Am I liable for a refund issued by mistake?

I recently canceled my Verizon account. I owed 64.13. I paid it promptly and the money was removed from my account. 6 days later a refund check was issued. It said in bold letters “Refund.” I cashed it. Verizon has now turned me in to a collections agent.

I’m more than a little pissed. If they had called and explained their mistake, I would have happily torn up the check or sent them the money. But instead, they sent me to collections. These losers have been calling my house every day for the past 14 days - even after I explained the situation.

I gotta say that I don’t really want money that isn’t mine - and the money wouldn’t change the quality of my life anyway - but certainly Verizon has mishandled this situation. How on earth can you send me a check marked “refund” and not expect me to cash it? And then, with no explanation, send me to collections?

Anyway, if it went to court would I be liable?

It doesn’t make sense that they would send this to collections without invoicing you first. Have you contacted Verizon directly (I assume you’ve heard from a thrd-party collection agency)? Is the amount they’re after exactly the same as the refund amount?

IANAL but if they sent you money by mistake I think they have a right to ask for it back. There was an interesting case where a utility company undercharged some customers for years then billed them for it all at once. Pissed a lot of people off but I think the courts upheld it. No cite.

Interesting. If you could produce a copy of the paid check from your bank to Verizon in the amount of $64.13, I’d imagine the judge would consider that you had indeed paid the bill. Verizon’s mistake in sending the refund is Verizon’s problem, right?

But since you are $64.13 ahead, why not just pay it back to Verizon?

Oh yeah, you are definitely right. And as I said, had they just called me and been nice about this, that is how it would have all worked. But they pissed me off when they sent me to a collections agent - without even asking me if I would return the money - or alerting me to their mistake!

In the end, I suppose I will probably pay them. But I am curious whether I legally have to.

My credit union is contacting Verizon since it was an electronic transfer. Once I have gone that official route, I will contact them myself too. They should have *asked *for it back, not did what they did.

You’ll want to check out sections 805 and 806 of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. I’ve read in other threads that the magic words are ‘cease and desist’.

I have sent them a certified letter demanding that they cease and desist. This way I will have proof that they have received it. That went out Saturday. They should have gotten it no later than today. I will see if they continue to harass me tomorrow, but I’ll wait until I get the receipt back before I take action.

IANAL, but I have taken some law courses, and I believe as a general principle, you do in fact to have to pay it back, once both parties agree that there was an error in your favor.

That is not to say, howver that you would necessarily be ordered to do so by a judge. There are all kinds of rules about what constitutes proper notice, “reasonable” time to amend an error, etc. These rules would certainly vary by jurisdictions
How much time passed between cashing their check and receiving the first notice from the collection agency?

I cashed the check on June 8th. I got a call from collections on July 5th (ish). However, they did not identify themselves, just left a message to call back. Same until I got a letter from them last Wed the 12th. They do not know why Verizon thinks I owe them money, just that Verizon thinks I do. I have worked out the rest by myself (looking at my checking account and matching the withdrawel and then the deposit.) I have not acknowledged that I owe anything and no one has explained to me why Verizon thinks I do.

I would say yes. Technically, what you did was “accept something under false pretenses”, which is unusually a crime, although rarely prosecuted.

Then what happens when Verizon presents the refund check for the illgotten gains?

No wonder people like Judge Judy are so crabby! Have we gotten so far off our comon moral ground that we can’t see the plain truth? So what if Verizon acted in a way you do not like? How does that change your obligation to repay money that you openly admit is not rightfully yours and was sent to you by mistake?

Why do people think that the moral qualities of their creditor somehow changes or even discharges their legitimate debts?

If you are my landlord and I owe you $1000 for the rent, and the same day the rent is due you beat your wife and kids and call me an asshole and set a kitten on fire, do I suddenly no longer owe you the rent?

Pay Verizon the money you admit you owe them. Your obligation is to be honest, period. Their behaviour has nothing to do with it. They are separate moral issues.

It isn’t even closely the same. They sent me a check marked REFUND. What on earth would make me think it wasn’t a refund? And - let us be very clear - they have in NO WAY shown me that it wasn’t their intent to give me a refund.

What I have freely admitted is that they have sent me a check - not that I was not due a refund. As far as I knew, Vonage had canceled my account a month earlier. Then I got a bill. I called and asked for information regarding the continued billing of my account and was told that it would be investigated. When I got the refund I assumed that they had investigated in my favor. Had they not sent me a check, I would have assumed that there was nothing further that I could do.

What if I give you money and then report it as stolen? What if I wrote “GIFT” on the check - and then went to court to say that it was a loan and you owed it to me? Would I not have to show that I did not intend to give it to you? Heck, what if I wrote “GIFT” on the check and then went to court and said that I didn’t intend for you to have the money at all - I issued it by mistake? Would the courts buy this?

If you wish to build an argument, please at least try to do so in a manner that is comparable to the situation. I have beat no one, nor am I prone to beating people. I paid my bill promptly, in full. In your analogy I would have paid you the rent promptly, in full. If you refunded the money, the question would then remain - can you prove you didn’t intend to?

Welcome to our planet. I hope you enjoy studying our “words”, they are how we communicate ideas.

But now you know it was a mistake, and therefore you are obligated to return/repay it. All the other stuff about contacting the collections agency, while really annoying, doesn’t remove your responsibility to repay the money.

You may have a case that you need some time to pay it, or cover your expenses with the certified letter, but you own them back the money. I don’t see why you are questioning this now that you know the facts?

I think he knows he has to repay the money, he was trying to figure out why they sent him to a collections agency within a month. I wouldn’t be suprised if there was a huge extra charge on his bill now. When my mother died I used the estate moeny to pay her bills. I couldn’t do them all at once, but they all agreed to hold it for a few months. Verizon ended up sending it to a collections agency, the $200 bill went to $1500. I’m sure had Verizon told the OP "Hey we screwed up and sent you a check for $60 please repay it they would have.

Doesn’t being sent to collections damage a person’s credit? I would be hugely pissed off. I seriously doubt that a judge would order you to pay the money back, particularly in light of the fact that you asked for an “investigation” before being issued the check. Not that it would be worth it to go to court over 60 bucks.

Actually, I don’t. Not really. I asked for an investigation. No one has explained anything. Although I can surmise a lot (and have done), there has never been any exchange of information showing that the refund was sent by mistake. The only thing that has happened is a collections agent has called and said that I owe Verizon money. They have not explained why.

What a quaint universe you live in, where personal obligations are governed by morality rather than the law. Since everybody agrees on what constitutes the moral action, you don’t even need worldly things like lawmakers, statutes and judges. Send us a postcard if that ever changes.

Don’t JUST cend a cease and desist.
Send a letter demanding validation, per the following link:

This should preserve your legal right to validation, without which they may not continue further collection. It stalls your average collection agency about 90 days, OR makes them send the item back to the original creditor.
If they OWN the debt, they may simply resell it and you wind up with a new collection agency.

By the way, sending a C&D doesn’t have quite the same effect.
With a C&D they’ll do one of three things:

  1. Return to original creditor,
  2. Resell the debt,
  3. Sue.

Sue won’t happen with this size of debt.
The advantage to a validation letter is that if they don’t validate, they can’t report you to credit report agencies.

By the way, the wise course here is to contact Verizon and demand a full accounting of your account from day one. That way you can determine if you indeed owe them anything.
If you do owe them anything, I’d offer to pay it contingent to their promise that neither they nor their agents will report the matter to any third parties and if queried by any third parties they will remain silent on the matter.