Charter Communications bungles collection notices

Few things are more annoying than getting notified by a collection agency that you owe money — when you don’t.

That’s been happening recently to hundreds of former Charter Communications customers across the nation. Charter’s billing system acted as if these ex-customers owed money for unreturned equipment when they didn’t. Fixing the problem proved frustrating.

The problem was caused by Charter’s conversion to a new billing system, but that happened two years ago. Only recently, though, were inaccurate bills for unreturned equipment sent out.

M.L. Bogan of Fort Worth disconnected her Charter service years ago. When she first received notice after her disconnection that she owed the company $25 for a modem, she explained that she had bought it.

Then last month, she started getting letters from a collection agency.

She called Charter to explain again, but a rep kept telling her to pay the $25 or return the modem.

“After going round and round in circles and getting nowhere,” she says, she finally got a supervisor who took ownership of her case. She learned that Charter actually owed her $4.81.

Case closed? Not that easy. A week later, she received another collection agency notice claiming she owed Charter $4.81. She made more calls to Charter.

She also called the collection agency, which told her there would be a $9.95 processing fee for her to collect her $4.81 refund, but if she paid the $4.81 to them, they would waive the fee. (Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense, but little of this does.)

She called Charter again and was told the company had to complete a form for her refund, then it would take six to eight more weeks to process the check. Her account with the collection agency would be cleared.

Then the Charter rep asked whether she wanted to stay on the line and complete a customer satisfaction survey. Really. (I would have!)

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When Nancy Fitzhugh of Fort Worth ended her Charter service two years ago, she sent her modem back. In January, a collection agency demanded $33.

She says, “Their approach was ‘It’s only $33, and it would be easier just to pay it.'”

When she refused, an agent warned her, “We are not going away.”

Oh, yeah? I shared her problem with my Charter contact. The calls stopped coming. Then last month, she received an unexpected refund of $45 from Charter.

Richard W. Cree Jr. dropped Charter a few years ago, and he returned his modem. After that, he kept receiving letters asking for $25. Each time, he’d call and explain that he returned the modem.

“This went on for over two years,” he says. A month ago, he received a demand letter from a collection agency in Florida for $33.

He visited a Charter storefront in Keller. A Charter rep told him she heard the same story from other customers.

Turns out Cree had a $95 credit on his account that he didn’t know about. After he received his refund, he took $25 of that to use for a gift card for the Charter rep who had been kind to him. Classy.

Charter spokesman Kevin Allen says, “These accounts should not have been sent to the collector, and Charter corrected this as soon as we realized the error that had occurred.”

The company is changing its procedures to review equipment returns and compare them with a customer’s credit balance before collection agencies are notified, he says. He estimates that less than 1 percent of Charter’s customers were affected.

What do you do if you get caught in a similar comedy of errors?

The Charter spokesman suggests: “Keeping detailed records and receipts is key. In the example of Ms. Fitzhugh, she had maintained detailed records including her receipt for returned equipment, which made her situation simple for Charter to resolve.

“In addition, Charter’s associates at our sales and service centers are trained to research and resolve all situations that arise. Visiting one of our community offices is another way to resolve an issue such as this.”

The Watchdog adds that federal law gives consumers protection when they are served with false collection notices. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is the rulebook for these situations.

Consumers wrongly dunned need to send a letter to the collector challenging the debt. That starts the clock, giving the collector 30 days to prove that the debt is accurate.

It ends up a battle between your paperwork and theirs, and that’s why keeping receipts for returned equipment is vital.

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is available in hardcover, as a CD audio book, ebook and hey, what else do you need. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber


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  1. I too have billing issues with Charter Communications. When I called for quotes for Internet service, I was told that, due to snow, since I'm not a full-time resident at the service address I qualified for Charter's seasonal service rates. When I did not see the promised reduction, I called Charter. They told me I didn't qualify for the seasonal service rate because I live in California. The person who gave me the erroneous quote had the Calif. address when he made the quote. I have been trying to get compensation for the mis-quote since December. I may end up in small claims court rather than letting Charter rip me off.

