Charter Spectrum Threatens To Ruin Potential Customers Over Debt They Don't Owe

from the class-act dept

There's a reason U.S. cable and broadband companies have some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings of any companies, in any industry in America. The one/two punch of lagging broadband competition and captured regulators generally mean there's little to no meaningful penalty for overcharging users, providing lackluster services and support, and generally just being an obnoxious ass.

Case in point: a new Charter (which operates under the Spectrum brand) marketing effort apparently involves threatening to ruin the credit scores of ex-customers unless they re-subscribe to the company's services. It basically begins with a letter that threatens ex-users that they'll be reported to debt collectors unless they sign up for service. It proceeds to inform them the letter is a "one-time courtesy" allowing them to sign up for cable or broadband service before the debt collector comes calling:

"A well-established credit history will more likely allow you to qualify for lower mortgage rates, better chances for obtaining credit cards and approvals for home rentals,” the letter says, suggesting that Schklair’s finances could be in serious trouble unless he returns to the Spectrum fold. "You have worked hard to build a great future for yourself and your family,” it says. “We look forward to welcoming you back.”

Maybe it’s just me, but that has a Sopranos-like ring of “You’ve made a nice life for yourself. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

The catch: the people being targeted with this latest dumb marketing ploy say they don't owe Spectrum any money:

"I asked if he owes Spectrum any money.

“No,” Schklair replied. “It’s been years since I was their customer, and they’ve never said anything about my not paying any bills.”

No notices of missed payments?

“No.”

No warnings about adverse reports to credit agencies?

“No, nothing like that.”

Leave it to a U.S. cable company to think up a marketing strategy that involves threatening the livelihoods of folks who don't actually owe it any money. My assumption is this kind of threat is levied heavily against lower-income communities where the constant fear of debt collection prods folks who may not even owe Spectrum to re-subscribe for fear of getting into trouble. Charter being Charter, of course, it tried to frame this as an "effort to reconnect":

"A Spectrum spokesperson confirmed the letter’s authenticity and called it “an opportunity to reconnect” with the cable company."

83 million Americans currently live under a broadband monopoly, usually Comcast and Charter. Between a lack of competition and captured regulators there's fairly consistently zero real repercussions for idiotic behavior like this, which is why historically things don't really change much. Increased competition in streaming TV has helped drive some improvements on that side of the coin, but the largely broken U.S. broadband market is a problem we don't seem intent on seriously addressing anytime soon--in part because we refuse to even acknowledge the core problem (monopolization and the corruption that protects it).

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, cord cutting, debt collection, threats
Companies: charter spectrum


Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Glenn, 13 Oct 2021 @ 6:47am

    RICO? ...RICO? ...RICO?
    Polo!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    David, 13 Oct 2021 @ 6:51am

    They are not wrong, you know

    "A Spectrum spokesperson confirmed the letter’s authenticity and called it “an opportunity to reconnect” with the cable company."

    Also known as "see you in court".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2021 @ 7:02am

    so, basically, your fucked if you stay with Charter, fucked if you leave! the lengths companies go to in the USA just to keep taking peoples money and the lengths law enforcement and politicians DONT go to to stop them from behaving like this! how can any self-respecting legal firm actually adjoin themselves to sanction the behavior?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Joel, 13 Oct 2021 @ 7:03am

    That's a nice credit score you got there

    ... it'd be a shame if something happened to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    BronzeCheetah (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 7:37am

    I received a similar letter

    but i do owe Charter money for and my letter says

    "As a one time courtesy, Spectrum is pleased to announce that we will remove the prior debt associated with the account number allowing you to come back in good standing as a new customer. And, when you become a customer we will both remove your debt and cease reporting it to any credit bureau. That means a greater chance to qualify for lower mortgage rates, a better chance to obtain credit cards, and may allow you to gain approval for home rentals."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Koby (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 8:07am

    Metastasize

    Credit card companies have been doing something similar for many years. Some will attempt to contact a delinquent customer and offer to reactivate the card if they make a payment to bring the account current. The kicker is that the consumer actually owes the bill. I can understand one sleazy company taking ideas from another. But using it as a threat to retain customers who don't owe anything is unconscionable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 9:19am

    Re: Metastasize

    I feel like a Credit Card company offering to allow you to pay off your balance and regain access to credit (and possibly clearing your credit report of the genuine delinquency) is a very different story than an internet company trying to drum up business by committing mail fraud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    madasahatter (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 9:25am

    Re: Metastasize

    Charter is abusing credit reporting by falsely threatening to damage your credit report if you do not reactivate. Credit card companies extending an offer on an actually delinquent account is a more of a courtesy to the customer. The credit card companies are doing anything illegal while Charter is threatening to do so. These are very different actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Pixelation, 13 Oct 2021 @ 9:31am

    One word...

    CREEPY!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Glen, 13 Oct 2021 @ 9:36am

    This article leaves me wanting more info. Even the original story doesn't address it. What steps if any is being taken to address this with Charter or with the law or what can be done? This feels half baked to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2021 @ 10:03am

    Re: Metastasize

    A credit card company offering to help you get back into good standing is nothing at all like a cable company threatening to ruin your credit.

