Common Expat Problem #2367: The Cost of Self-Advocacy

There are incredibly creepy corporations everywhere that feed on the certainties that people have busy lives and limited free time, and that those people’s desire to live in peace outweigh concerns over the pocket. Cable, phone, and insurance companies come to mind. When you are in your home country, battles over billing errors are frustrating but manageable. Most consumers don’t need to hire outside help to get things sorted…although some certainly do.

When you live in a foreign land and lack sufficient grasp of the language, when billing errors and account problems arise, you have no choice but to get help. You might be lucky enough to have a pool of friends to turn, but if not, or if you already feel terrible begging them for help repeatedly, you have to shell out some dosh to get matters under hand. It can be rather expensive.broken-cell-phone

My husband had a contract with #SFRMobile for several years. It had long expired, and we were paying month to month for an old phone we didn’t need anymore, so we cancelled the contract and switched to #Free, which saved us 70%. Cancelling was easy…relatively speaking. I managed to find a template letter en francais, edited it, and sent it recommande to ensure its receipt.

SFR cancelled the account promptly enough, but with no trace, making it impossible to log in and follow-up or even call. “Sorry, no such account exists.” In a letter, they said they would send a box to use to return the phone. They never did. Some time later, a letter came claiming we owed them 80 euros for the phone. My husband absolutely refused pay. In the meantime, we tried finding a place to drop off the phone with no luck.  Mailing it ourselves would have cost us as well, and the point was not to spend what we didn’t owe. Eventually, after several emails from SFR, we got a notice from a collection agency. By this point, we knew we needed help.

We hired someone to call the agency. He explained we were told we’d get a box to return the phone and never did. They agency told him that it was SFR’s fault and that they were forgiving the claim. Of course, none of this was in writing. All we had was an email from our friend and a verbal promise:

I had someone on the phone at [the collection agency].
I explained the case and they agree you should not pay !
They blocked the claim and asked me to call SFR, giving me a trick to bypass the problem of the ID (your number isno longer registered which makes impossible to reach the service). Unfortunately, the trick didn’t work.
I then called back – they are sending themselves the information to SFR, who may soon send you the
prepaid envelope. They said it could take some time, such intern mails being (slowly) treated by sfr.

So months later, we got another letter from the same agency again requesting we settle the amount we don’t actually owe to SFR. My husband, in his procrastination, had put off dealing with it, day after day, until we received a notice that the claim had escalated. Brilliant.

By this point, hubby just wanted to pay the frickin’ 80 euros and be done with it. In the end, we gave in, because who has several hours and 100+ euros to throw at an 80 euro problem? That’s my point. That’s what they count on. I suspect that companies like SFR are so bloody tenacious because they KNOW people will just up and give in. They must make most of their profit that way! It is nothing short of criminal.

I know this problem isn’t just ours. Recently on a popular expat forum, several of us were getting into the trials and tribulations we’ve suffered at the mismanaging hands of SFR. Even a quick visit to their Facebook page reveals disgruntled comments. Ridiculous!

I hope this is the end of our story, at least, but there is a tiny little niggling something inside that says it still might not be. For example, how long does it take, once they get the check, to go through and cancel all the bogus claims and processes against us? Pain in the…

I’ll take a problem in my own language over one in a foreign language any day!!!