Monday, August 16, 2004


AUGUST 15, 2004

When you’re living in a foreign country, it’s absolutely essential that you have someone in the states who can take care of business for you. We added my sister to our checking account before we moved to Italy so that she could pay any bills that might require a check, and so that she could transfer money to us. We haven’t given her power of attorney, but maybe we should. I don’t know if there would be a situation where this would be helpful, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.

While we were in the states in May, we sold my car. I had kept it since the insurance was negligible, and it was cheaper than having to rent a car when we were there in December/January, and then again in May. Since we won’t return to the states until December, there wasn’t much point in keeping it any longer, so we sold it and cancelled the insurance. A few weeks later we received a refund check from the insurance company, and my sister deposited it into our account.

This is another thing that’s important…to have a U.S. address, and someone who can monitor your mail. Luckily for us, my sister very generously offered to do this for us. At first I just assumed that my daughter would take this job, but since she didn’t really approve of our move, this scenario sort of fell apart. We can’t thank my sister enough for helping us out.

Another useful tool for living overseas is the internet. I’ve set up our bank account online so that I can monitor our money, pay bills, and initiate electronic transfers. While checking our account recently, I couldn’t figure out why there was an electronic transfer in the amount of eighty something dollars to a company called Liberty Mutual.

I contacted my sister to see if she had any idea who and what this charge was. She reminded me that our car insurance company had changed from Prudential to Liberty Mutual…I don’t know if it was a buy out, a merger, a split, or what. My last electronic car insurance premium had been labeled “Prudential”, so I had completely forgotten about this change.

Meanwhile I had contacted our representative at Fifth Third Bank to ask her if she had any information about this transfer of funds. She told me that she’d had a similar problem, also with Liberty Mutual the previous week. They had gotten an account number wrong and had taken money out of the wrong account! I assumed that this was what happened to us.

Because of this previous problem, the Fifth Third rep had the number for the appropriate department at Liberty Mutual. Knowing that we’re in Italy, and also that we can’t call an 800 number, she offered to call and try to resolve this problem.

Imagine my surprise when she called me back and told me that Liberty Mutual said that there had been NO MISTAKE, because we still had a car insurance policy. Oh boy…I knew this would be a mess.

The Fifth Third rep then graciously offered to call the insurance company and to put us on a three way call. After many transfers, we were finally connected to someone who seemed willing to listen to our problem.

After I explained the problem, the first thing the Liberty Mutual rep told me was that yes, we DID still have a car insurance policy. I said, NO, we didn’t…it had been cancelled in early May, and that we had even received a refund check in June for the overpayment. Again, the rep told me that yes, I did have a policy, but that she could cancel it as of that day.

Do you know how much self control it took to grit my teeth and say very slowly and very deliberately, NO, we DON’T have a policy. It was CANCELLED in May, and YOU need to figure out what the problem is and issue me a refund check NOW!!!!! I told her that NO electronic payments had been made for June or July, and that we had received the refund check from them in June.

The rep then put us on hold so that she could check with an agent who could verify details that she didn’t have access to. We waited for quite awhile, and several times she came on the line to say that she was still trying to reach an agent. I told her that I was in Italy, and that Fifth Third was graciously paying for this call. I explained that our time was valuable too, and that we needed to have someone settle this problem ASAP.

Eventually she got through to an agent, and when she came back she acknowledged that yes, the policy had indeed been cancelled on May 12. Of course there was no apology for her inaccurate information, or for the fact that she basically called me a liar. Never-the-less…..

I requested that the eighty some odd dollars be electronically re-deposited into my account at once. The Liberty Mutual rep then informed me that this wasn’t possible. I found it hard to believe that they could take the money electronically, but not put it back. Even I have the capability to transfer money from my computer at home…how could a large company like this not have the same capabilities?

I also asked what sort of compensation they would be offering for this mistake…not only had they had the use of my money (and deprived me of the use of it in the meantime), they had also greatly inconvenienced both me AND Fifth Third, taking up our time in dealing with this problem.

It was at this point that the rep connected me with a supervisor. Luckily the rep briefed the supervisor on our situation so that I didn’t have to repeat the whole story. I asked what type of compensation would be made, and when I could expect restitution. The supervisor told me that compensation wasn’t possible, but that she would try to have the check sent to me via an overnight service.

I was quite careful to express my complete and utter DISsatisfaction with this company and the way they did business. I told the supervisor that I was very glad we were no longer doing business with them, and that I found it hard to believe that a company of this size could be so inept.

Earlier, the woman from Fifth Third had been unable to connect me to a three way call because the office was having a staff meeting. The phones had been set to an answering machine that directed the caller to try back in 45 minutes, after the meeting was over! I found this to be unbelievable! A large national insurance company that turns off its phones for a staff meeting!!! This is the sort of thing that I might expect from a small local insurance agency, but NOT from a company of this size!!!

Since all this transpired on a Friday, I didn’t really expect to get the check on Saturday. I figured it would come on Tuesday, after having been sent on Monday.

When I spoke with my sister yesterday, Saturday, I asked her if the check had come, and she told me that it had not. She also told me that in the meantime she had received a letter from Liberty Mutual stating that my premium amount had changed, and that beginning on September 3rd, I would be paying the new amount.

My sister was able to give me the website for Liberty Mutual, and I sent them a rather nasty email, requesting the check, as well as compensation, NOW! I also explicitly FORBID them to withdraw anymore funds from my account, and threatened legal action if this happened again. My sister, who works in the insurance field, told me that the state insurance commission is quite interested in these types of problems, and acts quite quickly to resolve them. I guess that will be my next step.

I did request an acknowledgement of my email, and also requested that they tell me exactly WHEN I could expect their check. I’ll need to contact Fifth Third to see if it’s possible to block their electronic transfer, just in case.

The morals of this story are: have someone in the states who can keep an eye on things for you…always check your credit card and bank statements, and NEVER, EVER do business with Liberty Mutual!


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