How it all began
Since 2005 when I once again became a Sunrise Communications AG Switzerland mobile phone subscriber, I always paid my bills in a timely manner. With that being said, in early December 2011 and out of the blue, I received a Validation Notice sent to me by the Debt Collection Agency „infoscore Inkasso AG“ (www.infoscore.ch) on behalf of its client Sunrise Communications AG. This collection agency is located in Schlieren, Zürich. The content of the letter reads as follows:
DEBT COLLECTION NOTICE (click here to see original letter in German)
Debt Claim on behalf of Sunrise Communications AG, 8050 Zurich
We noticed that your account is still delinquent, despite the previous overdue bill payment reminder letters sent to you. To date no payment has been received.
Amount outstanding to original creditor: CHF 72.45
Interest: CHF 5.00
Debt Collection Agency fee: CHF 83.00
Credit history check fee: CHF 35.00
Damage caused by account default fee: CHF 76.00
TOTAL: CHF 271.45
In order to keep your account in good standing and without incurring in additional costs, we are giving you a last opportunity to settle the outstanding sum in full within the next five (5) days from the date of this letter.
Failure to comply with this deadline will leave us with no alternative, but to exercise whatever rights and remedies we have under the law to enforce such payment, including but not limited to institution of legal proceedings against you to recover the above amount, together with the accrued interest and legal expenses.
This final reminder followed by a threat of collection proceedings took me completely aback. Equally remarkable is the fact, that before this „last reminder“ I never received a first reminder, nor second or a third; or had otherwise any indication that I had overdue bill payments with any company, which services I used.
This last Collection Notice (also known as Validation Notice) before court proceedings totally baffled me. I was aghast at the thought of getting a negative entry in my Credit Report Records.
I immediately called the collection agency, Infoscore, to find out what all this was about, as I was certain it must have been a mistake. Upon calling Infoscore, I learned they were acting on behalf of Sunrise Communications AG, my mobile phone service provider. But since I only had a mobile phone plan subscription with Sunrise, and the service had always been in normal operation, I could not understand how it had not been suspended, if my account was indeed delinquent, as claimed by Sunrise.
Upon request, Infoscore agrees to send me copies of the alleged past due bills I had not paid to Sunrise. Looking at the copies I noticed the following:
- Sunrise had issued two separate statements (for a combined total of CHF 72.45) and sent them to Afghanistan. A country I’m sure is lovely, but one I had never in my life been to.
- Neither one of the statements gave me information about the services provided and for which I’m being billed.
- Both bills only showed a billing cycle: From August 2010 to October 2010.
In 2010, Sunrise covered the billing department for the mobile phone service division of Cablecom, as Cablecom used the already established network from Sunrise in Switzerland, to get into the mobile communication business. But this is another subject, one I only need to mention here briefly in order to explain what in all likelihood happened.
- Sunrise (Billing Division for Cablecom users) issues two invoices under my account for a total of CHF 72.45, from August to October 2010 and sends them to Afghanistan.
- Sunrise (Division for Sunrise users) simultaneously bills me for the services provided by them (Sunrise) during the same period of time (Aug-Oct 2010). These statements for a total just under CHF 300.- are accurate and were correctly mailed to my Swiss residence and were paid.
Needless to say that I never received the bills sent to Afghanistan (and if someone there did, clearly did not pay for it).
My first thought was that such an obvious mistake in their billing department would be promptly detected and amended. I could ultimately prove that I had paid on time the bills I did receive. Likewise, I could prove that I was never in Afghanistan to receive mail addressed to me there.
But unfortunately it all would turn out differently, as I was soon to find out.
In the meantime and before I would come to that less than sweet realization, I wrote to Sunrise in four different occasions, two of those letters were sent through certified mail. All in a desperate attempt to make the company aware of its mistake or at least to receive detailed information about the reason for those Sunrise-Cablecom bills. But the communication with Sunrise has since then been covered in a blanket of silence. Sunrise opted for not responding to my inquiries.
But back in early December 2011 when I received the Debt Collection Notice, besides getting in touch with the debt collection agency, I also tried to get a written report from Sunrise, stating, that my account with them had never been in default, and that not even once, I had made a late payment.
Here more or less the conversation with Sunrise Hotline when I called:
Sunrise hotline: Your account is in good standing. Yes, all due bills have always been paid in time, our records show.