  2. Thank you for your writing on this issue. I have found many complaints, all leading to believe Charter has intentionally billed customers for equipment not leased by the customer, or in our case equipment we exchanged for upgraded DVR boxes over two years ago. I am relieved to some extent that this appears to be a known issue so hope we don't have a problem. Over two years ago we exchanged two regular cable boxes for two DVR boxes. At this time we had only two tv's. We live in a small apt due to our jobs and planning ahead for a home in S VT but in the meantime doing our best living in what we have. I realized we may have been charged too much for the boxes but the way it's worded it is confusing. We recently complained about the fees and had ours go down quite a bit and why I found what appeared to be overcharges for the boxes. When I called on this two days ago I was told we're paying for 4 boxes all this time. I explained we only had 2 tv sets. The next question from Charter was "Do you have a receipt". I've gone through all in our office in the apt and can only hope the boxes the DVR receivers came in hold our receipts and other paperwork. I suspect we have at least the new DVR material but wonder if we were ever given a receipt for what we thought was a simple exchange. Sadly too the old boxes were old, I'd had them for several years and doubt very much they were used by anyone else after we returned them. I appologise for venting but hoping if this gets posted it may help someone else to be a bit "smarter" about keeping everything, and having all put in writing. I have learned to use email and chat and make a point of saving those. Thank you again for posting this.

  3. PS Re-reading my own I want to clarify I did question what appeared to be over charges quite a while ago but they managed to go around it and though confused we bought the excuse. I do not believe at that time the person I spoke to had a clue why we had the charges we did so just weaved a tale. It wasn't until the new updated lower charges were posted that it was made clearer. Also, we exchanged our old boxes for the new DVR's and at that time signed what appeared to be something we'd sign if setting up our will. My hubby is used to working with contracts due to his job and between the two of us there was not an issue with obtaining the two DVR's but neither of us thought anything about getting something proving we exchanged the two old boxes for the new DVR's. This is a big warning for all whether you are dropping something like cable or simply upgrading. Get everything put in writing.

  4. Laura, if you have a problem with Charter and you want me to to take it to their top brass, send me an email with all your details to I'd be happy to.

  5. I definately will. I am going to look for the boxes our DVR's came in; I suspect and hope they are in our attic which is our only storage area. I remember the two of us setting the two DVR's up and the paperwork being with the boxes. I don't have the paperwork in my files and certain I kept it with the boxes knowing we'd need all when we returned the DVR's. Whether or not my hubby did something with the boxes he shouldn't have since is another matter, in which case we'll most likely have to live with paying for the old receivers and also the billing for the years of service for four of them. I hope we don't though. We live in a small city in VT and the same person who runs the small Charter office has been there since I've been a customer. Hard part there is that if it's not in the system and we don't have proof then I imagine it's on us. I will stay in touch you. I am so pleased to have found your site. I find this refreshing to find someone who works for a positive end result instead of just encouraging complaints. Thank you again! Laura

  6. Their still at it! Didn't get a collection notice, but did get a notice that they were auditing their customers and supposedly found that I had a modem that haven't been paying rent on. They said that due to it being their mistake they wouldn't charge me for past charges, but I would see a $7 fee on my next bill to take care of their oversight.
    Wrong. I never leased a modem from them. Had one was back when it was AT&T@Home. Then bought a new Motorola Surfboard SB5101 back in around 06. Rep I talked to checked over the cable and said yep, it's yours. But we still need you to send the modem of ours back. I'm like, I don't have a modem of yours. So like 5 years later they are trying to say that I have their modem and they didn't know it, so are going to start charging me. I got sent to another person. She said she took care of it and put a note in my file. That I wouldn't be charged for anything but my internet speed, won't be charged for the modem I don't have.
    I have been lied to by Charter before, when a Rep gave me a price for the phone service. Said multiple times it wasn't a special deal and price wouldn't go up. Well it did in 3 months, when I called about it another Rep just said I guess you got lucky. What? So I cancelled my video and phone service with them back in 06. Another Rep called back later and said I was a great customer and wondered why they didn't offer me something to keep me. She also wanted to make sure I was cancelling and just keeping the internet only. But even she seemed truly surprised at their behavior. So if this keeps up and I was lied to again. I will I guess cancel the last remaining part of Charter and check out Clear.

  7. Well, just to follow up. Next bill did not include a rental charge for a modem I don't have. So maybe they did take care of it. Don't think I would be amiss to say that it will probably crop up again in the future though. Charter seems to do that. So will keep the notice got with subsequent bills showing they took care of it this time. Sad that you have to keep records this long.
    Was returning a Dish Network DVR and shipping company told me that Direct TV came back over a year later and said a woman didn't return her DVR and she came to them looking for her receipt. They told me to keep the shipping receipt for 'at least' a year just incase.


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