Not a headache.
Bill and Lisa Westheimer of West Orange were not happy with their alarm service, so they gave their old company the boot. Then they received a series of bills that were, well, alarming.
Despite the cancellation — 18 months later — bills for the canceled service continue to land in their mailbox. Enough, already.
OUT WITH THE OLD
The Westheimers bought their home in 1999, equipped with a Honeywell Security alarm and central station monitoring by the same company.
But the problems continued.
‘‘When I asked them to come fix it, they simply told me to change the batteries in the sensors,’’ said Bill Westheimer, 57. ‘‘Those batteries should last one to two years, and the sensors were causing problems several times a year. Always at 2 a.m.’’
The Westheimers regularly shut down the system completely to stop the irritating warning beeps. Finally tired of the problems, on June 8, 2008, they decided to end their home monitoring contract with Honeywell, which had become HSM Security and later became Stanley Security.
They called a completely different company for new service, and the Westheimers were told the old system problems were caused by an inadequate power supply, and surprisingly, the system wasn’t even connected to the phone line. Had there been a fire or a break-in, the alarm may have made noise, but the system wouldn’t have alerted authorities.
The Westheimers had an entirely new system installed. All the Honeywell/Stanley equipment was removed and disconnected.
The following day, Bill Westheimer called Honeywell/Stanley to cancel the account. Unable to get someone on the phone, he left several messages, and the following week, sent the termination request in writing.
Then the bills started coming in.
Westheimer left more messages for several company reps, always explaining the account had been terminated and the bills were being sent in error. No one from the company ever called him back.
But the collections agents did.
This went on and on until finally, in September 2009, he reached a real, live person at Stanley.
The company representative agreed the charges were an error and the account had been terminated. Westheimer thought that would be the end of it.
Until the next bill arrived a month later.
More months of phone calls, more messages. No response.
Finally, in December, Westheimer received a call from the rep he talked to several months back.
‘‘She said she would cancel the 2009 invoice and put in a request for credit and cancellation subject to her supervisor’s approval,’’ Westheimer said. ‘‘I asked to speak with her supervisor and was refused. I asked her to make sure I wouldn’t be charged in the future and she said, ‘I can’t do that.’ ”
Turns out she didn’t, because in January, Westheimer received yet another bill.
That’s when he contacted Bamboozled.
A SOLUTION, WE HOPE
We contacted the company to see if it would finally leave this guy alone.
Reps looked into the account and said the case is closed.
‘‘We cleared (credited) the customer’s account twice (once in August of 2009 and again this month) to clear all past due amounts on the customer’s account,’’ spokeswoman Lynda Murphy said in an e-mailed response. ‘‘Our records show no balance owed by the customer and the customer’s account as cancelled.’’
She refused to explain what had gone wrong, or why the August attempt to clear the account had failed.
After getting the news, Westheimer once again contacted the rep who had looked at his account. He asked her to confirm the account was closed and in good standing.
‘‘When I asked if the case was closed and if there was an outstanding balance, she asked, ‘Did you get a letter from the collection agency?’ and made it sound like she couldn’t guarantee they would drop it,’’ he said. ‘‘We shall see!’”
RESOLVING YOUR OWN ACCOUNTS
There was not much more Westheimer could do to correct his frustrating situation, and he did a lot of things right. We can learn from his experience.
Westheimer kept detailed and clear records of every phone call he made, every person he left a message for, every letter he wrote. He kept a list of dates, times, names and numbers.
If you ever need to fight a bill, follow Westheimer’s example.
Keep detailed records of all correspondence. A simple notepad near the phone is all you need to jot down what happens and when. Trying to remember months later can be a challenge.
If you’re trying to cancel a contract on the telephone, follow up with a letter restating your cancellation request. Send your letter certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records.
If that fails and the collection companies start calling, ask for the bill in writing. This is your right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, said Gerri Detweiler of Credit.com. It’s also your right to dispute the collection account within 30 days of receiving the notice. Send another certified letter, return receipt requested, this time to the collection agency, and include proof that you’ve cancelled the contract.
‘‘If the collector puts a negative remark on your credit report, dispute it,’’ Detweiler said. ‘‘They have 30 days to investigate and respond.’’
If the collection agency doesn’t remove the negative mark or if it keeps billing you, report your case to the state Attorney General’s office (state.nj.us/lps) and the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov).