I will be the first to admit that I really screwed up in my early 20s. Lots of credit card debt. No cares. That ended at 26 when I found myself with $40,000 of medical debt after my gall bladder, in all its hereditary glory, died a magnificent death.
That’s a story for a different time.
While the medical bills were (mostly) taken care of, it sent the rest of my debt into a nosedive. I managed to get it somewhat under control with a debt consolidation program, but that went tits up when I lost my job (four days before I found out I was pregnant.) That’s another other story.
Needless to say, my credit is in utter shambles. I have spent the better part of my late 20s and all of my 30s (so far) paying off bits and pieces when I could, where I could. It’s very slow going. I’m paying off a several-thousand dollar debt at $25.06 a month. It will take over five years, and I’ve been working on it for over a year. The point is: I’m doing it. I’m not trying to hide, or shove the blame on anyone else. I got myself into this trouble, and I’m trying to do what I can to get out of it.
Which is why, when got a phone call on January 30 of this year, I panicked.
I was at Dr. W’s house. I’ve kept on helping him a few times a week in the morning, while Charlotte’s at school. I tend to not answer calls from phone numbers I don’t recognize – a bad habit, but I figure if it’s important, they’ll leave a message. They did. It was a process server, looking to verify my address to serve court papers on one of the debts. I was being taken to court on civil proceedings.
Looking back, that was a sign right off that what happened wasn’t completely on the up and up. I’ve been served papers before, for the same reason. The person didn’t call ahead; rather, they just showed up at my house. And my job. It’s absolutely, utterly humiliating. The important part was: they knew where to find me. This person had my old address, where I’d not lived for almost four years.
In my shock, that didn’t register. Nor did the fact that they wanted me to call the debt collection agency – Walter, Riley, and Associates – to fix it. Why would the process server have that information.
Something about hindsight being 20/20 should go here, I think.
Anyway. I called them. I couldn’t go to court. I didn’t have the money to pay the debt, let alone any accrued court and filing fees. The lady on the other end of the phone was very nice. The first tiny ray of hope. She broke everything down for me, told me the full cost of debt after all the years of late fees and charges and all that other bullshit that happens when your account goes to collections was over $1500. Like any sane, rational person, I burst into tears. That may as well have been $15 million.
It would be okay, she said. Let me see if we can work something out for you. While the lady was “working it out”, I did a little bit of research. The company had a website. There was nothing bad about them on a quick Google search – in fact, there was nothing at all about them in a quick Google search.
That should have been the second sign.
The next day, I sent them $100. Over the next two months, I sent them an additional $900. I have an amazing friend named Tim who was kind enough to lend me the money. He didn’t really have it extra, either; with a mortgage and two kids. We set up a plan. I’d pay him back in freelancing for his business at some point in the future. It was a trade. It worked out.
When the final payment cleared, I faxed off the required “please send me a confirmation letter for my files and let the credit bureaus know” paperwork and took a deep breath.
Everyone was right. It was going to be okay.
I never got my confirmation letter.
That should have been the third sign.
On Friday, May 23, I was at Dr. W’s house. He’s taking a trip, and I was helping him get stuff ready. Airline confirmations, that sort of thing. My phone rang. This time, I answered.
It was a process server, looking to verify my address to serve court papers on one of my overdue debts. I was being taken to court on civil proceedings. It was for the account that was supposedly paid off in March.
I called the number that was on the paperwork they had sent me.
I went to the website.
My credit report was never updated. And the $1000 was in the wind.
Needless to say, I was pissed the fuck off.
The rest of the day was spent at the bank. With the police. Fraud reports. Police report. I’m still working through all the phone calls. I still can’t get anyone to talk to me at GE Capital, the original holder of the credit account, so I can find out who they sold the debt to when I defaulted.
I’ve simmered back from a near-boiling over rage to a low, furious burn. I am trying. I am one of a dozen million other people really, honestly trying to put their lives back together. To take care of their business, to take care of their financial future, to create a better life for themselves and their families – current and future.
And there are soulless bastards out there who get their hands on this information and take them for a ride.
Late fees, parking tickets, overdraft charges, and the like? They suck, but I don’t have a problem paying them, theoretically. I call them asshole taxes, because I did something stupid and acted like an asshole, and therefore have to pay the price.
This wasn’t an asshole tax. This was blatant,unrepentant theft.
The bank might be able to get $450 back. Because it took so long for me to learn about the fraud, the filing window had already passed for most of it.
Other than that, it’s a waiting game.
I hate waiting.