Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001 / 13 Teves, 5761
An 8-year-old unpaid bill
DEAR BRUCE: I really try to have good credit. I pay my bills on time and have never had a problem. Recently I applied for a mortgage and found out that there was a bill for a cellular service that I supposedly didn't pay, would you believe, eight years ago. I suppose that I should keep my checks forever, but I didn't.
I know that I had paid that bill, and up until now I have never received so much as a memo. I have had the same address, so it's not a matter of their not being able to find me. This collection agency was extremely rude, and they said that you have to pay us or we are going to screw up your credit. What are my alternatives? -- N.R., via e-mail
DEAR N.R.: If everything is as you have described it, I would tell these people that they are going to have to prove beyond any doubt that this bill was unpaid. If they say that it's up to you to prove that you paid it, I would tell them that would be fine if you had come to me right away -- I would have whipped out the canceled check and that would be the end. It's unreasonable to expect me to keep records for eight years on the off-chance that somebody is going to claim that a bill wasn't paid.
Do not allow yourself to be held hostage for the sake of your credit rating. That's of course what they gamble on. They threaten to louse up your credit and hope that you will fold like a cheap camera. Don't let that happen.
DEAR BRUCE: I took my 4-year-old SUV to the dealer and asked them to listen to the vibrations I get at about 40 miles per hour. I told them that I thought it was a wheel bearing but to please check it out. They came back after they checked it and said "the rear end needed to be rebuilt," and it would cost $1,300. They called and said that the car was ready but they wanted to replace the wheel bearing. I said no. I test-drove the vehicle, and the vibration was still there. They changed the wheel bearing, and, son-of-a-gun, the vibration went away.
I think I've been ripped off. The best they will do is to give me the free wheel bearing, which is peanuts. -- P.G., Minnetonka, Minn.
DEAR P.G.: You raise an interesting point here. If you can get competent testimony that the problem you had was a wheel bearing problem, not a rear end problem, you may have a case in small-claims court. I realize that this requires getting a couple of experts to testify for you, and it may not even be worth the time and effort that takes. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common thing, but on the mechanic's side, there are so many things that you can only find out by trial and error.
In this instance, since you told them that you felt it was a bearing problem, that was the first thing
they should have checked.
DEAR BRUCE: I went to one of these companies that takes your package and puts it in an appropriate box and sends it out by one of the established courier services. I paid them in advance, and that was that.
I found out a week or so later that my package never arrived. I went down to the services office, and they were gone. This was not part of a chain but an independent company, and they are nowhere to be found.
That would not be of great consequence to me, except that I was now told that I can not make a claim with the courier service because I wasn't the shipper, the service was, and they are no longer around. Where do we go from here? -- L.N., via e-mail
DEAR L.N.: You have learned the hard way why it is often not wise to allow these services to ship for you. It is true they and only they can make a claim for the shipment. Having said that, it would seem to me that bringing this situation to the attention of the shipper should result in some kind of change in their policy on this one situation.
You should know that when you ship through a third party, they must make the claim. In most cases that is not a serious problem unless, for example, you were shipping something while on vacation. Let's say that you are in Hawaii, shipping to New Hampshire. If the stuff doesn't come you have to go back to the shipper in Hawaii to make the claim. If it's possible to ship under your own name, please do
Send your questions to JWR contributor Bruce Williams by clicking here. (Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.) Interested in buying or selling a house? Let Bruce Williams' "House Smart" be your guide. (Sales of the book help fund JWR).
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