June 27: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 27, 2023

“We’ve received your complaint.”

Filing a complaint is a standard response to the human need to right a wrong. Somewhere in the midst of a transaction or interaction, an expectation went unmet, or as my husband would say, “a swing and a miss.”

Customer complaints used to be part of my wheelhouse as a marketing communications manager. A complaint meant our organization was not making the brand impression we intended. But our customer service staff argued that complaints were often frivolous or unfounded.

We tested the idea of complaints when we defined “great customer service” as a differentiating point for our brand. We promised customer service workers that we would track every complaint and we authorized them to issue refunds, replacements, or gift certificates to our stores. We wanted our staff to listen and ask, “How can we make this right?”

And you know what we discovered? 90 percent of the customers who complained wanted us to “know.” They wanted to be heard as consumers of natural foods. They wanted us, as cooperative grocers, to be trustworthy and transparent. Less than 10 percent took advantage of our complaint policy, returning items for frivolous reasons. No one scammed us.

It’s difficult to lodge a complaint these days. Some companies deeply bury their phone numbers if they provide any at all. A number doesn’t guarantee a person on the end of the line. With many hospitality and service organizations struggling to meet consumer demands, some are posting preemptive signs to make consumers feel guilty for complaining. I read one recently that proclaimed, “The world is short-staffed; be kind to those who showed up.”

To that, I’d like to say, “Consumers are getting short-shrifted; be kind to those spending their money in your establishment.”

Ever since the Vet Center closed in Houghton, I’ve been holding social groups in person and online weekly. I’ve been preparing to launch veteran community groups when I get my writing school online. For a year, I’ve been holding a writing group for veteran caregivers through the VA once a month. I do this because I understand that isolation kills our veteran families. I do this because of what my Warrior Sisters taught me about thriving in this tough population sector. The greatest women I have known have taken care of Vietnam veterans. These women or the long-haulers. They are my heroes. My mentors.

We meet every other Friday at a local restaurant along the Portage Canal beneath the Houghton Lift Bridge. It’s a beautiful view any time of year, and the food is good. But we’ve been having an issue with our reservation. Several months ago, the floor manager told us if we were going to meet regularly, we should reserve our round table in the back room. So, we did. But every time we go, if anyone other than the floor manager greets us, they have no idea what reservation we are referring to.

Once, a hostess sat us in a big booth across from her station after knowing nothing about our reservation and explaining we couldn’t have our regular table. It was taken. Then, ten minutes after seating us, she called me on my cell and asked if our group was coming in because they were holding our table in the back. I looked right at her and started waving, telling her we ARE the group and that was the reservation we said we had.

She’s no longer there. And all the new staff are unaware of the reservation. Last Friday, no one believed that we had one. A waiter came over and got sassy with me. I suggested he check reservations and he said no one can get into the “system.” He was rude and treated us like an inconvenience. When he turned away, I air-slapped him. Later he asked about our group like we were cute kitten crafters or church ladies.

We’re veteran spouses. Married to gnarly old sheepdogs who protect their nation’s flocks. They’ve faced down wolves and we help the dogs who get bit; find the ones who get lost; bury the ones who lose the fight. We aren’t sheepdogs. We aren’t wolves. We aren’t the sheep. But we are the bad-ass bitches married to men who went to war so smartmouthed waiters didn’t have to. Call us BABs and learn your damned reservation system.

I did not say what I thought. I did not leave a complaint. I even tipped generously because we do take up time and space, longer than most tables. Yet, before we all left, we decided to try different places to meet. Sometimes, customers don’t complain. They simply go away.

Ironically, someone has lodged a complaint against me. It began last Monday when I received calls and voice messages from unknown callers. No matter the number (six different ones were used), the same woman said she was trying to get in contact with me because someone filed a complaint against me. I deleted the calls as spam. But on Friday afternoon, I answered a local call, expecting someone else. The complaint was a legal matter, a court filing.

These scare tactics infuriate me. One, because it’s triggering — I feel unsafe like I did something wrong, and a bad consequence is going to slap me upside the head. Even though I recognize the old pattern of response, I still panic, almost to the point of passing out. I practice breathing meant to calm the vagus nerve. And I try to listen carefully to discern. This is no complaint. It’s a scam.

The trouble is, the scam is sophisticated enough to include pieces of my personal data. They have my legal name, my phone number, and even the last four of my social security number. They tell me it’s a credit card. I tell them I have no outstanding debt, which is true. He instructs me to send evidence to an email account taylor.s@kensingtonassociates.net. I don’t.

