I’m warning you now that this may be a lengthy post that is filled with illogical thinking – hopefully none of it by me. But I promise that this is a true story.
It all started in October of 2004. I needed some stamps. So I went to the local … you know where you go…the place you go to get stamps. We’ll just call it “OOPS”. To pay for the stamps, I wrote a check for $2.60. I left OOPS with stamps in hand and hadn’t thought about that purchase again.
That is, until August 2008, when I received a threatening collections notice from a debt collection agency. Their letter stated that the $2.60 check had bounced, and not only did I still owe them the $2.60, but I also owed them a $25 return fee. I was completely bewildered and confused. First, I didn’t understand how the check had bounced and second I was a little surprised that OOPS would send a collections agency after me for such a small amount.
TOTAL SPENT BY OOPS SO FAR: $0.42 to mail me the collections notice
At that point I went into investigative mode. I’ve never had a check bounce before (thankfully) so I was utterly bewildered how it happened. For once, my pack rat tendency paid off because I still had copies of all of my old checks. It turns out in 2004, I was still banking with my previous bank. But I was still confused because I wouldn’t have closed the account with pending checks. I called the old bank and asked them about the canceled check. Why was it returned? A incredibly helpful lady dug through computer files and reported back. My account had in fact been closed before the check had been deposited. How did something like that happen? Well, because OOPS didn’t try to deposit the check until June 3, 2008. Yup, you read that right – 2008! Well after I had moved bank accounts. For some reason, OOPS held onto the check for almost 4 years before depositing it.
Once I discovered this, surely, I thought, surely someone would agree that OOPS was “slightly” at fault here and would waive the return fee. I had no problem with paying the $2.60, but I certainly thought it was unfair for me to have to pay a return check fee because OOPS waited four years to try to deposit the check.
I tried calling the collections agency. The operator tried to do some quick talking, asking me if I agreed to the debt and then quickly asked how I would pay. When I explained the situation to her, she said that she couldn’t do anything to change it, according to them, I owed the money. Buggers. I called OOPS Accounting and was told that since it had gone to a collections agency, there wasn’t anything she could do. She suggested that I send a letter appealing the debt, which I did, along with a brand spanking new $2.60 check.
Several weeks go by and I receive a letter saying that they did not accept my check because it wasn’t for the full amount of the debt.
TOTAL SPENT BY OOPS SO FAR: $0.84
I called the collections agency again, to try to talk to someone reasonable. To try to talk to someone who agreed that OOPS was responsible for the $25 return check fee because they didn’t deposit the check within a reasonable period of time. No one in their right mind would think that four years is reasonable, right? Right? Wrong. They insisted that I owed the full amount. Finally I dropped the “L” word – lawyer – and they immediately clammed up.
I had to do something. Their collections notice threatened to notify credit agencies about my “debt” and no one, I mean no one messes with my credit. I’ve worked hard for my mysterious credit score rating. So I called in the big guns, I did. My attorney called the collections agency – they claimed they never received my appeals letter, although they did have the check that came with it. (Hmm…interesting…so you got the check but never got the letter? Did you think the letter was wrapping paper or something?) My attorney drafted the most amazing letter, complete with phrases like “it is hard to understand the efforts that are being expended to collect such a ridiculously small sum” and “It [OOPS] has no one to blame but itself for this situation.” The letter was sent, and we waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, last week – as in September 2010, there was a response. OOPS had written a letter and said they agreed to my offer to pay $2.60. They also politely included my check of $2.60 and requested a new check for $2.60. Ironically, that check would still have been paid had they tried to deposit it, but I understand….They’ve had THAT check for 2 years and they didn’t want to make another stupid mistake.
TOTAL SPENT BY OOPS TO COLLECT $2.60 FROM ME: At least $1.28. Maybe more because the letter to my attorney might have gone through FedEx.
I think there are a couple of things that just boggle my mind.
- Why would OOPS hold on to my check for almost 4 years before depositing it? Did it fall behind a desk? Was there a phat stack of checks hidden in a filing cabinet? I have no idea.
- Once they did receive the returned check, why did no one look at the date on the check and think “Oh snap! This check is almost 4 years old and well beyond the reasonable period of time within which checks should be deposited. Our bad.”
- Even if they didn’t realize it at the time, wouldn’t you have thought that when I brought that fact to their attention, that someone might have taken on some accountability on OOPS’s end and at least agreed to the $2.60?
- And more importantly, why didn’t someone at OOPS realize that they would probably spend 100 times more on postage, supplies, and man hours to try to recover the measly $2.60. LOGIC, people. LOGIC!
It amazes me how through the whole process, it just seemed like no one at OOPS or the collections agency used any sort of logic or reasoning. And after three checks, 6 years, and lots of letters going back and forth, I think this case is finally closed. OOPS will get a new check of $2.60 (which was my original offer all along), which hopefully they will deposit before 2014.