    How is it that you suck so badly at this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2021 @ 11:13am

    Re:

    They did address it with Charter, and their response is quoted in the article.

    Even then, there's as yet no indication whether this letter was a mistake, or if Charter is routinely sending these to people who don't owe them money. Charter refused to clarify, and of course without publishing this information it wouldn't be feasible to track down everyone who doesn't owe Charter money to ask them. So the first "step" is to publish this, and see if that gets a better response, either from Charter (who wants to head off more bad press) or other former "customers" who got threatening letters about non-existent debt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Slow Joe Crow (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 11:58am

    Claiming a non-existent debt and threatening your credit score seems like a blatant violation of FDCP and worthy of civil and criminal penalties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 2:21pm

    'Nice credit score you got there...'

    Looks like someone's taking lessons from organized crime in how to drum up 'customers'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 2:29pm

    Fun isnt it.

    THEN?
    You sign a contract that states you HAVE TO HAVE service for 3-5 years. And if you stop the service you will still Owe, All the fee's for those 3-5 years, Including a cancellation fee.

    Beyond the Letter of intent. Even these contracts should be against the law.
    So, what is the state and fed gov. doing? NOT A THING.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Al CapTwo, 13 Oct 2021 @ 3:09pm

    Re: 'Nice credit score you got there...'

    Dear Charter Spectrum.

    How shall I reply to your offer?

    I know, how about I use my 2nd amendment rights to express my 1st amendment rights?

    P.S. My "Little Friend" says Hello.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 3:48pm

    Funny... they got all up in arms about "debt" collectors randomly calling/texting people for bills they didn't owe & yet someone at Spectrum decided we needed to use the mail to send veiled threats against consumers credit...
    If only there was some sort of agency to actually punish this behavior... well it exists but has no teeth to do anything so the campagin coffers stay filled.

    Whats adding more fear and anxiety to citizens lives when the corporate bottom line needs to be bigger so they can get slightly larger donations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2021 @ 5:30pm

    Re: That's a nice credit score you got there

    Um, yeah, that exact line is in the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    sumgai (profile), 13 Oct 2021 @ 8:20pm

    Re:

    More.... Bigger... Larger.... etc.

    Congratulations, you just passed the test covering Inflation, in Econ 101.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Upset in NC, 13 Oct 2021 @ 9:24pm

    I received the same letter from spectrum. I haven't had an account with them in 5 years. Nothing reported to the credit agencies prior to this letter, no letters saying anything is owed. All equipment and bills were outside before I left for AT&T. This letter from them really upset me as it came across as threatening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2021 @ 3:04am

    Spectrum are notorious for faking the signatures of the elderly, claiming they've signed up to all sorts of services, then threatening them with prison time because they haven't paid their debts. (because faking a signature didn't give them the persons bank details).

    We have a few large ISPs/TV providers in the UK that HAVE managed to get hacked data and set up elderly people with direct debits they never asked for or knew about.

    They get fined, but when the fines are a fraction of the profit made.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2021 @ 3:05am

    Re: I received a similar letter

    Join and immediately cancel with the legally-mandated 14 days cooling off period?

    hehe

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2021 @ 3:06am

    Re: Re: Metastasize

    its not mail fraud.

    its wire fraud (across state boundaries as the letters were generated out of state).

    Also extortion AND attempting to obtain money via false pretences.

    All of which carry prison time and can pierce the corporate veil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2021 @ 3:08am

    Re:

    find a shark lawyer. sue for the 'emotional distress' as obviously you now can't sleep at night, and are having panic attacks etc....

    Get a lawyer that will happily fuck them over for as much as possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2021 @ 10:05pm

    Article seems disingenuous

    The quoted text doesn’t say anything about debt collection and fairly obviously is suggesting (true or not) that entering into a subscription agreement with Charter could help the recipient build their credit, with all the benefits mention that said good credit could afford them. I’m no fan of the cable companies’ practices, but this looks like manufactured alarm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    nasch (profile), 18 Oct 2021 @ 10:08am

    Re: Article seems disingenuous

    The quoted text doesn’t say anything about debt collection

    It may not use the word "collection" but it does say this: “To take advantage of this special debt removal offer, all you have to do is purchase a Spectrum TV, internet and/or voice product.”

    The obvious implication is that if you don't, the "debt" (which may or may not exist) will remain outstanding, and we know what often happens with outstanding debts.

    fairly obviously is suggesting (true or not) that entering into a subscription agreement with Charter could help the recipient build their credit, with all the benefits mention that said good credit could afford them.

    It's also suggesting bad things could happen if they don't.

    “A well-established credit history will more likely allow you to qualify for lower mortgage rates, better chances for obtaining credit cards and approvals for home rentals... You have worked hard to build a great future for yourself and your family. We look forward to welcoming you back.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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