Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Long Arm of The Law

Today, I was surprised to receive an unpleasant letter in the mail. The letter was sent by ConEdison, the power company that provided electricity to my NYC apartment before I left. The letter says;

Dear Sir/Madam:

Your unpaid account for utility service supplied to the above address has been referred to us.

The amount shown above [$20.40] is past due.

Please arrange for payment of this amount within the next seven days. If you have any questions, please call Con Edison’s Law Department at the telephone number shown above.

A postage-paid envelope is enclosed for your convenience in making payment. Please write the account number shown above on your check or money order. If you have a checking account and want to pay by telephone, please call 1-888-925-5016 and use our Self Service Payment System. You can also visit our website at www.coned.com to make your payment.

Very truly yours,

Leon Z. Mener
Senior Attorney

Why was I surprised by this letter? I paid my final bill in December (the bill was emailed to me), that’s why. So I have no idea what this bill is for since there is no invoice describing the reason for this charge. Because my winter bills in NYC were roughly $58 each month, and I left on the morning of 20 November, this charge doesn’t even make sense to me. If they are charging me twice for those 20 days in November, I should owe more than $20.40 — I should owe them the sum that I already paid in December, to be exact (the precise amount escapes me because, you know, I paid it in December. I do remember thinking at the time that I paid it that my final bill was higher than I expected, though). So the math is all wrong.

Additionally, the “postage paid envelope” that Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney, so kindly included for my “convenience” only is good for US mail. Like, duh? How stupid is this guy? Why bother sending that envelope at all when he (or his secretary) clearly knows that I am in Germany? If they’re going to mail an extra piece of paper in that envelope, why not main the invoice instead of an envelope that I can’t use?

Oh, and get this .. the letter was dated … 27 January. I received it today. Because I have not paid this mysterious bill within the allotted seven days, I guess that means that I am a criminal and will be detained by Homeland Security at JFK the first time I return to visit. With any luck, I might even be jailed in Gitmo and waterboarded until I pay up.

Of course, this assumes that I am in the habit of giving my money to anyone who demands it, even when that person provides no proof that I might actually owe him or her anything.

But maybe this mystery bill is legitimate? If so, why didn’t Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney, bother to tell me what it is for? Wouldn’t that make sense? How difficult would that have been for Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney? Certainly, providing that information would have made this “convenient” for me. But instead, the burden and expense (!) of learning what this mystery bill is for is placed upon me. The earliest I can even learn anything about this bill is Monday afternoon (Germany time) when someone is awake at ConEd in NYC to take my phone call and answer my questions regarding exactly what this charge is for and why didn’t they email the invoice to me like they’ve done for the previous 4+ years? WTF? Nevermind that making an international phone call will probably cost me $20 or more as I attempt to straighten this mess out! Maybe I should send ConEd an invoice for the cost of the phone call since Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney, is being really passive-aggressive by not telling me what this mystery bill is for in the first place?

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    March 6, 2010

    Do it all by snail mail, letting them know you are forwarding copies to your lawyers (even if you don’t have any legal representation).

    They need to be informed about the receipt date of the notice and to allow more time for delivery. You should also tell them that you finalized payment with ConEd on 11/20 and you have never received an invoice for whatever it is they think you owe. Be nice and say (even though you don’t mean it) that you would be glad to pay the bill once a copy of the original invoice has been received (and verified) by you.

    E-mail and phone calls are too ephemeral for dealing with lawyers.

    Good luck…I had a similar experience with the water company after I moved.

    PS It’s probably a “service discontinuation fee”.

  2. #2 Phillip IV
    March 6, 2010

    Why bother sending that envelope

    why didn’t Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney, bother to tell me what it is for

    Leon Z. Mener, Senile Attorney.

    (Hey, that could be a title for a new game in the ‘Ace Attorney’ series!)

  3. #3 blf
    March 6, 2010

    [T]he “postage paid envelope” that Leon Z. Mener, Senior Attorney, so kindly included for my “convenience” only is good for US mail. Like, duh? How stupid is this guy?

    This is par for the course. I’ve gotten a number of letters from ambulance chasers in the USA, some about real issues and some similar to this apparently imaginary bill, and the postage-paid-replies are always are valid only in the USA. This is despite the letter to me being addressed and sent to me in England, Ireland, France, &hellip.

