A Cautionary Tale
Way back in 1995 I decided to buy a computer and replace the phone book that I was using as a lap-top. Not that there was anything wrong with the lap-top, it was a good enough workhorse, it ran Windows 3.1 (remember that?) and it got me on the Internet with enough power to check emails, check the Internet, chat in a few Java based chat rooms and it enabled me to send articles to wherever they had to go. Still the lure of a main machine running *gasp* Windows 95 was a strong one, so I wandered over to the local electrical shop, E_____hs (who are now long gone, for obvious reasons) and checked the current line out. The prices were high, as they were in those days, and I couldn't afford it, but the guy behind the counter worked out a deal whereby I'd be paying the thing off with no money down. I must have had the word 'Dickhead' firmly written in black marker pen on my forehead, but I signed on the dotted line, committed myself to monthly payments of $120 to pay off a debt of $3,500 plus interest and three days later they delivered the machine. I'd have done better if I'd given the money to charity, or just flushed it down the toilet.
It took me a while to install all of the software that I needed and off I went. It was faster than my lap-top and as it was running the latest and greatest in software I was a happy boy. I knew that my output would now be faster than ever because I'd be able to write and store stuff, plus this thing had a CD-Rom drive!! I'd only ever heard about those. Heaven! I logged into my favourite chat room with my brilliant 24kps modem and started to yap away quite happily to my pals in the USA. All was good.
About two weeks after I got the thing it stopped working. It'd turn on, then off. The modem would play up and stop working. The machine would freeze and refuse to even turn off without me physically unplugging it from the wall. It refused to play CDs. I refused to do anything. Faced with this I did what was recommended - I phoned the technical support crew.
Mistake number one. The technical support crew told me that I had a virus and I'd need to install anti-virus software. They gave me a link, I downloaded it and installed it and fired it up. Did it work? Did it work shit! Nothing. The guy on the other end of the phone actually said, "Well, Jeez, I dunno. Look, gotta go, I've got another call coming in." With that he hung up. I sat there, confused. I called a pal who came around and had a quick peek. "Uninstall everything, then re-install everything and try again," was his advice. Ok, off I went, did all of that and things worked fine.
For about a week. It'd run fine for a few days and then stop dead. I was getting frustrated. Finally I dragged the old dependable lap-top out of storage and started to write on that. At least it worked. I then went back to the store where I bought the computer from and asked them what to do.
Mistake number two. "There's nothing we can do," the manager said.
"I don't understand," I replied, "isn't the computer under warranty?"
"Technically yes, but that doesn't mean we can fix it, nor does it mean we're obligated to fix it." Now that I didn't understand. Warranty means you fix it, but this guy was telling me that nope, they couldn't fix it. Then the shoe dropped, right on the brain.
"We can look at it and see what the problem is though."
"Great. At least that's a start. When can we arrange that?
"Not so fast, it's a $250 fee to look at it." My mind boggled.
"Well, ok, I guess. That means it'll be fixed right?"
"No. That's just to look at it. Any repairs will cost extra. Oh, and it might take a few weeks for our technicians to get to it." By this stage I'd had enough. I'd made three payments on a piece of garbage that I couldn't use and now I was being told that I'd have to spend more money, and be without the machine for longer, whilst paying it off.
"Look pal, you know what, fuck that. Shove the frigging thing up your arse. I'm bringing it back."
"You can't do that."
"Watch me." With that I went out the store, walked home, boxed the crap up, borrowed a sack truck and carted the devil back to the store and handed it back to the clerk. The manager came out and told me that by bringing it back I'd still have to pay for it.
"Give me one that works, or live up to the warranty and I'll happily pay. Until then, no deal." They took the machine and that was the last I heard of it.
Until now. You see that was back in 1995. Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I got my tax return and for once it was 1] sizable and 2] not claimed by my ex. I got the lot. My bank phoned, happy as can be as I'd cleared all my debt with them and still had a decent sum sitting there, waiting for them to get their hands upon. I thought, well if you're contacting me then sure, I'll pop by and listen to what you've got to tell me. In I went and we discussed some ideas. As we're going to be travelling in November the bank decided that perhaps I should have a credit card and I agree. Extra spending cash just in case, always comes in handy. She did the application and then looked over.
"Your credit report has come back bad." I was puzzled. I shouldn't even have a credit report as I've avoided credit based things since the computer. "You owe E_____hs $5,750."
"Say what??" She repeated it. I got the details and left in somewhat of a daze. I then came home and started phoning around. Nope, the company doesn't exist, it's gone. It went into liquidation and was sold last year.
Now here's the short of it. This is what we worked out. They didn't bother coming after me in 1995, God knows why. I remember getting one phone call, to which I said, "You've got the bloody computer back so leave it. If you keep on with it I'll go to consumer affairs." No more calls after that. So they left it. When the company was going under they re-raised the debt, not once, but twice. In Australia most debts are wiped off after seven years, statue of limitations, that kind of stuff. They re-raised the debt in 2001 as a fresh debt, meaning they forged an application and got the debt done again. That wasn't the end of it. In 2006, just before they went under and sold, they did the same thing again! How do I know? Because I was told by both the bank and the company that now owns the failed chain. Talking to the company I instantly demanded that they send me everything - contracts, contact details, the whole bloody lot, as I wanted to take some bastard to court. "No can do," they said, "we don't have that stuff."
"Of course you don't. It doesn't exist!"
"You're probably right. You're not the first person to phone us with this problem." That problem being forged documents and re-raised debts.
Luckily for me the new company are sending me a letter saying I owe them nothing and that the debt in question is false. Then I have to contact the credit reporting agency, send them the letter and a note explaining all of this and have them remove the entry in question. My guess is that when the company was folding they re-raised a lot of debt to make it look more attractive when it was sold (more debt means potentially more profit for a buyer as they have a chance to either claim the debt or sell it off to a collection agency). So when your credit report comes back flagged, look at each and every entry on it, just to see if someone isn't trying it on. For a company that used to advertise on the idiot box here about what a great family business they were, they certainly turned out to be the Dodgy Brothers.