Fixer hits $1M mark after clearing debt
October 23, 2010 9:18PM
Updated: April 19, 2011 4:59AM
Dear Fixer: I had surgery in November 2008 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. My referral was approved, and the procedure was performed.
I received a bill from Mayo Clinic in June 2009 for $50,320.50.
I contacted the hospital, and they investigated the situation. Then, I received a letter from my insurer, Aetna Health, saying it approved paying $17,746.73 toward the bill, leaving a balance of $32,573.71.
The entire bill should have been covered. I have gone back and forth because Aetna is saying that I did not have a referral for services and that it was out-of-network.
In May, Aetna said it was investigating and would get back to me
I have received a letter from a collection agency on behalf of the Mayo Clinic for the $32,573.71. I am on a fixed income of a little over $2,000. I feel that my insurance is not doing their part in taking care of this bill.
Mary Jo Jones, Gary, Ind.
Dear Mary Jo: This is so “Twilight Zone” that we half-expected Rod Serling to come back from the dead and show up. (If Aetna approved the referral, how could you not have a referral?)
Luckily, it didn’t take Team Fixer another year to fix this. We got hold of Aetna’s Scot Roskelley and asked him to find someone at the insurance company to get to the bottom of this.
In a little more than a week, Aetna came back with an answer — and a big apology.
It’s true that the Mayo Clinic wasn’t in your HMO network. But Roskelley confirmed that you “properly received authorization from Aetna, and the claims should have been paid as in-network claims.”
They have since recalculated the claims as being “in-network” — which means you owe nothing.
But there’s even more good news. Your “fix” boosted the amount of money that The Fixer has saved readers past the $1 million mark! Which is no small accomplishment, especially considering how much of that million came about in $50 increments.
So, to mark the milestone, we’ll be sending you a Sun-Times Media “fun pack” featuring a free newspaper subscription, commemorative Chicago book, our famous Sun-Times comics umbrella and tickets to some area attractions.
We’re also going to take a moment to revisit some of our most memorable fixes.
Dear Fixer:On March 22, I discovered a fraudulent charge of $322.62 to “Dell Sales Service” on my Harris Bank account. I complained, and on March 24, Harris gave me a provisional credit.
But then, after returning from a vacation, I received a letter from Harris, dated May 20, stating that the vendor’s bank had validated the charges to my account. Harris reversed the credit and again charged me $323.
Harris informed me that I could send a rebuttal letter. I sent the rebuttal on May 27. Later, Harris said they never received my letter and could not do anything for me.
They mentioned that my home bank supervisor might be able to help, but it was unlikely. So I went back to my local bank branch. I explained that I had been their valued customer for over 20 years and needed their help.
One of the customer service representatives worked with me. We called Dell and complained about the fraudulent charges. Dell faxed the shipping information to the Harris representative, but the customer number, item number and order number on the form were not legible. All I could decipher was that an item was shipped to someone in Mabton, Wa.
Finally, after 10 or more contacts with Dell, Dell agreed to reimburse me the full $323 as soon as Harris okayed it. But then Harris Bank ignored the request.
Judith Langford, University Park
Dear Judith: You told The Fixer you don’t know anyone in Mabton, a small, poor community on the eastern edge of the Yakima Indian Reservation in southern Washington.
Even more mysterious was why this relatively simple case of an invalid charge for something called the “Elite Holiday Bundle” package couldn’t get cleared up.
We took your story to Chris Nardella, an assistant vice president at Harris, who got this fixed in a jiffy. Apparently, Nardella said, Harris didn’t hear back from Dell within a required two-week period, which is why the provisional credit was reversed. It’s all been put right now, though. Harris has permanently credited your account for the $323 and promised to work out the remaining dispute issues on their own.
Dear Fixer:I answered an ad on CareerBuilder.com for what was supposed to be an accountant position where I could work from home.
I just recently lost my job, so it piqued my interest. The job was to cash checks from customers in the United States, then send, via Western Union, the funds to the company in the United Kingdom. I was told that I would get a 10 percent commission off the top. I also was offered bonuses if monies were sent within one to three days.
I received several e-mails, including a contract, from a person by the name of Tracey Wells with Micro Pay Ltd. Everything appeared to be legitimate.
I received my first check on July 27 for $2,641.10. I deposited it in my bank account and only took out the 10 percent commission. I waited the four days required by the bank for the full amount to become available for withdrawal. I completed the Western Union transaction the same day.
Then I found out on Aug. 3 that the check was returned as fraudulent and my bank account was negative.
I had depended on the bank to verify the funds before they made them available for withdrawal, and now they are telling me that they made the money available as a courtesy and hold no responsibility for the check coming back as fraudulent. Therefore, I am responsible for the full amount of the check.
I filed a police report with the Naperville Police Department. I received a call from a detective who said he has investigated hundreds of these Internet check-cashing scams. The U.S. has no jurisdiction in these overseas scams.
Where is the protection for the consumer? Who is looking out for the victims of these scams? Doesn’t the bank have something in place for these types of things where they can write it off as a loss? I really need some help — I am unemployed and have no means of paying this amount of money back.
Sandra Leonard, Naperville
Dear Sandra: The Fixer is sorry to hear you got caught up in this classic fake-check scam. It’s probably no comfort at this point, but you’re not alone — many thousands of others have suffered the same fate.
Unfortunately, the police detective was right. There’s not much you can do, other than try to pay the money back and warn everyone you know.
Many consumers expect their banks to take the hit, but the banks won’t. This scam works because the con artist pressures the victim to send the funds quickly — right after the funds are made available (the bank must make the money available under federal law) but before the check actually clears or is “good.” It can take weeks for a bank to discover a sophisticated forgery.
This scam takes many forms. Your scammer was particularly cruel for preying on jobless people.
Other times, a con artist will “accidentally” overpay by check for an eBay or Craiglist item, then ask the victim to refund the amount that was overpaid.
Another common scam is the “mystery shopper” job, in which the victim is enticed to “test” the services of a money-wiring company using money provided by what turns out to be a fraudulent check.
Then there’s the old standby where the scammer sends you a phony check with your “prize” from a foreign lottery. All you have to do is cash it and remit back some fees for “taxes.”
The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to never wire money to strangers. If you’re selling an item and accept a check, make sure it’s from a local bank and call the bank to make sure the check is valid. If someone notifies you that you’ve won a prize but need to send money, disregard it.
Victims can file complaints with the FTC (ftc.gov), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (postalinspectors.uspis.gov) and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov).
It’s too bad we have to be so vigilant, but we do. Best of luck in your job search.
If The Fixer had a dollar for every letter in which someone paid a contractor or service person in full before the work began . . . we could remodel Fixer Headquarters. Which brings us to this week’s Costly Lesson, from Shirley of Chicago:
Shirley hired a plumber to do some work in her basement. He told her he needed payment in full so he could purchase some supplies, but — you guessed it — once he got the cash, he never returned.
“My son tried calling him many, many times with no response,” Shirley wrote The Fixer. The worst part? “I had to get another plumber to finish the job and it cost me more money that I don’t have.”
We’ve heard from other readers who’ve lost many thousands of dollars to contractors who demanded large payments up front and then never showed up, or who came once or twice and never returned.
And good luck taking these crooks to court: that only costs more money and even if you win a judgment, you still have to collect it.
Tell it to The Fixer by visiting www.heraldnewsonline.com and searching for “Fixer.” You’ll find a simple form to fill out. Or, mail a brief description of your problem, your name, address and telephone number, to: The Fixer, 13543 S. Route 30, Plainfield, IL 60544. Don’t send original documents. The Fixer cannot send personal replies. Letters are edited for length and clarity.