Instead, I start my own investigation. Apparently, Kensington Associates are indeed debt collectors but they have Better Business Bureau complaints filed against them and they show up on scam alert sites. The creepy thing is that they have enough information to falsify a real legal complaint to sue consumers for old debt or, as in my case, for debt paid in full.

On Monday, they called back and I requested a written validation note. They evaded my request and insisted that they were ready to serve me papers. Again, I asked for details in writing so I could compare it to my credit report which I had already checked (no such debt was listed). They refused (which is illegal). I informed them of my right to refute the debt to which they said they will fine me $2,500 to $3,500 for refuting it, and then they told me, “Good luck in court.”

This con group is messing with the wrong BAB. I got all the information from them that I needed to file a Federal complaint. I pulled out the big guns. I even lawyered up and found the equivalent of an ankle-biting ambulance chaser who goes after debt collectors who break the law. Because guess what? If you have a complaint against a debt collector, you have a lawsuit and they will have to pay fines and your lawyer fees. I’m not messaging around. I even found the account number they gave me and have a validation letter in the mail stating that I paid off the account in question in full over ten years ago.

If you have had any trouble with consumer scams or shifty debt collectors in the US, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If you are concerned about identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has a dedicated website. To find out what recourse you have in your state, go to your State Attorney General’s website. If you are in a different country, share how your nation protects consumers in the comments if you think it could help others.

We are not powerless. Yet, we don’t have to complain about every missed expectation or consumer disappointment. I agree with the idea of being kind to those working in customer-facing jobs in our era, but I also believe that kindness must be extended to customers, too. And if a scammer comes along, don’t be afraid to file Big Complaints. They count on people not knowing their rights, or being too scared or embarrassed to file. Go bold! Bite the bad guys back. Cut the sassy hospitality workers some slack. And at the end of the day, know you are worth every dignity afforded to all beings.

This is a juicy topic for literary artists! I’ve got several stories bubbling already.

June 27, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story as a response to “we’ve received your complaint.” Who has received the complaint and why? How was the complaint delivered — with grace, humor, vitriol? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 3, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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47 Comments

  1. restlessjo

    It’s so wrong to hound people like this and make their lives a misery. Our son was once pursued for a debt, which was partially his fault, but they did it in the most unkind and underhanded way. Good for you, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Even when we make mistakes, or avoid our mistakes, one would think a kinder world would educate its people rather than hound and punish. It’s terrifying to feel financially powerless and that’s the fear these scammers play upon. I hope your son was able to get through, Jo.

      • restlessjo

        Thanks, Charli! We helped him every way we could and he is still repaying the debt, which was colossal but honestly not of his making. He probably came to terms with it better than we did.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s an unfair twist, the fees and fines attached to debt.

  2. Miss Judy

    Scammers of all sorts seem to be out in full force these days. Disgusting.

    • Charli Mills

      I’ve noticed a disturbing trend, Miss Judy and agree that it is disgusting.

  3. pedometergeek

    This happened thirteen years ago, but your situation reminded me of this, Charli. I actually had a debt collector call, and I dodged the call for some time, thinking it was a scam. It wasn’t obvious that the call was from a debt collector when I finally answered the phone. As the person talked, I listened and figured out what the issue was. I couldn’t figure out why it took so long to even be addressed as it was through the company I had recently retired from.

    Rather than contact me directly, the company just turned my name over to this collection company. To make it even worse, the money I supposedly owed was to be paid by my company because it was related to my job.

    Politely getting off the phone, I then called my former supervisor about it the situation, which had triggered this phone call. This event occurred two years earlier. He apologized and got the company, who was ultimately responsible for the debt in the first place, to pay the bill I never should have received (by the way, I never received a bill in the first place for this copay; the company just turned my name over to the debt collection company). TMI!

    For me, it was an easy enough fix, but afterward, I wondered about all the other people who had the same thing happen to them through my company’s way of dealing with these kind of situations. ~Nan

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for sharing your story, Nan. I think there are so many (too many) crazy stories like yours. They are hard to explain because of the shady complexities and yet, amazingly, it’s the corporations and financial institutions that receive protections over people. There are no repercussions for a supervisor’s honest mistake or a company who shirks their responsibility, but you got nailed for it. And you’re right — it was fixable, and probably not intentional, but what about those who didn’t have the support or resources to push back or protect themselves? Sometimes people are so indoctrinated to accept blame for financial mistakes that they never consider it wasn’t their doing or error. Those in power understand the fear and shame. Good that you spoke up! Maybe it had a positive impact on changing ways the company did business or handled their HR processes.

