Copyright 1995 - 2005
My January 19, 1998 dispute letter with my DETAILED explanation of my dispute to Alex Lopez with TBC: If you have a cell phone, you should read this dispute AND your cellular contract.
Update May 4, 1998: Letter from TBC stating I failed to dispute
Update May 18, 1998: Airtel went out of business
Airtel (California Real Estate Cellular) unilaterally changed the terms of my cell phone contract and TBC Collection Agency was attempting to extort over $200 from me (cancellation fee) while violating the California collection laws.
On 12/10/97 TBC Credit Bureau sent me a letter, attempting to collect for California Real Estate Cellular/Air-Tel.
I quote from their letter:
"Unless this account or any portion thereof is disputed in writing within 30 days from receipt of this notice, we will assume this debt to be valid. If disputed, verification will be provided to you."
I didn't receive the mailing until weeks later as I traveled extensively, but then I set aside several hours to compose my Dispute, explaining all details.
Most people would probably just pay those $200 and go on with their lives.
I realize that many people think I'm totally nuts, spending hour after hour dealing with this crap. Many times I DO pay fraudulent charges, to make these vultures go away. $50 here, $200 there ....
But occasionally, I "just say NO!"
I can't claim that it was due to my publication here and elsewhere, but Airtel finally went out of business. If they hadn't, I'd probably still be dealing with those bastards at TBC.
On 6/9/98, I sent my complaint to the California Attorney General's Office, as they are in charge of California collection agencies.
Considering my experiences with the DOC, FTC, HUD and many other government agencies, I expected nothing. As of 2/2001, I have not received a response.
It bothers me tremendously that corporations are licensed to steal.
The worst that ever happens is that they have to give back what they stole (see Transamerica.) The California Department of Corporations had NO PROBLEM with Transamerica's attempt to defraud an East Palo Alto widow out of $15,000 and illegally foreclosing on her home. Profits are sacred.
The US credit reporting system enables Corporate America to extort monies NOT owed by threatening to ruin our credit.
We are guilty until proven innocent.
Apparently consumers have no rights other than to write huge retainer checks to mostly incompetent lawyers.
Corporate America decides who's guilty without ever hiring a lawyer or filing a court action. There is no judge, no jury.
Consumers have to search for an attorney and then write a check for a retainer to prevent Corporate America from destroying our credit rating. That's if we were lucky enough to find a consumer credit attorney with a clue. I haven't found one yet.
Should we actually prevail against the powerful corporate legal department, it won't affect their business practices.
There's not going to be a court order to have all their accounts audited, to reimburse the many other consumers who paid fraudulent charges to preserve their credit rating.
Nobody will go to jail for extortion. Nobody will have a criminal record.
Once the FTC gets many complaints they might investigate and they usually settle for a fine MUCH less than the monies collected. The number of FTC settlements with corporations is staggering, yet corporations continue to break the law and utilize unethical and illegal business practices.
If you incorporate, crime pays!
At the same time, I could steal from a store (a corporation) and when I get caught, the police will search my house. They'll look for other stolen items and return those to their rightful owner.
Assuming that stealing is a felony (don't have any experience there), after getting caught the third time, I'm looking at life in prison.
If you have any information on judgments or settlements relating to credit reporting/collection practices, please post in the BayHouse Forum
My correspondence with the various parties involved:
January 19, 1998 - My DETAILED explanation of my dispute - Read this and your contract if you have a cell phone
Re: California Real Estate Cellular/Air-Tel Debt: 10005664
Dear Alex Lopez,
Please be advised that this account is disputed, via fax to 408-879-0160 on 5/5/97 and mailed certified to Airtel, 2910 South Bascom Ave, San Jose, CA 95124, as evidenced by USPS Domestic Return Receipt P-594-690-691, signed by Melinda Perez on 5/6/97. Airtel did NOT respond, but continued to invoice me until their invoice was returned marked "moved." Subsequently I received your letter dated 12/10/97.
My Airtel invoice dated May 12, 1997 includes the following "Announcement:"
Effective June 1, 1977 and in response to the fraud and cloning policies of Airtel's cellular carriers (Cellular One and GTE Mobilnet), Airtel is modifying the length of time you have to dispute charges on your bill. Beginning with Airtel's invoice to be sent to you in May 1997 and thereafter, you will have ten (10) calendar days from receipt of each month's bill to contact Airtel writing of any inaccurate charges which you wish to dispute, or request to have credited to your account. Your written claims can be mailed to Airtel's offices at 2910 South Bascom Ave., San Jose, CA 95124; or you can send facsimile transmissions to (408) 879-0160. Your written claim will be considered as being received by Airtel as of the postmark on your mailed envelope or the machine encoded date printed at the top of the copy of your facsimile transmission that is received by Airtel. Airtel is not responsible for misdirected or undelivered written claim. Airtel apologized for any inconvenience to you which may result from this new policy. As always, thank you for the opportunity for Airtel to be you discount cellular service provider."
