Well, for a change, this bill may actually not be my fault, but I promised my mother I’d get to the bottom of it anyway.
Recently, she got a collection letter for $70-something from 407 ETR, the nice folks who run a little toll highway just north of the city. We do use this highway from time to time, but not often, and since I do all my banking online, I quickly verified that I had paid any bills we’d received in, oh, say, the last four years since my father died and my mother took over the bills.
So I emailed them through their website and they replied that the charge was indeed legitimate, from a second account that was no longer active… and for which we had not received a bill in anyone’s living memory. And $70 is a LOT of money, given that each trip on this little highway costs under $10.
Then I went online and punched in the (inactive) account number, and discovered… this (rather badly cut n’ pasted together):
You read that right (if your eyes are good enough) – it goes back to September 2006. Zooming in on the September 2006 bill, there’s a balance forward of about $10 (the system doesn’t go farther back, so I can’t look into that), plus (incurred on Wednesday, August 26 at 3:58 pm) a new charge of $8.47, in which my parents’ car travelled from Bathurst to Highway 427 (about 5 minutes’ travel time, or less), for a total of $18.50.
And from there, the amount basically increases by a fraction of a dollar, then a dollar, and by now, a couple of dollars in interest a month. Let me reiterate that had they sent a paper statement at any time, my mother would have taken care of it, as she has no doubt taken care of every single other bill that has crossed her doorstep. She GOT the bill-paying gene, though I do fault her for not passing it on to me.
Well, I am not proud to admit this, but I determined that the most effective strategy, given that it’s the middle of the night, that my own bills are in some state of turmoil, and that I am not technically the person listed on the account with 407 ETR (but to repeat, I am the one who has suggested to my mother that I am the superhero who can make the problem go away) is one of fear, uncertainty and doubt, with the word “widow” tossed in liberally. Here’s the best I could do – short, sweet, and stupendously dumb:
Please stop billing this account! My father, _____, in whose name this car was registered, died four years ago. I emailed back in June and was informed that these were valid charges, but further investigation reveals that these have been accumulating for years, since before his death, and we have never received a statement, either to my home (___ Avenue) or at my parents' address (___ Grove). It is possible that he or my mother used the 407 before he died, but as I mentioned, we have never received a paper bill for this until my mother - to her distress - received a collection notice. Now a widow, she has begged me to get to the bottom of this and figure out what's going on because the collection notice was the first she'd heard of this ridiculous debt, which consists mainly not of a charge for using the highway but of your organization billing itself $1 (and now $2) a month for the last several years. If you have information for us about the original trip, I'd appreciate receiving that. Otherwise, since this charge is mostly "fluff" and interest, I would appreciate your calling off the creditors from harassing a widow and set the matter straight by providing us with a copy of the original travel information. Thanks very much.
Definitely not my finest moment, but there are times when a certain amount of je ne sais quoi (French for “idiocy”) is called for. If they can continue dunning her in light of these persuasive arguments (let me repeat them for you: widow, blah, widow, blah, blah, harassing, blah, “fluff”), these ETR folks are cold-hearted humans indeed.
Well, what would you have done???