  4. Liz H

    Red hot prompt!
    And yes, the sharks are out there, chomping at our exposed feet.
    Good on you for turning and staring them down!

    • Charli Mills

      Liz, I’m so curious to see where writers go with this week’s ember! I hope there’s some sharks with bloodied noses from stories that show exposed feet can kick back.

      • Liz H

        ?????

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Dang sun’s in my eyes.”
    “Move inta the shade.”
    “Too cold. I like the warm here.”
    “What’re ya doin anyways, Pal?”
    “Catchin up on Shorty’s post.”
    “Is it a good one?”
    “Cain’t complain.”
    “Betcha do.”
    “Whut’s thet, Kid?”
    “Nuthin.”
    “Ya need ta speak up.”
    “That’s what Shorty does.”
    “Dang straight. Hey, quiet down, Kid. What’s thet ruckus?”
    “Lookin fer a filin container.”
    “Whatever fer?”
    “Startin a complaint department. This oughta do. Now, Pal, jist write yer complaints down an put em in this here metal barrel.”
    “Why’s it metal?”
    “So the fire don’t spread when I process yer complaints.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Complaint containers are often cylindrical.

    • Jules

      Down there in the comments… Harry’s sorta complained, but it didn’t work.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Thanks for keeping my characters occupied, Jules! I do worry about them, but so far in my travels it seems they are managing just fine.

      • Jules

        I’m sure yer characters’ll let us know when yer back home… I’ll keep a lookin’… and maybe then they’ll figure out how to get Harry back home… unless you do that first 🙂

  6. denmaniacs4

    Charli, way to handle this latest nonsense. The world seems to have a wealth of scammers, scallywags, and charlatans…some even get elected…

  7. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Wow! Scammers are everywhere! Thank goodness you are so savvy about all of this stuff. I’m just glad you have this handled!

    • Charli Mills

      Our scars make us wise, Colleen. These scammers are out of hand.

  8. Sarah Brentyn

    Hello, wonderful Carrot Ranch people! ??????? Charli, you just keep fighting the good fight, you BAB! 😉 (Love that.)

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I couldn’t resist this.

    • Charli Mills

      Howdy, Sarah! Ha, yup, I’ll carry on. good to see you at the ranch; so happy you got caught by this prompt.

  9. Nicole Horlings

    It’s because of scammers that I don’t answer my phone at all unless I recognize the number, especially after I heard that one group wouldn’t say anything, just listen for any identifying information about you from the background while you say ‘hello?’ three or four times, and I had had multiple calls where it was pure silence on the other side. I have a voicemail box if someone is a legit person, and even then, most times someone leaves me a voicemail, it’s a scammer.

      • Charli Mills

        Great tension you built in your story!

      • Nicole Horlings

        Thanks, Charli! ????

    • Charli Mills

      That’s creepy, Nicole — I didn’t know about The Listeners. That could make a chilling prompt! Usually, I don’t answer the calls either. The insidiousness of this scam is that they have partial information, legit card or account numbers, and the law on their side. Of course, they are breaking laws, too but they count on people not knowing their rights. Mind-boggling how scams evolve with technology.

      • Nicole Horlings

        Oh, you’re right – it would be an interesting prompt!

        Very true. A lot of older scams were pretty impersonal, and they just tried to get at folks with the format, but nowadays people are more clued in so they have to take it up another notch. I would definitely be freaked out if they had personal info of mine to flap in my face.

  10. Gloria

    That’s unreal. We get lots of scammers here in Ireland – all sorts – but this is one type I’ve never heard of. Good for you for standing up to them. Unfortunately, many people are easily taken in by these scammers.

    • Charli Mills

      Scammers are everywhere, aren’t they? Technology has opened up so many possibilities. A waste of creativity! It’s sad, Gloria, that people can be taken in but these scammers know how to exploit human fear.

  11. Jules

    Charli,

    I’m gonna have to think on this one. But I thought I’d relate this; hubby got a call or text on his work phone about a bank account he doesn’t have a bank with. I’d have just deleted it. But something made him call back the number… as I listened to him talk to the rep (via speaker phone), I wrote down “SCAM” on a piece of paper. Hubby got my clue. The guy kept asking for personal info. Hubby said all he would give him was the ‘case number’. After not getting anything else the ‘rep’ finally said something like; “Then I can no longer assist you, sir.” And that was that.

    I’ve been getting some calls ID’s with an out of state News Paper in the ID. I always, just for fun look up numbers. This one was on a list for RU… basically Russia has bought a boat load of numbers from the US. I don’t know how that is possible, but it used to be another country. Anyway we have access to Robokiller. I had hubby plug in the area code and the firs three number followed by four x’s. To stop numbers from that exchange. Got another one this morning with the news paper in the ID (diff first three numbers). For giggles I picked it up and just said; “I know you aren’t the News Paper…” of course then the dial tone comes on because they’ve hung up!!

