I spent the last couple of days in bed. It was weird. I got up at the usual time, but the effort of going to the bathroom for my morning routine was too much. I returned to bed and spent the day watching TV and dozing. Now, Saturday, I seem to be over whatever it was, and I’m back at my desk.

While I was in bed, an email came in from an attorney. Mrs. Lion and I cut the cord last fall. I suspended our DirecTV account, and we got all of our TV from streaming services. When I suspended my service, I had a credit balance of about $200. I made repeated attempts to get a refund from DirecTV. Their offshore customer service representatives, aside from not mastering the English language, kept promising a refund or denied I was owed any money at all.

I spent hours on the phone trying to get my money. Finally, at the beginning of August I Googled “Suing DirecTV” and found lots of good information. The first step, I learned, was that I needed to send a “Letter of Demand.” I did. In it I demanded my money plus the cost of sending them a certified letter and $10 for interest. According to what I read, they had thirty days to respond with an offer of settlement.

If they didn’t respond with an offer I liked, I could either take them to small claims court or get arbitration. Interestingly, according to what I read, if I want arbitration, the minimum I could win was $10,000. Since there was no question that I’m owed the $200, I would surely win. I figured that DirecTV had a strong incentive to settle.

On Friday, I got an email from a lawyer representing DirecTV. He offered me almost all of the money I demanded. His offer was $2.15 less! Strange, huh? I wrote back that I wouldn’t accept the offer. I wanted every penny I demanded. I went on to say that if that wasn’t acceptable, I would go to arbitration and would ask for compensation for the many hours of aggravation caused by their customer service representatives. I can’t wait to see what I get in reply.

I’m not an attorney. I don’t need to be one. Companies like to make it difficult for customers to settle issues with them. Offshore customer service costs less and frustrates customers. DirecTV is owned by ATT. ATT is famous for bad customer service.

I learned that fighting back isn’t as hard is they like to make us believe. The key to legal action is to follow instructions exactly as presented. Every company you deal with has an available document that describes its contract with you. It can be confusing, but with a little work you can find out how to handle disputes. Most leave out a key step (because they can), but they do give you everything else.

From my research, the key step is the “Letter of Demand.” I googled and found samples that I used to develop mine. It wasn’t hard. The next step is to figure out where to send it. It turns out that any corporation that does business in your state has to register an official address with the state atttorney general. A little more googling led me to a site for my state. I simply entered “DirecTV” into the form and out popped the address to send the letter. A trip to the post office to send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, started a process the companies hate.

It turns out that the letter of demand starts a clock. The company has thirty days to settle, or you can take the next step. DirecTV has an arbitration clause. It says that you agree not to sue them, but you can go to the  American Arbitration Association and start an arbitration. That’s similar to a lawsuit, but instead of a judge, you get an arbitrator who decides the case.

This is actually good news for customers. First, DirecTV has to reimburse you the $200 arbitration fee. They are also on the hook for attorney fees if they lose. It says so in their customer contract. They also let you sue them in small claims court. No lawyers are needed for any of this.

Google is your friend. There are lots of sites with free tips on how to do all of this. Our county has detailed information on how to sue in small claims court. It isn’t hard to do. I was almost ready to give up and let DirecTV have my money. Thinking about that got me angry and hitting the search engine.

A couple of years ago, a process server came to our front door with a summons. We were being sued for a very old (10 years) credit account that was supposed to be unpaid. We were being sued by a credit agency that buys old “paper” from various sources. Many retailers give up trying to collect money from delinquent customers after a while and write off the debt. It reduces their taxes. They sell the delinquent accounts to a credit agency for a fraction of the money owed. Collection agencies try to get money from consumers.

There is a cascade in the collection business. The top tier buys debt from the actual retailers. Then these collection bureaus sell what they can’t collect to lower-level bureaus for pennies on the dollar. This process continues ad nauseum. Apparently, our account got to one of the real bottom feeders. This company hires lawyers to sue every consumer account they buy. Their theory is that ignorant consumers will be frightened into paying. If not, the consumer will probably not show up in court, and the lawyer will get a judgment for the money and attach the poor soul’s paycheck.

Undoubtedly the shysters who work for the collection agency do it for a percentage of what they collect. Getting that summons made me furious. It turned out that it wasn’t too hard to fight back. It never is. I used the shyster strategy back on them. I Googled and found the correct legal form for my state/county to answer a lawsuit. Some cut-and-paste and creative writing crafted a response. In addition to denying that we owed the money, I demanded proof of the debt. That would require going back to the original retailer and making them go into their records to produce every single sale.

Since the shyster was in our state, I just needed to send my answer by first-class mail to them and use an online upload to file with the court. That made it official. I also decided to file a counter-suit claiming harassment. That did cost money. It costs $100 to file new actions. I figured it was worth it. The shyster would run up a lot more than $100 in costs answering my summons.

As a result, the shyster asked the court to dismiss its action against us. It also asked the court to dismiss our action against them. I didn’t object. My point is that many people give up money just because they are intimidated by shysters and unscrupulous companies and collection agencies. We live in the state of Washington. It has horribly regressive debt laws. That’s probably why the shysters tried to get us. Even in this state, it is possible to win.

The moral of this story is that you can’t win if you don’t try. You don’t lose until  you give up.

Listen to this post.


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  2. Author

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