May 7, 2013

Truck renter says he was double-billed, called 100 times by collectors

PORTSMOUTH — A truck-rental customer is suing U-Haul, claiming he was erroneously double-billed, then referred to a collection agency that ruined his credit history, while calling him 100 times for money he didn't owe.

The lawsuit was filed in Rockingham Superior Court by Portsmouth attorney Terrie Harman on behalf of Philip Suter of Peterborough. Suter alleges he rented a U-Haul truck in Bangor, Maine, using his credit card, then returned the truck at U-Haul Moving & Storage in Portsmouth. The following month, when he received his credit card statement, Suter noticed he was billed $216 by the Bangor U-Haul franchise, and another $259.65 by U-Haul of Portsmouth, his lawsuit alleges. He claims the Portsmouth charge was unauthorized and that he disputed it through his credit card company, which issued a $259.65 credit, "conditional upon its own investigation," the suit alleges.

Soon after, Suter claims, he began receiving phone calls from a collection agency, some of them recordings, others from actual collection agents, he claims. The calls came "often daily, sometimes several times a day" and sometimes at "odd hours," according to his lawsuit.

Suter claims he told collection agents more than once to stop calling because the matter had been resolved by his credit card provider, the suit alleges. The credit card company then issued a permanent refund, before Suter discovered the duplicate U-Haul charge cited on his credit report as a past due account, according to his lawsuit.

Even after Suter put his request in writing for the collections calls to stop, he continued to receive "approximately 100" calls from the collections agency, he alleges.

The lawsuit names the Portsmouth U-Haul store, U-Haul International and the collections company, Focus Receivables Management, as defendants. The local U-Haul agent referred questions to U-Haul International, where no one from its legal department could be reached for comment. U-Haul and the collections agency have not yet responded to the lawsuit and have a June 13 deadline to do so.

Suter's lawsuit alleges U-Haul's collection agency violated the state's Unfair, Deceptive or Unreasonable Collections Practices Act, by repeatedly calling him with the intent to "abuse, oppress or harass him," and he seeks $200 for each violation, plus attorney's fees. He alleges the collections company also violated the state act by sometimes calling him without identifying the entity it was representing, and he seeks $200 for each of those calls.

He alleges the collection agency should be court-ordered to pay double or triple those fines because the calls also violated the state's Consumer Protection Act.

Suter also seeks monetary damages from U-Haul Portsmouth for allegedly making an unauthorized charge to his account, which led to his tainted credit report, his suit alleges.

He also seeks double or triple damages from U-Haul International for initiating the collections process while the charge was being disputed, according to his lawsuit.

Suter is asking for a jury trial.