Bamboozled: A really scary ‘zombie’ story

It’s Halloween, so to commemorate the day, Bamboozled brings you a tale of “zombie debt.”

Just like the creatures “zombie debt” is named after, it’s hard to kill and despite every reasonable or supernatural effort, it can haunt you for years, and years, and years.

But of course, those who ignore their debts — zombie or otherwise — will have a very hard time getting new credit. Paul and Susan McGreevy of Andover Township learned that the hard way when they tried to refinance their mortgage in August. There was apparently a big black mark on their credit reports: a judgment against them for an unpaid debt — a debt about which they said they never received notification.

“I am a person who takes his debts very seriously. I pride myself on paying my debts on time, always,” Paul McGreevy said. “I have paid off auto loans, personal loans, home equity loans and credit cards, all without issue, so this was extremely upsetting to me.”

He said his credit score fell from 785 to 661.

Here’s what happened.


In August 2010, the McGreevys bundled their phone, cable and internet access with their cable provider, Service Electric, after they received a promotional offer that would cut their home communications bill in half.

“When my new bundled account was activated on Aug. 19, I placed a call to CenturyLink, my then-phone and internet access provider, to cancel my account with them,” Paul McGreevy said.

He said the CenturyLink customer service rep who took the call said the account was cancelled effective immediately, and the McGreevys would receive a pro-rated bill for a partial month of service.

In September, Paul McGreevy said he received the pro-rated bill, and he paid it.

But the next month, he received yet another bill for a full month of phone service, he said.

“Believing this to be a clerical error, I called them to confirm that my account was terminated and that this bill was generated in error,” he said.

The customer service confirmed that yes, it was an error.

McGreevy thought it was done.

But no.

“Thirty days later — you guessed it — another bill arrives showing current charges for a month of phone service as well as the ‘overdue balance’ from the previous bill,” he said.

McGreevy called CenturyLink again, this time speaking to an account executive.

During the call, Mcgreevy said he noticed the current bill and the September bill both had account numbers that were different from the account number he had when the service was active.

“I brought this to the account executive’s attention, who agreed that it was odd, and that somehow a new account was generated, in error, instead of cancelling my old account,” McGreevy said.

Interestingly, the new bills were for phone service only, instead of phone and internet per his original account.

They determined the phone account wasn’t cancelled when the internet account was. McGreevy said the account executive saw the error, acknowledged it and said it would be taken care of.

McGreevy never heard another word or received another bill, so he thought the issue was resolved.


Fast forward to August 2011.

The McGreevys decided to take advantage of low mortgage interest rates and they looked into refinancing the mortgage on their home.

The loan officer had bad news. The couple wouldn’t qualify for the best possible rate because McGreevy’s credit report showed in February 2011, there was a judgment against Paul McGreevy for $241. From CenturyLink.

He said he was livid, but kept his cool when he contacted CenturyLink the next day.

Rather than talk to a customer service rep, McGreevy said he asked for a manager. The manager was unavailable.

McGreevy said he called two more times, but the manager was never available nor did the manager return McGreevy’s messages.

“The unfortunate end result is that I am unable to take advantage of historically low interest rates that would allow me to save hundreds of dollars a month on my mortgage, at a time when we are counting every penny just to get by,” he said.

He asked Bamboozled for help.


We called CenturyLink, asking for assistance for this former customer.

The company spokesman said he couldn’t comment on specific customer issues, but he’d make sure someone reached out to the McGreevys.

And the McGreevy’s phone rang later that day.

McGreevy said the company rep was very cooperative and apologetic. She saw the error immediately, explained how it happened and promised McGreevy the collection agency has been contacted to nullify the judgment.

“Poof, just like that, all charges dropped,” McGreevy said.

So what went wrong?

McGreevy said the rep explained that when McGreevy called to cancel service, his account was tagged until CenturyLink would hear from the new carrier that the new service is operational before CenturyLink would cancel the old service. That was the only way McGreevy’s original phone number could be retained, he was told.

When the new carrier contacted CenturyLink, CenturyLink only had records that McGreevy was changing service for one phone number — his main home number. But he also had a fax number on the same CenturyLink account, so the system generated a new account to carry the fax line — even though he said he told the company he was cancelling all services.

The rep said this was coupled with the fact that CenturyLink was beginning a new billing system at the same time, causing the confusion.

The rep promised to take care of the credit issue, saying it could take several weeks for that to be cleared.

“I’ve heard some real horror stories about how nearly impossible it is to have anything erased from your credit report,” he said.

Not impossible, as long as CenturyLink keeps its pledge to follow through on the credit fixes.

Many thanks to CenturyLink for a fast response, and we hope it tracks down the manager who didn’t return McGreevy’s telephone messages for a little retraining.

“I can’t wait to refi my mortgage,” McGreevy said, promising to keep up posted on his credit.

Either way, we’ll let you know how it goes.