    Toll-free (800) numbers used to another curse. Financial types were the idiots here; even after being told, explicitly, their 800 number isn’t callable from Europe, they still insist that is how they should be contacted. The internet has made this stupidity, at least for me, much less of a problem than it used to be: Now the problem is badly-designed websites, M$ Oriface forms/documents, and borked e-mail/servers…

    The SciBorg itself is an example of borked e-mail. Good luck contacting webmaster@scienceblogs.com as it says to do on the also-borked http://scienceblogs.com/channel/about.php#contact page:

    href=”mailto:webmaster@scienceblogs.com”>…

    SciBorg’s IT staff are as stupid and incompetent as your ambulance chaser and many other examples.

    And then there’s US Federal Asshat forms. Don’t get me started on those…!

  4. #4 blf
    March 6, 2010

    Martin’s absolutely right. Speaking from experience, do it all by snail-mail. In every letter, make clear you are not in the USA and that therefore there will be extra delay in receipt and reply. Your address won’t be clear enough; you have to say your are in Europe and therefore it will take longer for the letters to travel. (Overestimate the time as well, just to drive the point home; for this reason, you might want to delay a week or so (which will also give you time to compose a well-thought-out letter).)

    And don’t give them your phone number, they have no concept of timezones. Otherwise you will be called at some absurd time of day. (This will happen even if you try to be helpful and give a conversion and translate that into rules for their time (e.g., “… Only call between 3pm and 7pm your time.”)—It doesn’t work, they are too stupid.)

    I truly really deeply hate Hate HATE dealing with officialdom and their ambulance chasing lackeys and tools in the USA. They aren’t the stupidest people on the planet, but are certainly B Ark material.

  5. #5 george.w
    March 6, 2010

    When my father died, I received a claim against his estate from the Chicago PD for unpaid parking tickets affixed to his green Ford Torino. Except he was in Malaysia when the tickets were written and never owned a Ford Torino. His last green car was a ’53 Mercury.

    I later found out they routinely cruise estate notices and send claims to them, hoping to bring in revenue. Maybe ConEd is doing something of that kind.

  6. #6 Pen
    March 6, 2010

    Welcome to expat hood! Most of my husband’s mail used to be sent to us via somewhere like Illinois, because that was the closest to our French postal code that the US post office system could figure out. It generally took weeks to arrive (like your letter). He learned to put F- in front of the postcode and now it usually takes days. Maybe D- would work for you?

    An additional warning. Many US phone operators and other jobsworths don’t understand that ‘abroad’ really exists. Same husband is responsible for starting a meme amongst ATT employees that the French celebrate independence day on 14 July instead of the 4th because news took so much longer to travel in those days.

    Good luck with your bill. You might want to look into telephone over the internet, so you can call the fools up and sort it out for free.

  7. #7 Luna_the_cat
    March 6, 2010

    I’ll add to the chorus:

    Everything In Writing.
    STRESS that you are not in the US.
    Don’t give them your phone number unless you are ok with getting a phone call at midnight.

    …And one final thing: don’t assume that you owe them anything. These companies can be real chancers, sticking any random amount onto a “paid” final bill so as to hassle people into giving them a few more dollars. Why they do this I don’t know, since I would think that the legal and administrative demand this creates chews up any profit, but maybe they count on people just paying in order to avoid said hassle.

    Unless they prove to you unequivocably that you owe this, maybe you should tell them (politely, of course) to go suck it.

  8. #8 Vasha
    March 7, 2010

    I was talking to someone who used to work in the billing department of a hospital, and she said that her boss told her to randomly add extra charges to bills. I imagine that there’s quite a lot of people who wouldn’t notice anything wrong with their bill, or wouldn’t bother to question something they didn’t understand. Sorry to add to the paranoia…

  9. #9 Richard Simons
    March 7, 2010

    Slightly off-topic, but still dealing with stupid officials. For months, I was getting wrong electricity bills delivered because the postal code was for the address in our town, rather than the identical address in a different town (named on the envelope). I started just sending them back, then adding the correct postal code. I then upgraded to a phone call, then increasingly blunt messages on the envelope. I finally fixed it by writing a blunt message (How do I get through to you clowns . . .) in large writing on a piece of cardboard that was too large to fit in a file or to photo-reduce, then mailing it with insufficient postage. The trick is to make it less trouble to fix than to ignore.

  10. #10 Keith Harwood
    March 7, 2010

    Just be glad you aren’t in Austria. Then your mail would be going to Australia. And vice versa.

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