Mourning a Child, Harassed for a Billing Error

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Howard M. Hyman's 20-year-old son -- a college student working part time -- died in April 2006. Three months later, the Warrington, Pa., resident discovered his son owed $217.95 on a Capital One credit card when he died. Hyman called the company to say he would pay the outstanding amount, out of respect for his son, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so. The company told him to call another number. Hyman says that he left three messages but that no one called back. Then in March, nearly a year after his son's death, a collections agency called Hyman on behalf of Capital One, saying Hyman's son's outstanding balance was $1,473.49.

Hyman says he asked for documentation showing why the amount had grown so large. Instead of an explanation, Hyman says, he received a form letter from the collections agency saying he had agreed to make the payment in full -- a promise he says he never made. After sending angry letters to the collections firm and to members of Congress, Hyman paid $217.95 in early April. He says no one has ever explained to him why the collections firm sought more money.

Capital One, after being contacted by The Washington Post, reviewed the account and found that $217.95 was all that was owed at the time of death. The confusion, the company says, occurred because it failed to credit the account for a payment of $1,255.54 made just before he died , so the collections firm thought that, too, was owed.

Hyman says that makes no sense because his son's monthly billing statement shows that the payment was credited.

"We sincerely regret the frustration and inconvenience experienced by Mr. Hyman," says Tatiana Stead, a spokeswoman for Capital One. "We identified and corrected the errors that occurred in processing the account as soon as they were brought to our attention. The balance on the account is 'zero' and we have been in contact with Mr. Hyman to offer our apologies."

Hyman says no one has called to apologize, though last Tuesday someone from Capital One left a message on his home phone. He hasn't returned the call.

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