Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mary Had A Little ... Late Fee

Hopefully at least one person will benefit from today's story. Maybe more.

Like many retirees, my parents travel for months at a time. When they do, they redirect their US Mail to me. I open it, dial their cell phone and tell them which bills have arrived and for how much. They pay the bills over the web. This system works pretty well.

But not always.

Best Effort

As I was going through my parents redirected mail recently, I found a bill payment to Comcast. That's right - a bill payment TO Comcast. Not from my parents but from one Mary Hagan of Bensalem PA.

Why would Mary Hagan's payment to Comcast end up in my parent's mailbox? Her payment was addressed to Box 3005 in Southeastern, PA - so the payment went in exactly the opposite direction that it should have - northeast instead of southwest - ending roughly 50 miles off.

Could she have made a mistake writing the Comcast address? Nope. She used the Comcast-provided payment coupon with its preprinted address - which showed through the appropriate opening in the Comcast-provided envelope.

Ok, so USPS made a mistake. Mistakes happen. But USPS then forwarded the mail to me in Potomac, Maryland. Huh?

The Post Office uses barcodes to expedite routing. But it wasn't an error in creating the barcode because Comcast preprints their own barcode on their payment coupon. So the Post Office had to misroute the correctly-barcoded envelope twice and maybe even more as it went through several post offices from PA to MD by way of NJ.

So here I was with some Comcast customer's bill payment in hand. My first thought was to put it back in the mail. (As Jon Stewart recently said about George Bush's latest plan for Iraq, "Hey, everyone deserves a seventh chance.")

But then I took a closer look at the due date and saw that it had already passed (USPS forwarding takes time to get wrong) so even if I sent it back the day I received it, late charges would still be due.

I also considered calling Comcast but decided against it. Comcast has never been one to talk with you about other customer's accounts (rightfully so).

Dropping it in the garbage and letting the customer take the hit of the late fee seemed pretty reasonable at that point. Was it worth my time and effort to send it back to Mary so she'd have evidence to tell Comcast that it wasn't her fault it was late? Would Comcast even accept that excuse?

Around here, Comcast's late fee is $4/month. Nope, not worth mailing it back to Mary. I did however call her up - yielded her phone number readily enough. I figured I'd suggest she try to get the late fee waived - perhaps they would if she could only get Comcast to look at my blog! And I also wanted to ask her a few other questions - such as whether it had ever happened before.

So I called her number and ... well, whoever answered the phone gave me a very chilly reception. I guess he figured I was a solicitor or pollster offering "free money" or something that sounded close to it. I don't blame him.

Anyway, I tried. If anyone reads this who knows Mary (unlikely) or lives near Bensalem (a bit less unlikely) - perhaps you could let her know that she should request Comcast waive her late fee (I already know the Post Office won't cover it) since it wasn't her fault - or at worst, find a way to pay it without relying on the Post Office in the future.

No, I'm not suggesting using Comcast's offer to extract funds directly from one's checking account. As I've said before, Comcast isn't trustworthy enough for that. (See Automatic Billing - Convenience That Will Cost You.) But online billpay from a bank or a service like Quicken or Money sounds much more reliable.

Better yet, since I know there are Comcast officials who read this blog, perhaps they could take it upon themselves to waive Mary's late fee - or track down the Comcast official in Mary's region who can do so.

PS: Why did I say earlier that I know the Post Office won't cover it? Because first class mail is a best effort service. Now where have I heard that phrase before?!


Anonymous said...

Don, this is definitely one of your funniest blogs! Wish it wasn't true.
Unfortunately UPS is closely following the Post Office in misdirecting its packages. Maybe they always did, but now you have the option of tracking your package as it is scanned but incorrectly routed and rerouted over the entire country - just looking for the correct delivery spot.

Anonymous said...

You only got one piece of someone else's mail?I live in College Park, Md. Beginning 7 years ago, I've received 1000+'s pieces of 1st class mail, DMV notices, end of year financial statements, Jury Duty Summonses, actual credit cards, billing statements , "Final Notice" certified mail notices, mail from university departments that were mailed to University of Maryland students and student organizations at addresses other than mine in College Park, Md that were either forwarded to my winter home in Florida or delivered to my home of 50 years on Norwich Road in College Park, Md 20740
View pictures of students mail delivered to me at

Unknown said...

I just read your posting. My Mom was Mary Hagan. She passed June 10, 2009. 1st, Mom wouldn't have used UPS to mail her bill to comcast. 2nd, I would have been paying the bill. 3rd Mom is the only Mary Hagan in Bensalem. 4th a man wouldn't have answered the phone. 5th we've never been changed a late fee by comcast. What did you look in the phone book for a name you liked. Or for people in their 80's you thought would never see it! And even if you got this in the mail, you're bragging about being a jerk! You made this story up for some reason. If you have a problem with UPS, leave my Mom out of it. And if you're going to do ads for online paying again leave my Mom out. Take this down or the next communcation will be from my lawyer.