Thursday, January 27, 2011

Zombie late fees vs. Steve Bullock

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 10:05 AM

We learned two things about AG Steve Bullock yesterday: He's a fan of Caddyshack, and he's not afraid to protect our state's most avid movie addicts. Like me.

Bullock filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop an Oklahoma collections agency from demanding outrageous payments from Montana residents on overdue rentals from the old Hollywood Video chain. From the AG's release:

The Movie Gallery chain bought out Hollywood Video in 2005. At its peak, the chain had 24 locations in Montana, from Whitefish to Sidney. Beginning in late 2009, the company began shuttering its stores in Montana. Its last Montana location closed in the summer of 2010. The company is now in the process of liquidating its assets as part of a bankruptcy. As part of that process, the names of 12,325 Montanans who owed late fees or charges to Movie Gallery were turned over to National Credit Solutions, an Oklahoma City company.

Bullock points out that the high collection fees are against Montana law, and wants to stop the company from filing negative credit reports against consumers without first notifying them.

"It's crazy to think that a Montanan would be prevented from refinancing their house or buying a new car simply because they returned Caddyshack two days late," said Bullock in the release.

It seems like the AG's office files lawsuits like this one all the time. But this one hits a little close to home for me. When I was arts editor, I often had to rent obscure flicks for random stories. More often than not, Crystal Video (sigh) provided exactly what I needed. Or, if I had time to plan, Netflix. But once or twice, the Hollywood Video on South Russell was the only place to turn.


For instance, they're the only ones who had a copy of Masked and Anonymous, a horrible indie thing that starred Bob Dylan. I needed it for a story in advance of Dylan's 2005 concert at the Adams Center. As far as I remember, I couldn't have returned that movie fast enough. It was that bad.

But roughly two years later, I got a call from a collections agency claiming I had failed to return a DVD. They wanted something like $200 and threatened to destroy my credit. Stupefied, I went to the still-open-then Hollywood Video, and found they were missing Masked and Anonymous. Why wasn't I notified? Why'd they go straight to a collection agency? Could this be a mistake? Why is this coming up now? How could you possibly justify $200 for that crappy film? I mean, if it were Bullock's Caddyshack, then, maybe, but ... Anyway, an apologetic manager made it right and wiped it clean from my account. My credit wasn't damaged. The whole thing was dumb, and possibly erroneous, and the manager basically admitted as much. I haven't thought about it — or visited Hollywood Video — since. I didn't even browse the aisles during the liquidation sale last summer.

Until the lawsuit. If you've ever rented from Hollywood Video, be sure to follow the advice of Bullock's office and double-check your credit report. I did last night, here, for free. Turns out, I'm okay.

Except, of course, for the part about watching Masked and Anonymous.

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