HOUSTON For hundreds of consumers, what came in the daily mail was a mystery.
I got the envelope and I thought, hmm, this is strange, said Dr. Laurie Weaver.
It was a notice of debt for $275 for supposedly passing a hot check.
And that was quite strange for the University of Houston-Clear Lake professor.
Because I don t write checks, Weaver said.
She said pays her bills online and only uses a credit card to shop at stores.
Stranger yet, the hot check was passed at a Walmart in Cleveland, Texas, more than 60 miles from her home.
Never been there, Weaver said.
Naturally, she feared she was a victim of identity theft.
Scary as all get out, Weaver said.
But oddly enough, that wasn t the case.
When I went and checked my credit reports everything was clear, she said.
So Weaver tried to get answers from the company that sent the letter Telechek one of the largest check security firms in the country, headquartered in Houston in the Galleria area. And that s when the trouble really began.
Then they started calling me, every night, every night, Weaver said.
The callers wanted her to pay up, but at the same time, she said Telecheck refused to give her any proof that the debt was hers, or that it was even real.
Every conversation ended with if you want us to stop calling you need to pay this debt, Weaver said.
Turns out, Weaver s predicament is part of an alarming trend. The 11 News Defenders identified nearly 500 consumer complaints from across the country, filed with the Houston Better Business Bureau and Texas Attorney General s Office. They all claimed Telecheck wanted money for debts that weren t theirs. In some cases, they were debts that occurred in other states, such as Houston consumers stuck with a $488 debt at a Walmart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another Houstonian was forced to deal with a $1,040 debt at a Walmart in Conway, Arkansas. And yet another Houston resident got a letter saying she owed $1,668 for a supposed hot check passed at a Walmart in Crestview, Florida.
I ve never been there! one consumer pleaded to the Better Business Bureau.
I ve never written a check to Wal-Mart in my life, stated another complaint.
Our next mailbox mystery? A letter from Telecheck subsidiary TRS Recovery Services, Inc. to consumer Michael Redditt Jr. It was demanding to collect $353.
They kept telling me it s you, it s you, it s you, Redditt said.
And again, this consumer said Telecheck refused to show any proof the debt was his.
They kept saying it s your driver s license, it s your driver s license, it s your driver s license, Reddick said.
But ultimately, months after the initial collection letters were mailed out, Telecheck reversed course in both Weaver s and Redditt s cases. The company conceded it made a mistake, saying their driver s license numbers were inadvertently associated with a Telecheck file belonging to another party.
So how could it happen? Neither Telecheck nor its parent company First Data would talk about specific cases, and only would comment in general terms.
Incorrect linking can be a result of a clerical error, say for example, a cashier incorrectly types a driver s license number at the point of sale, said company spokesperson Glen Turpin.
In fact, the consumer complaints 11 News reviewed point to all sorts of explanations for why Telecheck had gotten the wrong man. As one consumer wrote, this company should have better research practices .
Man there s something broken here, said Dan Parsons, President of the Houston Better Business Bureau.
It s either sloppiness, or it s procedures that are somehow broken, Parsons said.
He also said the complaints point to a double whammy for consumers: after Telecheck hit them with bogus debt letters, it also froze their check-writing privileges at thousands of stores nationwide.
They re banned, Parsons said.
They are financially responsible people, and suddenly they are told, you re no good, he said.
And there s a kicker to all of this even when consumers like Redditt thought everything was taken care of, it was far from over.
I ve got this letter saying it s not my debt, and now I ve got a letter saying it is my debt, Redditt said.
You heard right. Telecheck sent one letter saying his file had been cleared, yet one month later, it sent another trying to collect the same $353 bogus debt.
I mean I was like you ve got to be kidding me! Redditt ghasped.
He said the company did call to apologize, but a few months later, he got another surprise in the mailbox. This time, it was from a Chicago law firm representing Telecheck and trying to collect.
They actually called me a crook, Redditt said of the phone conversation he had with the law firm. We deal with crooks like you every day, I m not going to believe your stories, we just want your money, you get to pick how you pay, he said.
Telecheck, again, would only comment in general terms.
We strive to respond to customers politely,and resolve their inquiries as swiftly as possible, spokesperson Glen Turpin said.
In all, it took Redditt says it took more than 10 months and countless hours to get the mess behind him. He only hopes the mailman doesn t bring another mystery.
For the love of God, this better not be Telecheck, I thought that many times, he said.
Walmart declined to interview for this story, but company spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez did provide the following statement:
Our use of an electronic check system has helped us continue to provide our customers the convenience of paying by check, while offering a secure system that has helped us reduce the number of fraudulent checks in recent years.
Many retailers, including Walmart, rely on third-party experts such as Telecheck to provide us with the information we need in order to continue accepting checks.
Unfortunately, errors sometimes occur, which could be a result of anything from database issues to human error. When these instances are brought to our attention, we work with Telecheck to ensure issues are resolved as quickly as possible.