Mother of dead student hounded for 3 years by Bell for $215

Christine West of Lindsay, Ontario has grown frustrated with opening up the mailbox on her front porch.

She’s worried she’ll find another collection letter addressed to her middle daughter, Katie.

“Do you not understand she’s dead? What part of dead don’t you understand?” West said. “There’s no one to pay this bill.”

West said her daughter committed suicide in December 2011 while attending the University of Ottawa, where she graduated posthumously with a degree in psychology.

Katie had been suffering from depression, West said.

After Katie’s death, West contacted her daughter’s creditors, including Bell Canada, with which Katie had a cell phone and still owed about $215.

West said Bell was the only creditor which asked for proof Katie had died. She forwarded a death certificate from the local funeral home, as requested.

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She was told that Bell Canada would not pursue the bill any further given Katie had no assets and had been attending university.

But different creditors take a variety of approaches to debt collection where death is involved.

“There are some creditors that say, you know it’s not a large debt, we’re going to forgive this debt, and we’re going to move on,” said Jeff Schwartz, president of Consolidated Credit Counseling of Toronto.

“But there are other creditors, and within their rights, that can pass that debt along to the estate, and if there is money in the estate, that may be repaid through the estate’s funds.”

Having originally been told Bell would not pursue collection, West was surprised to get a string of calls and letters from Bell and its external collection agent demanding payment.

During phone calls, she was frequently reassured not to worry about the debt and instructed to send a copy of the death certificate again.

“At one point I asked them if they were trying to paper an office with them,” West said, “Because the only thing I could do was approach it with a sense of humour because it was getting so frustrating.”

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But a demand letter on July 7 was the last straw, and prompted her to call Global News for assistance.

Three hours after Global News contacted Bell Canada’s corporate media relations office in Ottawa, the communications company agreed to back down.

“We have contacted Ms. West and although we have no record of receiving the certificate…we have credited and closed the account to zero balance,” wrote Bell’s Jacqueline Michelis in an email.

West was separately contacted by Bell and assured collection efforts would be stopped.

“I would like to thank you again for your prompt and compassionate assistance in this dispute with Bell,” a delighted West said.

West said she actually felt sorry for the collectors who called her and who quickly realized her daughter was dead and that death certificates had been sent, as noted on the file. But she is looking forward to having no more contact with Bell.

“I don’t want to see another letter from Bell Canada.”

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