Yesterday I received a collection letter from A.R.M. Solutions, Inc. out of Camarillo, CA informing me that my
…account with our client First Lien Term Lenders Liquidating Trust, the legal successor to Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery, has been sent to us for collections due to its severe past due status. Below are the specific titles that contributed to this debt. Your total amount due may include some titles not listed here.
Date Title 10/01/2009 DVD-Battle for Terra (2009/WS) 01/30/2009 DVD-Spy Kids 3D-Game Ove(WS/2D 01/30/2009 DVD-Speed Racer Next-Fast Trac 10/01/2009 DVD-Observe And Report (WS/FF) 02/04/2009 DVD-Repo!-Genetic Opera (WS) 01/30/2009 DVD-Duchess The (2008/WS)
and that somehow I owe them $44.59.
I never, ever received anything from Hollywood Video indicating that my account was in any way other than in good standing as of the local store closing. I had paid for the $15 a month “Power Play” subscription that allowed me to take out a couple of DVDs at a time without paying a rental fee. I was a customer who would go in on Tuesdays (release day) and pick up a few DVDs and we would end up watching them on Friday and Saturday and return them on Sunday. DVDs rented on Tuesday were due by closing time on Sunday. Any DVDs over and above the amount on the Power Play (I think it was two) I would pay the regular rental price on.
We always returned our DVDs on time. If we didn’t get to one over the weekend I would still return it and then take it out again to see it. I had accrued no late fees. I didn’t owe anything to Hollywood Video at all. I still don’t.
Putting First Lien Term Lenders Liquidating Trust into Google returns some articles about them.
A Daily Finance article from May 11, 2011 says that the company entered into a settlement with the Attorneys General of all 50 states and Washington, DC to settle allegations of misconduct. Apparently Bankruptcy First Term Lenders Liquidating Trust was reporting these collection actions to the credit reporting agencies and negatively affecting consumers’ credit ratings.
A link from there goes to a press release from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office which lists the settlement details as follows:
As part of the agreement, the bankruptcy trustee, Movie Gallery, Inc. Bankruptcy First Term Lenders Liquidating Trust, agrees to:
? Cancel all previously submitted consumer credit reports.
? Not submit any future consumer credit reports.
? Not charge collection fees or interest on principal amounts consumers owe.
? Not charge consumers double for late fees.
? Protect consumers from future abusive practices in collection of the accounts.
The settlement was filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division. The Court approved the settlement by order dated May 5, 2011.
There are a number of collection agencies used by this company as well. I’ve seen National Credit Solutions, West Bay Acquisitions, and Universal Fidelity LP, to name a few in addition to A.R.M. Solutions letter that I received.
At consumeraffairs.com there are many complaints about these letters.
One of the articles I found was at Boston.com from last month in answer to a question sent to their Consumer Alert columnist Mitch Lipka questioner had received a letter from Universal Fidelity LP and Lipka told the writer:
On Universal Fidelity’s website is an email address to file an appeal of the debt. Object to the collection notice and that’s it. It isn’t usually that simple.
The settlement agreement with the states generally permits the continued collection of valid amounts owed by former customers of Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video. There are, however, some limitations in the settlement agreement on what kinds of charges may be collected. Fees not to be collected are: 1. Any collection charges, including interest, in excess of the principal amounts incurred by the customer, 2. combined late fees and product charges for the same rental transaction and 3. stand- alone product charges related to a single rental transaction. Other than these limitations, the settlement agreement does not contain any determinations regarding the validity of, or the amounts of specific claims asserted against individual customers. Customers, like you, still retain the right to dispute whether amounts sought from them are in fact owed. If customers have questions or concerns regarding the settlement agreement, they should contact their state’s attorney general general’s [sic] consumer protection section for additional information
Q: “Why haven’t I heard about this earlier?”
A: These accounts are part of the bankruptcy estate of Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery. If we have contacted you now, it is on behalf of the trustee. A trustee has been assigned by the bankruptcy court to liquidate the assets of the debtors including delinquent customer accounts.
Q: “Is this going to be reported to my credit report?”
A: These accounts will not be reported to the credit bureaus.
Q: “I had a power play membership that didn’t charge late fees, how do I
have a balance due?”
A: Power play didn’t cover unlimited rentals for everyone. It was only good for certain titles (new releases were excluded, as were games for various programs). Also, you could have had a “2 out” program and rented a 3rd or 4th movie. The additional movies would have been subject to fees just like anyone else’s rentals.
Q:“I was an employee of Hollywood Video and didn’t get charged late fees, how do I have a balance due?”
A: Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery had no such policy allowing employees to rent for free or have no late fees.
Q:“My credit card was on file with Hollywood Video, why wasn’t my balance paid via auto debit?”
A: There was a debit program for power play memberships, however, late fees were never debited automatically.
Q:“I wasn’t allowed to rent movies if I had outstanding late fees, how do I have a balance due that includes multiple rental dates?”
A: There was no company policy stating you could not rent if you had outstanding late fees. The sales associate would typically say “you have some late fees, do you want to pay these today or on your next transaction? All a customer had to state was ”I will handle them next time” and they were allowed to rent their movies. It is possible that the associate never mentioned your late fees on the next visit. Floating late fees from one visit to the next resulted in balances being due at the time of closing.
There is nothing here about how to dispute the charges. No email address to use, no link to a form. There is a notice on the back of the collection letter however.
Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within 30 days from receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of judgement [sic] and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice this office will provide you with the name and address of of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.
I do not owe this. I owe nothing to Hollywood Video. I did not incur any late fees let alone leave them unpaid.
The FAQ referenced above only seems to try to shut down any objections one might have and doesn’t really explain anything. For example, question number one above: “Why haven’t I heard about this earlier?” The answer given doesn’t explain anything to me. The agreed order linked to above is dated May 6, 2011 – over a year ago. Yet only now am I receiving a letter.
Back to that Boston Globe Consumer Alert column from above:
About 4,000 have complained to Universal Fidelity after getting notices, according to Paul Farinacci, the company’s chief executive. About 40,000 of the 400,000 accounts that Universal Fidelity is pursuing have paid outstanding bills, he said.
How many of those 40,000 just paid this without question? How many accounts are they looking at total? That 400,000 figure seems to be only the accounts Fidelity Universal was pursuing.
The contact page at armsolutions.com has a fax number and a contact email. As the notice on the back of letter specifies “in writing” I will write a letter and fax it to them today. I have an excellent credit rating and even though the agreed order states that they cannot submit this to the reporting agencies, receiving this letter informing me for the first time about alleged debts over three years old doesn’t fill me with confidence.