    Good luck with your case!!

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, you describe that little seed of doubt we all have when it comes to financial scams because we don’t want to miss a legit security or another issue. Good to have a partner listening in. Thanks for mentioning Robokiller; I looked them up and they have a free version to try — https://www.robokiller.com/. Ha! I wonder if the scammers ever laugh when they get caught out with humor.

      • Jules

        We’ve got a relative who likes to ‘Play’ with them… Like asking where they are calling from and then looking up the weather and calling them out – then hangs up.

        I’d rather not engage them – who knows what other info they have besides your ‘number’. Though (being that I’m older now) I get a few medicare scam calls/ switch your program calls. Social Security and Medicare will never call you directly. So when I pick up and someone wants to offer me a ‘new’ plan or claims they are from that office, if I have answered, I just say ‘no’ and hang up. Never, never answer your phone with a ‘yes’ as it could be recorded and used against you as if you did accept their ‘offer’.

        Kind of like other out of country – ‘you won our lottery’ scams. A) you can’t win what you didn’t enter and B) It is not legal to enter out of country lotteries.

      • Charli Mills

        Jules, I got that Robokiller app on my phone now. Thanks for the tip! I’d rather not answer those calls at all and share consumer rights so people know what to do if snared. Scams are one thing but when they add the threat of legal action and the courts allow it on so little information, the problem is bigger than handling the calls. I had breakfast this morning with someone who paid off a debt for her daughter without questioning its validity or refuting the amount or legitimacy. She didn’t know about consumer protections in our state. This is a website every American should have bookmarked: https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consumer-protection.

      • Jules

        It is unfortunate that dept collectors are not blocked on the DNC lists. We had an issue with a family member – where the collection agency kept calling us. We finally (and I think it was by threat of legal action) got them to stop calling us.

        Thanks for the link.

  12. Norah

    Wow. You did well to suss out and face down that scammer, Charli. They need to think twice about messing with BABs. Others will benefit from your dobbing them in. Way to go. Scammers are getting more and more clever these days. They can appear pretty genuine. We need to be constantly on our guard. The reservation issue you mentioned is annoying, but doesn’t have nearly the same ramifications as the scam, if not detected, might have. Stay safe!

  13. sweeterthannothing

    Your strength continues to inspire me, good on you for advocating for yourself and spreading the word for others to do the same!

    • Charli Mills

      Rise, writers, rise! Even what we write can be a form of advocating, right? Thanks, Sweet!

  14. Anne Goodwin

    How frustrating, Charli. Even when you have the wit not to get caught out financially, they’re still draining your emotional energy and your time. Glad you could fight back.

    • Charli Mills

      So true, Anne. For now, they are thwarted.

  15. Jules

    Charli,

    With the help of another prompt I’ve come up with an addition to Harry at the Saddle Up;

    Harry’s Impossible Dreamin’

    Harry looked oddly at the mirror behind Kid and Pal , so they too turned around and read the words formed “We’ve received your complaint. No use trying to poke at windmills. Authors tend to take their time when they get stumped, blank out or take a ‘walk-about’. You’re safe and in good company. Stay tuned. And remember to enjoy your time at the Saddle Up Saloon at Carrot Ranch…. “

    “Refill on yer sasprilla,” Kid asked.

    Pal chimed in, “Y’ain’t related to Donnie Quixote? He don’ thought windy-mills were somethin’ to fight aginst”

    Harry, stunned, shook his head.

    © JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for keeping the sasprilla flowing at the Saddle Up Saloon, Jules and Harry!

      • Jules

        Harry is doing the heavy liftin’ 🙂

  16. Hugh W. Roberts

    Well done for giving the scammers some of their own medicine, Charli. These people should all be rounded up and left on an island that nobody ever visits.

    We should also all be aware of scammers here on WordPress. Never pay anyone who claims they can improve your blogs SEO ranking or get you hundreds of more followers. It’s all a big scam. Keep you money in your purses or wallets.

    • Charli Mills

      Hugh, if I could pick one writer to write the fate of scammers, I’d want you! They deserve to meet their end in a thriller. Meanwhile, yes, thank you for reminding us of the WordPress scammers, too. I know you have been helpful to the community, educating bloggers to know the ropes and pitfalls.

    • Charli Mills

      The last line says so much about the narrator’s growth because we can see it unfold in boundary settings. Well done.

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