(this is the exact wording, including spelling errors.)
My fax and mailing to Airtel included my statement: Your "Important Notice" is not acceptable to me. I hereby cancel your service effective today. I obtained service from GTE, giving me *120* days to dispute charges.
Prior to terminating the account, I attempted to resolve the matter via phone. I advised several Airtel representatives that I'd be happy to keep the service if they rescinded their "Important Notice."
Airtel is very specific about defining the date the dispute is received by Airtel. However, a definition of the term "receipt" pertaining to receiving the bill was not offered. I understand it to be the date it is delivered, NOT the date I eventually look at it. I advised Airtel reps that I was planning to travel extensively and that I could not possibly dispute within 10 days from "receipt" of the bill. For the benefit of current Airtel customers, maybe "receipt" could be defined by Airtel.
Airtel reps refused to comply with my request and were not willing to negotiate. Instead, they kept telling me how they were running such a huge financial risk due to cloning fraud. They could not convince me that *I* should take on this huge risk. Why should I? I did NOT sign a contract agreeing to take this risk.
Maybe a Judge could explain to me why I have to take on this tremendous risk. I sure don't see any reason. GTE gave me 120 days to dispute charges.
I paid my Airtel bills in a timely manner for numerous years and put up with ongoing Airtel billing problems without ever once complaining. But now I've had it.
This is my demand for $75 (one hour), due now. My new address is 297 El Camino Real #210, San Bruno, CA 94066. Should I have to spend more time on this matter, I will bill at my standard rate of $75 per hour.
Should you report any derogatory data to the credit bureaus, I will take legal action. Under the new FCRA, effective 10/1/97, you may be liable for my attorney's fees.
This letter is part of the BayHouse WWW web site at http://www.bayhouse.com/airtel.shtml. Any further communication from you and Airtel is subject to publication.
I am also posting in the appropriate newsgroups to alert other Airtel customers to the change in terms. Most are probably unaware that they could be liable for thousands of dollars for calls they didn't make, while using Airtel as their cellular phone service provider.
Why would any sane person knowingly take that risk?
Update February 28, 1998:
No response from Air-Tel or TBC. My certified mailing of this page was received by Telesys Credit Bureau on 1/23/98 and signed for by somebody whose name I can't read. While the Postal Service's Domestic Return Receipt states "print name" there is only the signature.
I received a letter from Telesys Credit Bureau dated 4/15/98:
I quote from their letter:
"You have failed to respond to our previous notice advising you of you delinquency of your account.
It is our intent to pursue collection of this debt through every means available to us.
We extend this opportunity to settle this debt in a friendly manner. You may either send your payment in full to Telesys Credit Bureau or you must call (510) 249-9055 Ext. 9374 at once. This in an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
My first reaction was some curses I can't publish. I was really really pissed.
I called Mr. Cox's office. He was out for the day and I spoke with John Roberts. He advised that in fact they did receive my mailing on 1/23/98, however, it was not clear enough.
To make it clear, I explained to him that I was not liable for early termination fees as Airtel unilaterally changed the contract and I was subsequently forced to terminate the account.
Mr. Roberts disagreed. We did agree to settle the matter in Court, after he threatened me with "Well, it's YOUR credit ..."
Not only did Telesys Credit Bureau fail to acknowledge my certified mailing, but they outrageously lied in their 4/15/98 letter, claiming that I had not responded.
They threatened to ruin my credit if I didn't pay their fraudulent charges.
A reader e-mailed that Airtel went out of business, that their doors were locked. Then Cellular One mailed me an offer to do business with them directly, as Airtel chose to no longer sell their services.
In case you're wondering why I still have this old page -- the 7 years aren't up yet and any day a collection could show up on my credit. And, nothing has changed, this could be happening with any cellular service provider in 2004.
I have had to sue GTE (Verizon) and T-Mobile, I'm afraid to get another cell phone because I really do NOT enjoy the constant legal battles.
But it also is my policy not to pay my bills twice.