This article does not form an attorney-client relationship or constitute receiving legal advice.
Consulting with a lawyer is the best course of action.
Each legal issue can have a different outcome based on the facts, language and other applicable laws.
This article is about practical solutions. Not about the law. Because let’s face it, collection companies do not care about (or know) the law.
So, here is the situation.
You’ve received a demand for payment from a company that at first, appears to be a law firm; but it isn’t. It’s a collections company with some unfortunate hourly waged employee just trying to make it through the day.
The correspondence demands that you pay some random (and crazy) freight charge froma carrier you’ve never met or hired. The documents attached; you’ve never seen before. But what really bothers you, is that the collections company immediately threatens to call your customer for payment. Can they do that legally? It doesn’t matter because they will do it anyhow. Good times.
Here are the practical steps you can take to mitigate the situation. Keep checking my website because I will add more blog posts about the law and steps to prevent these situations from happening again.
The collections company usually provides you with a rate confirmation, invoice, anda signed bill of lading. The rate confirmation and invoice could be completely fake. Anyone can make those on their computer. The signed bill of lading could have been pulled from some disgruntled employee or carrier posting it on Facebook or giving it to their friends for this exact use. You need to verify that this carrier has truly transported the shipment. And that is a fair request. Ask the collections company to provide additional proof, such as the carrier’s ELD data for that day proving location, time and date of the shipment.
Immediately reach out to your customer and let them know the situation and that this is a common industry problem. Inform your customer that you are assessing whether this is a fraudulent situation. Ask your customer to not engage with the collections company as it adds fuel to the perhaps, fraudulent fire. Provide follow-up steps and deadlines. If you must ask a lawyer to help you with providing your customer with additional assurances, such as: (a) signing a one paragraph document stating that you will indemnify and defend the customer for unpaid freight charges for this particular transaction; (b) take out a bond in the amount “owed,” with your customer as the recipient to prove that you will be responsible if this demand is accurate and in accordance with the law. Hopefully, your customer will accept your assurances, not engage with the collections company and give you time to resolve the situation. However, don’t let this situation sit just because you have time! That would look very bad; especially if this situation comes up again in the future.
If you feel that the demand is not fraudulent. Research the carrier’s contact information and call the carrier and ask how you can resolve the situation. Perhaps you pay a portion of the freight charges with the promise of future freight. You do not owe any obligation to the collections company and do not need to work with the company. That’s the carrier’s problem.
If the carrier refuses to settle directly with you and you feel that the demand is not fraudulent, you’re next step is to try and negotiate with the collections company. Ugh. You will see this collections company again so negotiate hard.
First, focus on the amount that you paid the carrier that you hired. The collections company or the carrier demanding payment could have lied about the amount owed. So that amount should be irrelevant to you. Try to negotiate that you will pay forty or thirty percent of the amount demanded. I’m not saying that will happen, it’s just a goal.
Second,when you’ve agreed upon an amount, have a lawyer look at the release agreement. It’s worth the extra money to have a good release you can use in the future because this will happen again. The other reason you want a proper release is because the collections company may be sitting on additional demands against you that they plan to present to you in the near future. They know your game now.
If you feel the demand is fraudulent, you may have the option of filing a small claims lawsuit against the collections company and the carrier for libel if they are harassing your customers and making false statements about your company in writing. It’s always best to ask your local lawyer for help. This step is just a suggestion, it won’t always work and depends on the facts and the law at hand. If you can’t afford a lawyer but you’re savvy at researching, call your local court and ask about “pro se resources and assistance.” Some courts are designed to make it easy to file suit without a lawyer and provide clinics, reading material, online filing and more.