“This is a scam.” That’s the first thing I think when I read the letter in which the Chamber of Commerce threatens me with measures because my invoice has been “open for more than 60 days.”
I’m a good-paying client, and I don’t know anything about any outstanding invoices. Later in the letter, it appears that it concerns an invoice, singular, of three and a half months old in the amount of, don’t be alarmed, €7.80. Why have I never seen that invoice? And what about the payment reminders? Wait a minute . . . maybe this is a scam. Is this letter really from the Chamber of Commerce? If not and someone is trying to rob me, why for a modest amount of €7.80? The letter raises many questions.
Payment in arrears
Just to be sure, I ask the Chamber of Commerce for clarification: “Last week, I received a letter from the Chamber of Commerce in the mail threatening to close the access code with which I log in because I still owe €7.80. I am not aware of any payments being in arrears. The letter refers to invoice 222175595. Can you confirm that this letter is authentic? If that is the case, can you send me the relevant invoice? I will pay it immediately upon receipt.”
A day later, I get an answer from Patricia. The threatening letter from the Chamber of Commerce appears to be authentic. No scam. There is an open invoice. Patricia sends it as an attachment to her email. The invoice relates to an extract from the Trade Register of the Chamber of Commerce that I requested online a few months earlier. “Didn’t I have to pay for it online right away?” I think aloud. Apparently not.
I check the invoice. That this is not familiar to me is not surprising since the invoice was addressed by the Chamber of Commerce to an address where my company has not been located for more than ten years. In fact, I have lived and worked at three other addresses since that time. If there is anyone who has always been aware of this and who also knows that my company has been located at its current address for seven years now, it is the Chamber of Commerce. This is also apparent from the correspondence that the Chamber of Commerce has been sending to my current address for years.
I suspect that not only the invoice but also the payment reminders were sent to the old address. Anyway, let me pay the outstanding invoice of €7.80 and be done with it. Whoa. Wait a minute. On the invoice, it reads: “ATTENTION! DO NOT pay this invoice.” Excuse me, what now? Underneath it reads: “An amount of EUR 7.80 will be debited from account NL09KNAB********** on or around 03-28-2022.” Ah, okay. The invoice amount is going to be automatically debited. The account number is correct. That is my business account number. I check whether an amount of €7.80 was debited from my account around March 28. Nope. I don’t know why that didn’t happen. I am sure that an amount of €7.80 has been in the account this entire time.
My surprise grows. The Chamber of Commerce sends me an invoice to an old address. The invoice states that I do NOT have to pay it. The amount due is going to be automatically debited from my current account. If I do what the Chamber of Commerce tells me to do – not pay the invoice – the Chamber of Commerce sends me payment reminders. At an address where I have not lived or worked for ten years. Subsequently, the Chamber of Commerce threatens to take measures against me for non-payment. Remarkably enough, the Chamber of Commerce does send that letter to my current address. Yet, the Chamber sent a letter to my current address on May 2nd to inform me about a change in the payment method to the Chamber of Commerce: “We have found that two payment methods are registered for your organization: direct debit and payment via invoice. The payment method can therefore differ per invoice. We can understand why this may be leading to some confusion, and we have adjusted our system. From June 1, 2022, all invoices you receive from us will be collected automatically.”
Are you still there? I’m lost.
On June 7th, I inform the Chamber of Commerce that the invoice was addressed to an old address. To be on the safe side, I share with them my current address again. These have been known to the Chamber of Commerce for seven years, but I go ahead and reinforce this information anyways. I also ask whether I still have to pay the invoice or whether it will be debited from my account by the Chamber of Commerce, as stated on the invoice.
The answer from the Chamber of Commerce makes me dizzy: “The reason that the old address details are noted on the invoice is that a very old access code was used for this order. Registered on 08-03-2010, the data entered on the application form cannot be modified. To get the recent data on the invoice, you can request a new access code via our website, www.kvk.nl. Click on login and then click on “access code” and “create an account” to have the old access code closed. If you have any questions, we can be reached by phone at 088 5851585, option 5. To contact us via our website, www.kvk.nl, click on ‘register and change’ to change the address.”
