How to get out of wrongful late fees?
July 10, 2006 11:22 PM   Subscribe

My brother has received notice of a rather large DVD rental late fee. The trouble is, we know he returned the DVD. Is there an optimal strategy for getting the store to remove the charge?

My younger (and more responsible) brother just received notice in the mail of an accumulating late fee for an unreturned DVD. Apparently, the fee is now $50 (!) and will be referred to a collection agency within ten days. This is the first he's heard of it—it's not a store our family frequents—but I remember going with him to return the DVD in the late-night drop slot.

All this being said, is there any way to get the fee remitted with a minimum of hassle? Perhaps any Mefites who once worked at a video rental store could advise. Thanks in advance!
posted by jenovus to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No one wants to harass a paying customer when it may be a minimum wage part timer (who they have great rollover in) dropped it behing a fixture of some kind or its behind the box they drop returns in, etc. They take care of it pretty easily.

Purely anecdotal, but I had the exact same situation a month ago. Returned in drop box, an automated late call, time passes, a "we'll destroy your credit" letter. Blockbuster handled it on the phone and I didn't have to get indignant or bitchy, they just said OK.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 11:41 PM on July 10, 2006

Yeah don't take that "referred to a credit agency" stuff seriously at all. It's nonsense.

Last time this happened to me I called up, they said "Oh really? Yeah just throw the letter away. Come and talk to us next time you're in" and everything was sorted out.

There's some bot at head office that sends out those letters, I think, and the actual staff in the shop might not even know it has happened.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:51 PM on July 10, 2006

If it's not handled easily, and the store is one that doesn't print receipts and doesn't require the customer to enter a PIN when renting, ask for proof of rental. If they can't provide one, they're SOL.

As for dropping it in the slot, throw the thing when you do that and make sure you see it land inside the store where the next customer can't pull it right back out.
posted by dobbs at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2006

You didn't mention the name of the video store company- but if it is a big company, my guess is a low level employee won't have the authorization to wipe out a $50+ late fee. He will at least have to get it cleared with a manager.

That said, I'd go in - and ask to speak directly to a manager. Don't let the "bill" go up anymore than it has to. (Best would be to go in as soon as you received the notice, so you can argue this was the first time you heard of it) ... again, so it doesn't look like you're "dodging" anything.

Be polite, but direct - and explain your situation to the manager - or someone who you believe has the authority to get the charges removed. Politeness and gratitude is key here.

If you still cannot get the charges removed, I would go further up the ladder. Ask for the regional manager or whoever manages the manager. Maybe even the store owner? If it's just over the phone, you really don't have much to lose.

There was an article, a while back - some guys blog - he described a huge hassle he was having with a cell phone company. He described getting through to the CEOs office - he talked a lot about how people at the top can really put you to the "front of the line", and how the key was making contact with one of these guys. Anyone have a link for this article?

Good luck, submitter.
posted by ifranzen at 12:06 AM on July 11, 2006

I used to work at a video store, and let me tell you that those of us behind the counter couldn't possibly care less about your late fees. Accordingly, the only thing you can do to make us want to force you to pay is be a jerk.

Here's the way the phone call will work: the clerks will look up the account and find the allegedly unreturned movie's SKU. They'll then go try and find the movie in the store--checking to make sure that it's not actually on the shelf despite being marked as "rented" in the computer. If the movie is, in fact, on the shelf, I have no doubt that they'll remit your entire fee. If they can't find the movie anywhere, obviously, they're less likely to do so, but if you're polite, apologetic, nonconfrontational and don't accuse the staff of wrongdoing you have a very good chance of getting the fee halved or even entirely removed.

Surprisingly, a good number of people thought their best chance at getting rid of a late fee was to give us (the clerks) a lot of shit for it; in fact, that's the worst thing to do. We didn't create your late fee, we didn't enforce it, and we won't see more than a dime of it when you do pay it, so don't pretend that we're trying to rip you off. Be really nice and apologetic, and usually the counter clerk will at least halve or quarter it if not remove it entirely.

Clerks, especially at chain video stores, hardly think of themselves as representatives of the store themselves, and will take insults quite personally--and we hold grudges, so if you're constantly in the store acting like a jerk, you better believe that we'll be a hard-ass to you about late fees. In the same manner, be nice to us, talk to us, get to know us (and make sure we know you) and we'll be more than willing (usually) to give you a freebie once in a while. One woman sent us a Christmas card and got free rentals for a month or so.

I have never once heard of a collection agency actually being used to collect a late fee.
posted by maxreax at 12:14 AM on July 11, 2006

I found a link describing the strategy the guy used: here. (Hopefully it won't come down to this). Good to know, though.

Good luck!
posted by ifranzen at 12:15 AM on July 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, and ifranzen might be right; technically I didn't have the ability to remove a $50 fee, but I knew how to circumvent that and I'd wager most video store employees worth their salt will know how to as well.

Asking to see the manager can backfire if the manager's a jerk, but a lot of the time the manager cares as little as the staff. I'd try the clerks first.
posted by maxreax at 12:16 AM on July 11, 2006

I had Blockbuster send collections after me for 10 bucks in late fees. This was many years ago, but be warned, it can happen.
posted by chrisroberts at 12:56 AM on July 11, 2006

Pretty much what everyone else has said-- be polite, but firm. "No, I'm sorry, I know I returned that." Odds are, the staff will go on a hunt for the disc, and if it can't be found, the manager will shrug, chalk it up to the cost of doing business and cancel out the fine. A satisfied return customer is worth more than a $50 fee.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:13 AM on July 11, 2006

> If it's not handled easily, and the store is one that doesn't print receipts and doesn't require the customer to enter a PIN when renting, ask for proof of rental. If they can't provide one, they're SOL.

For what it's worth, I once went to collections for 3 adult videotapes in a similar situation. After 6 months(!) of bitching calls, I *finally* got a supervisor on the phone at the collections agency, and explained to him that I *had* returned the tapes, and that I had *tried* to get the clerks to initial my check-out reciept as returned *repeatedly* at that store, and that they refused, so there was *no way* I could ever prove it...

and it Went Away.

One of my few Big Wins this decade. :-}
posted by baylink at 7:40 AM on July 11, 2006

IANAL, but I just had the same problem with Hollywood Video. They dropped the matter and apologized for my inconvenience after I sent them a letter stating the following:

1. I know I returned it. I have no control over what happens to items placed in the company's drop box. The company's reliance on a drive-thru drop box puts the onus on them to demonstrate that I did not return it. (The store has since closed its drive-thru lockbox b/c of theft.)

2. I had rented materials several times since I had returned the item in question. At no time did a sales representative mentioned the item or the accruing fine.

3. The "collection agency" letter was the first I had learned of the accruing late fee.

4. Without a demonstration that I did not return the item, I would consider any further collection efforts fraudulent and handle the fraud appropriately.
posted by GarageWine at 10:58 AM on July 11, 2006

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