I: Ok, then consequently could you please: a) state that in writing for me and b) withdraw the debt claim Sunrise handed over to Infoscore, the collection agency?
Sunrise hotline: Hmmm … yes…. uh oh… just a moment please.
And that’s the moment when Sunrise staff on the phone gets confused, because he does not see anywhere in my account that a debt claim has been filed. And a confirmation in writing that I do not owe anything to Sunrise, will just not be issued.
The last time I called the Hotline on February 13, 2012, I was only told:
„Sorry, we have a total system crash. We can not access your account. Call again tomorrow“.
Mind you, I was „only“ half an hour waiting on the phone line before my call was picked up by a human being.
Given the situation I decided to reach out to Sunrise in writing, four times. Since December 9, 2011 and until now, Sunrise had not only opted for absolute silence, but also turned a blind eye on its mistake.
Meanwhile, Inkassobüro Infoscore Inkasso AG, the collection agency, had done nothing more than to send me a Final Notice threatening with legal actions. Although I also wrote to them in four occasions pointing out all the inconsistencies in this case, in a last attempt to make someone realize this is a mistake. Three of the letters sent to Infoscore were also certified. Not surprisingly, my plea fell in deaf ears once again.
After over two months trying in vain to be heard, both in writing and by phone, on February 13th 2012 finally I got a reaction: not from Sunrise though, but from its collector.
Mr S. of Infoscore called me (on the very same mobile number here in question by Sunrise!) to tell me:
„Listen, if Sunrise’s demand for payment is justifiable or not, is none of my concerns. You need to meet the new and final deadline and submit the payment by March 5th, 2012, or else we will go ahead and take legal action by filing a lawsuit against you. “
I: „Should that happen, I will appeal the claim to have the debt collection lawsuit thrown out!“
Mr. S.: „But by then you would have a negative record for 3 years on your credit report.“
I: „But doesn’t it perplex you that you are calling me on the same mobile number for which you are trying to collect payment on? If my account with Sunrise were delinquent, how come then, that this mobile number is up and running? Sunrise would have disconnected the service before threatening me with a lawsuit, wouldn’t it?“
Mr. S.: „A claim from Sunrise is the only requirement I need to collect a debt, which I can and will collect. Pay it immediately, or we will carry out the filing of the suit on behalf of Sunrise!“
I: „But, Mr. S. The fact that these bills were sent to AFGHANISTAN doesn’t even make you suspicious that more than one error was made in their billing department?
Mr. S.: Why do you keep on mentioning „Afghanistan“? What does Afghanistan have to do with the case?
I: „Just have a look to the address on Sunrise invoices to me. Sunrise sent them to Afghanistan!“
And Mr. S. goes on here once again with his rehearsed announcement:
„A claim from Sunrise is the requirement I need to collect a debt, which I can and will collect. Pay it now or ….“
In summary, neither with Sunrise nor with its collection agency can I conduct a dialogue that would address the actual error. It needs to be detected first and asserted as such, in order to be corrected.
On December 9th, 2011 the first certified letter was sent to Sunrise. The last one on February 13th, 2012. Content of the letters:
- Evidence that I have always, in a timely fashion, paid all the pertaining bills to my mobile number. Proof of that is, that the service is not suspended and that my number is still in operation with Sunrise as provider.
- The request to withdraw the debt collection claim from its collection agency Infoscore AG.
Until March 16th 2012 I had not yet heard back from Sunrise.
What stood out in this case (and to my detriment), was that I might have been wrongly prosecuted and potentially received a negative record on my credit report history for delinquent debt; an entry which I certainly would have appealed but by then, the damage would have already been done and there was nothing else I could think of doing at this point to prevent that from happening.
Such an entry on the Swiss credit report agency is only erased after 3 years. During those three years I would be able to rent a new place to live only if I’m in luck (and certainly not longer in Zurich where I have lived and am still living). Neither would I have qualified for a loan/credit and should I have sought out new employment during this period of time, I would have been assuredly called upon to explain myself.
Resisting this pressure while trying in vain to find a way to engage Sunrise in a dialogue, was what happened to me for several months. Being ignored all the way. This entire situation became my daily nightmare for more than three months.
NIGHTMARE Telecommunication SUNRISE!