May 27, 2010 -- Verizon Wireless has been sued by a customer who alleges that one of its debt collectors threatened to blow his house up over a $308 unpaid bill.
Al Burrows, 45, said Verizon had already given him 90 days to pay his bill when he received a call from another bill collector.
The second bill collector acknowledged the payment plan, Burrows said, but still pressed for immediate payment.
"I am gonna blow your m*****f****** house up," the bill collector said, according to the lawsuit filed with New Mexico's First Judicial District Court. Listen to Al Burrows' call with a Verizon representative here.
Burrows, who lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico at the time, acknowledged that he owed Verizon Wireless $308 on an account that he had opened on behalf of his stepson, but said he worked out a payment plan as soon as he found out about the debt.
Verizon Wireless Says It Takes Allegations Seriously
A Verizon Wireless spokesman said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation, but added: "I can say the alleged behavior is inappropriate and we take such allegations very seriously."
Burrows, who works as a customer service phone rep for Frontier Airlines, said the message shook him and his wife, forcing him first to change his locks and then to move to another state.
Customer Claims He Moved After Threats
"We were scared," said Burrows, who added that his brother came to stay with them for several weeks after the incident so Burrows' wife wouldn't have to be home alone when he went to work.
When Burrows initially called Verizon to complain about the incident, a customer service representative allegedly accused him of making up the story. Burrows claimed that Verizon so far has not apologized.
"You can't just threaten to kill people and get away with it," he said.
Burrows' attorney said he is seeking "justice" and unspecified damages.
"We want to make sure this never happens again," said James Scherr, an attorney with El Paso, Texas-based Scherr & Legate. "This is the ultimate example of offensive collection efforts that are absolutely unnecessary."
Crossing the Line to Collect Debts
This lawsuit, if permitted to proceed, would force Verizon Wireless to defend itself against accusations sometimes made against third-party debt collectors.
Companies eager to collect on consumer debts cross the line every once in a while.
In 2006, a retired Sears technician, Stan McLeod, died of a heart attack after receiving phone calls from debt collectors. His wife Elizabeth has sued their mortage servicing company, Green Tree Servicing, for wrongful death and the case is now making its way through the court.
Abusive practices by debt collectors are a common complaint among consumers, especially as many recession-battered Americans find themselves behind on mortgage, car or credit card payments and other debts.
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission received 88,190 FDCPA complaints about third-party debt collectors, more than about any other industry.
Experts point out that companies like Verizon have strict internal policies that govern interactions with customers.
"At a company like Verizon, if that person was caught doing that they'd be fired on the spot," said Gary Herman, president of debt consolidation company Consolidated Credit.