The worst part is that I don’t get an answer to my question of whether I still have to pay the invoice or whether it will be automatically debited. I err on the side of caution and on June 13th, I pay the invoice of €7.80.
“Official notice. Read contents immediately.” These are the words written in capital letters on the large envelope that I find on my doormat on June 30th. The mail comes from Syncasso bailiffs. “This must be a mistake” is my first thought. I’m not indebted to anyone, so there’s no way this piece of mail is meant for me. I check the addressee. That’s me. The post is in my name. At my address. Hmm, strange. I’m getting a little nervous now. What is this about? Curious, I slide the papers out of the envelope. “Last chance to avoid seizure,” it reads. Well then. The letter was sent on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. Hey? What? I shouldn’t have any payment arrears with the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t understand. When I leaf through the package of papers, I read that I owe the Chamber of Commerce a “principal sum” of €7.80. Uh, but wait a minute, that amount looks familiar to me. Didn’t I pay that a few weeks ago? I check my bank account. On June 13, I paid €7.80 to the Chamber of Commerce. Apparently not, according to the Chamber of Commerce, which is why the principal sum of €7.80 has been increased with a “Demand Payment” of €7.00 and “Costs of a writ of execution” of €11.00. In total, the “recoverable principal” amounts to €25.80. The letter goes one step further with costs for “service order” (€114.01), “information costs” (€7.06), and “VAT damage surcharge” (€25.42). This together adds up to the sum of €146.49. In total, the claim against me is €25.80 plus €146.49 for a total of €173.71. It states to pay “within TWO DAYS FROM TODAY” in large capital letters. “Compulsory warrant” and “In the name of the king!” the piece screams at me. If I don’t do what this order instructs me to do, a seizure of my assets will follow. Oh yes, with an additional cost of €288.41. BAM!
The next day I write an email to Syncasso bailiffs. A few days later, Syncasso replies: “We have received your response in good order and submitted it to the Chamber of Commerce. As soon as we have received a response, we will contact you (presumably by letter or email). This could take some time.” Sure. You wrongly put a knife on your customer’s throat, urge him to pay as soon as possible, and threaten with measures like the seizure of assets, but when it is your turn, you take your time.
On July 13th, I receive an email from Syncasso:
The Chamber of Commerce has found and processed your payment. Your payment was made before the writ of execution was served, so we have proceeded to close the file.
With regard to the question about the direct debit: The invoice states that the invoice amount would be collected around 03-28-2022. The Chamber of Commerce tried to collect invoice 222175595 on 03-31-2022, but the direct debit was reversed on 04-04-2022 for the following cause: MS03 Administrative reason.
As for the address on the invoice, this is indeed wrong. The Chamber of Commerce has adjusted the address of your access code in accordance with the address of its registration in the trade register. So, this should all be fine.
No apology. Nothing. The fact that the direct debit was reversed raises my suspicion that the Chamber of Commerce attempted to collect from an old bank account. I’m not going to figure this out. I have better things to do. The file is closed; that’s the most important thing. I would prefer to end my relationship with the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t want to be a customer of an organization that treats me like that. But that just doesn’t happen. At the Chamber of Commerce, you are obliged to be a customer. Whether you like it or not. The Chamber of Commerce is a classic monopolist. Where you as an entrepreneur, a freelancer, are a forced customer. You have no choice. You also have to pay for it. And even if you do, there is still a chance that the Chamber of Commerce will send you a bailiff. If I was not required to be a customer of the Chamber of Commerce, would I have ever become one? No. If I was not obligated to be a Chamber of Commerce customer, would I have remained so? No. The Chamber of Commerce is proof that the lack of freedom of choice and the lack of competition are deadly for customer focus.
Frans Reichardt | The Customer Listener