Vol. 13, No. 3,245 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2007

Dungeons Of Debt

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Bradenton, Fla.

Printable version of this story

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When I missed two weeks of work due to visiting my brother on his deathbed and then going to his funeral a week later, I also missed paying - for the first time in three years - my ATT Universal Card payment. Even though I made $644 in payments - the amount they requested in a follow-up bill - to ATT/Citicards (Citigroup owns ATT Universal Card) before the next payment was due, they sent my account to a collection agency that has harassed me ever since.

ATT Universal is a subsidiary of Citicards, which is a subsidiary of Citibank, a subsidiary of Citigroup, and I'm not sure who they are a subsidiary of, but they are slowly pushing The American Reporter towards bankruptcy. Why is that? Because one of my accounts, owed to Wells Fargo, has a far larger credit line and is in both my name and the name of the newspaper, and paying the first all at once assures that I can't pay them or any of the others I owe.

Since I can't pay the amount I owed ATT Universal - and the collection agency added anotherr $500, while not giving me credit for the $644 payment - I may need to file for Chapter 7 before the October onset of the new bankruptcy law. Fortunately, the forms are easy to find on the Internet, even if they are tedious to fill out. But they will allow me to discharge all of my debts, including many that I could otherwise continue to pay. If someone loaned me the money to pay the fraudulent bill, I would only be deeper in debt - including for $500 I don't owe.

Meanwhile, Citicards has also apparently stopped sending me bills for my Citicard account, which they suspended when my ATT Universal Card account was closed, and apparently are preparing to fraudulently push that card into collection as well by having me miss payments due to non-billing. Today I opened a new bill from Sears, where I've been a customer for 45 years, and they said that because I had missed the payment to ATT Universal Card, they were increasng my interest rate on the $500 balance to 28.65 percent. They are at least the third creditor to do so.

Josh Michaels, the name given me by the man who calls to harass me every morning from Client Services, Inc., in St. Charles, Mo., assures me that all the laws are on his side and that "Credit card companies aren't even required to send you a bill." Unfortunately, he's right. Consumers are expected to know what their debts and balances are regardless of whether they receive a bill for them. That is the kind of law Congress has given us in their slavish support of the banking and credit industry.

However, a cursory search in Google leads one to some troubling information about the company Citigroup uses to harass its clients:

For Immediate Release


Michelle L. Corey, (314) 645-3300 mcorey@stlouisbbb.org
Scott A. Nauert, (314) 645-3300 tpc1@stlouisbbb.org

January 19, 2005

The Better Business Bureau urges consumers who are contacted by collection agencies to understand their rights under the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Four such agencies have come to the BBB's attention due to patterns of complaints alleging questionable collection tactics. These agencies include Client Services, Inc., 3451 Harry S. Truman Boulevard, St. Charles, Mo.; Central Credit Services, Inc., which is headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., and which maintains an office at 67 Charleston Square, St. Charles; Midwest Support Services, Inc., 3910 Old Highway 94 South, Suite 105, St. Charles; and Specified Credit Assn., Inc., 3450 Bridgeland Drive, Suite F, Bridgeton, Mo.

The BBB has received more than 250 complaints and reports regarding Client Services, Inc., in the past 36 months. Complainants primarily allege that the firm attempted to collect debts from consumers who didn't owe a debt, had rude employees, used improper collection tactics, improperly billed consumers, used vulgarity, and made threatening and harassing phone calls to consumers.

The BBB has sent letters to the firm bringing to its attention the number and pattern of complaints received. The BBB has not received a response. [Editor's Note; The firm's telephone number is 1-800-521-3236, or 636-947-2321.]

John L. Kastner is listed as the president of Client Services, according to the Missouri secretary of state's Web site. A St. Louis man told the BBB the firm called him four times a day for three days in a row to collect on a debt which he said he had paid six months earlier. He said, "Mr. Billings swore at my wife, cussed at her, and said that he was going to destroy her credit rating. I told him on one occasion I have the documentation that this had been paid off. He (the collector) said, 'I know people like you. I run into them every day.' It was a harrowing experience."

In fact, soon after the first time I heard from Client Services the first time, when I responded to their advice to get a lawyer by saying the familiar "F" word, I got an anonymous note from them at my American Reporter shell account with these contents: the "F" word phrase repeated hundreds of times.

What I believe happened was that the first caller deliberately took an aggressive stance to precipitate some sort of vulgarity so that he could report it to Citicards (whose agents relayed the information back to me). He simply ignored the fact that I assured him I was going to pay the bill before the second due date, and with that, Citicards gave his firm the account. Then they added $2,500 to the bill and started calling me.

Meanwhile, each time I called Citicards about the account, they put me on hold for more than 30 minutes, but at one point promised to have a manager review my account. When I called back to get the outcome of the review, they put me on hold for 30 minutes again, and I was forced by other circumstances to hang up. They never contacted me again, or sent me another bill for either their regular Citicard or the ATT Universal Card. They did send me a card sleeve telling me I had been approved for a credit card - with a 26 percent interest rate - but no new card.

There is a reason, believe me, that people walk into offices and start shooting everyone in sight. Congress has let their cronies in finance push us too far, and in exchange, they lavish funds on members as they run for office every two years, or four, or six. I am in no danger of that kind of madness, but I do want to stop being powerless against them. Without expensive lawyers, how can one achieve that?

My lawyer in the Slesinger v Disney lawsuit, whom I was not paying for, cost $450 an hour for the 21 hours of my deposition. My lawyer in the American Reporter suit I brought against the Communications Decency Act was Randall Boe of Arent, Fox, one of the most expensive firms in the nation, and he is now General Counsel of AOL. My lawyer in the class action lawsuit I won against Volkswagen, Lance Entrekin of Phoenix, actually let me keep all of his share of our settlement, and I don't think he takes these kinds of cases. My favorite lawyer, Alexander J. Petale of Hollywood, who represented us in the suit to open the court files of the Slesinger-Disney matter, charges just $150 an hour but only wants to take personal injury cases. My ex-brother-in-law only has experience in homicide defense. My uncle, New York State Supreme Court Justice William F. Shea, would help me all he could, but he passed away. My friend Grissom Walker, an attorney and the son of a local judge who started the John Kerry Meetup with me here in Bradenton, only wants to handle ACLU matters. My local Democratic Party chairman and friend, C.J. Czaia, only handles accidents. I have only tried three cases as an attorney pro per in my whole life and lost them all. What am I to do against this scary legion of Citbank bloodhounds?

What are the hundreds of thousands of people devastated by Hurricane Katrina going to do?

Well, one possible answer for me is to appeal to Sandy Weill, whose article on American Express I once helped ghost-write and who is a a friend of a close friend. Alternatively, I could call one of the many politicians I have helped around the country, and ask them to intervene for me. But Josh Michaels' daily phone calls assure me I am sitting on the railroad tracks in a stalled jalopy on a bright sunny day, and the distant plaintive blast of the klaxon, even though I can't see it, means harm is on its way.

Can I fly? I hope so. In the meantime, I can sit here and pore over my free credit report from mid-August, looking at 21 accounts that have never had a late payment, and wonder why they picked me to kill.
This is the second in a series of articles about the difficulty of dealing with onerous late fees, overlimit fees, high interest rates, the October bankruptcy law and other devastating economic blows to which Americans are vulnerable.

Copyright 2007 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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