a cultured far east accent, that the bill was for equipment not returned." Tom mused.


"I was ready for them this time!" Tom produced a wrinkled certified mail receipt from his wallet. It was dated April 2010.

"You kept it all this time?" I couldn't help but smile.

"Damn sure did." Tom laughed caustically. "When I bought my house, it came up. They would have made me pay it, had I not produced this piece of paper. They were saying that I didn't return the box. But, this showed proof that I did. Someone had signed for it."

"Smart move." I applauded.

"Yeah, but it stayed on my bureau until a couple of years ago!"

Tom was noting the "84 month rule." Any reporting to the credit bureaus, not bankruptcy related, must be deleted at the end of seven years.

Tom's poignant recount brought back a similar experience. In this case, a 78-year-old man with respiratory issues was admitted to an Eastern Kentucky hospital. When checked in, he told the admittance clerk that he would be turning the claim over to Medicare.

Three days later, he was released. The hospital's charge for the services was $4500. The Medicare pricing schedule reduced them to $3200. The man and his wife had an excellent Medicare supplement policy, which picked up co-pays and deductibles.

One month later, the wife received an invoice from the hospital. It was billing the couple the difference: $1300.

Angrily, the woman called their insurance agent, who had sold them the supplemental policy. She was surprised to hear his response.

"Don't pay it." The agent retorted."You don't owe it. The hospital signed a waiver, conforming to Medicare's pricing schedule."

The woman happily called the hospital, letting them know that she didn't intend to pay it. Three months later, she received another call. It was from Midland Credit.

"Yeah, there was this fellow,' the man chimed in, producing a letter from the San Diego based collection agency. "I couldn't understand him very well. He told us we owed $1300. Plus some other fees. I think it all totaled $1694."

"And then?" I had an idea where this was going.

"Well, I was "peeowed" with our insurance guy!" The woman snapped. "He had told us that we didn't owe anything. And now, this Jerry guy, or whatever, from this Midland company said that we owed $1600 and something, but he'd take $1200 and something. That's a lot of money."

"Jerry from New Delhi, as we called him." The man guffawed.

"Did you say something to your insurance man?" I asked.

"We certainly did!" The man continued. "And he said that Jerry was wrong and he would get to the bottom of it. And.."

"He called the hospital." The woman interrupted. "He said he couldn't get through to anyone. Finally, he sent a certified letter to the doctor who had done the treatment."


"The doctor called in the Head of Accounting." The man remembered. "Come to find out, a nine-dollar-an-hour clerk had taken it upon herself to turn the account over to a collection agency."

"What happened then?" I asked, guessing he answer.

"The Head of Accounting didn't even know of the action." The woman picked up the saga. "She called that clerk in, asked her why she had taken the action and she said, "those people said they weren't going to pay." So, I turned them over for collection."

"From what our insurance guy said, both the Doctor and the Head of Accounting were furious that the clerk had turned the account over to a collection agency without first getting clearance. They fired her." The man concluded.

"Yet, all three bureaus are still reporting a $1694 unpaid balance." I sympathized, having experienced Midland previously. "90% of Midland is automation. 99% of their live help is offshore. Even when they learn something is wrong, they do little to correct it."

"These companies know that a $1694 unpaid debt can ruin your credit." The man nodded ruefully. "They figured we'd just pay regardless."

According to Salt Lake City based, Lexington Law, 79% of Americans have at least one error on their credit bureau. 67% have more than one. In most cases, the reporting is either a cell phone, cable company, utility company, municipality or medical provider. In some instances, the amount allegedly owed is less than $50.

An FHA Underwriter, Nancy(a pseudonym)echoed. "When we see a medical on a collection, we do not require a borrower to pay it. But, it noticeably impacts their score. A 625 score versus a 725 score can result in a person paying 12 or 13% versus five or six percent for a car loan.

"These Fortune 500 companies say they are sensitive to these issues. But, they are crying crocodile tears, laughing all the way to the bank!"

One often wonders "how much extra" are Americans are paying for their money, due to artificially lowered credit scores...

It's true that the three major repositories, Trans Union, Equifax and Experian are huge, mostly automated "ivory towers." Access is limited, if not non-existent. Consumer information is stored in India, the Philippines or South America. Even the best of Financial Services professionals find corrections an undaunting task! For the Average American, it's pretty much, "ROTSA RUCK!"

In spring 2018, I broached Kentucky 6th District Aide, Kevin Wysoki on the subject. Congressman, Andy Barr sits on the House Financial Services Committee. It would appear to be the ideal place to start.

Barr was facing an unexpected Midterm challenge from Bernie Sanders surrogate, Amy McGrath. The timing appeared ideal to make light of this horrendous treatment experienced by two of his older, 6th district constituents.

Wysoki listened attentively to my proposal. I am not well acquainted with the young, New Yorker. But, he mentioned that the issue had come up, unexpectedly from then Minnesota Congressman, later Attorney General Candidate, Keith Ellerson.

I am uncertain if the proposal went anywhere. I never heard back from Wysoki.

The proposal included some key points, that if implemented, would correct what some are now calling, "Americas second greatest national problem," only surpassed by the health insurance question.

A. No, non-bankruptcy reports after five years(Currently it's seven years).
B. Reports not allowed for debts under $100
C. No deficiency settlements reported.
D. $1000 fine per line for any satisfied debt settlement not reported 30 days from rectification.
E. 100% preclusion for any and all "offshore" debt recovery agents.

Article "E" may be a bit confusing. Many debt recovery representatives are not stateside. Same holds true for a lot of employees of Fortune 500 companies, ranging from J.P Morgan Chase to A.T & T.

Many of these employees have impeccable credentials. But they are not vetted with the same rigor as those working stateside, in the same capacity. I work in the Financial Services industry. Every two years, I must be fingerprinted. My prints are subsequently sent to the FBI in Washington, D.C., to check for felonies or misdemeanors involving banking, real estate, insurance or securities fraud.

"Jerry from New Delhi" isn't subjected to this kind of scrutiny. BUT, Jerry is inexpensive; $200-$300 per month! From the C.E.O.'s table, "if Jerry screws up, it'll amount to the consumer paying more for his money."

Didn't Donald Trump say that "the system is rigged against average Americans?"

As Tom acidly praised, "The Fortune 500 companies are compromising both accuracy, and the security of Americans, for a buck!"

This is truly, "the dark side of America."

Concerning my proposal to Congressman Barr's aide? Who knows!

Kentucky's 6th District is a mixture of Conservative Populists, Conservative Evangelicals, Traditional Southern Democrats(AKA "blue dogs"), state government workers(Frankfort is in 6th district) and a tiny contingent of mostly transient "Alt lefters," including Amy McGrath, Barr's midterm challenger.

That McGrath lost the midterm by only three points is cause for concern! It reflects a restive constituency.

Like Tom, people are fed up with excuses!

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