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Coats video store owner uses shame, Facebook to recoup late fees

Posted August 14, 2012
Updated August 15, 2012

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— A Harnett County video store owner who estimates losing $26,000 in unpaid late fees and unreturned videos in the last three years is using the power of shame and social media to recoup some debts.

Christie Ross, who owns Video Cafe in Coats, has a white board at the store bearing the names of about 300 people she says have gone at least six months without paying overdue fines or returning videos. She calls it her "Wall of Shame."

"It's hard to replace an $80 video game if the first time you rented it, they don't bring it back," she said.

A couple of months ago, in addition to the list at the store, Ross posted the list on the business' Facebook page.

"It probably is harsh, but the way I look at it is – a lot of these people have cussed us. They have told us, 'Who cares about late fees?'" she said.

Posting names has been effective in clearing up fines at the video store, Ross said, and at the end of the day, she's just trying to keep her doors open.

Ross said she consulted with her attorney before posting the Wall of Shame and that she believes it is perfectly legal because renters sign a contract when they open an account.

"(The contract) specifies what our late fees are and it specifies how much you owe if you don't bring the movies back," she said. "(My attorney) says as long as you have an agreement with them, as long you have a signature," the practice is legal.

Debt collection laws are somewhat murky, however, and Raleigh attorney Ben Whitley said he doesn't believe Ross can legally post the names. Coats video store owner has 'Wall of Shame' for unpaid fines Coats video store owner has 'Wall of Shame' for unpaid fines

Whitley, who specializes in debt collection cases, said that under state law, the store is considered a debt collector. That means posting the names of customers who owe is a violation of the debt collection statute's unreasonable publication clause.

Tanya Glover, whose name appears on the Wall of Shame, said Ross is violating her right to privacy.

"It made me angry because that's nobody's business. It's nobody's business, and I'm sure a lot of people are embarrassed by it," she said. "That's why we're trying to get it taken down."

Glover said she didn't even realize she had outstanding fines and that Ross never contacted her to collect.

"That's why it's so surprising. She could have sent me a letter or called my phone, but I got nothing," she said.

Ross maintains that she does reach out to people who owe unpaid fines, but that she is often unable to reach them. She has a stack of customer phone numbers that are no longer in service, she said.

If the store is in violation of state law, it could face civil action, not criminal penalties, Whitley said.

No one has filed suit against Ross over the practice.

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's office said that anyone who thinks they may have been unreasonably publicized by a debt collector should consult with an attorney.

170 Comments

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  • ifgraceisanocean Aug 15, 7:36 p.m.

    @Qwerty27807...you must be one of those people that believes everything that's written on the internet. Don't answer those emails from Nigeria now.

  • ifgraceisanocean Aug 15, 7:31 p.m.

    Here's another interesting point to this story...BoycottTVC's site on Facebook is done by a person who is "sympathetic" to the cause. He/She claims that she's never been there. Also, he/she banned me and a friend for telling her/him the truth (which he/she obviously needs to hear), which is simply Pay Your Bill. Told everyone that he/she was going to keep it an adult "mature" conversation, yet posts "Photoshopped" pictures making fun of her and telling everyone about the car the owner drives (which, she PAYS for). It's the whole do as I say, not as I do. Someone needs to find a hobby fast. Christie, keep fighting the good fight. It's about time people take responsibility for their actions. You won't pay your bill, but you'll pay for a lawyer, Tanya? Yeah....

  • wigi Aug 15, 7:28 p.m.

    I say you go girl! Hey the ebay feedback system works kind of like that, so does yelp and Angies list. Quit crying about privacy and pay the fee! I do believe however that she should add to the rental contract that your name could be added to the wall of shame and the renter would have to agree to that.

  • only.me Aug 15, 7:16 p.m.

    What's the big deal? We all overlook things sometimes - if you see your name, be glad for the reminder, go pay your fee and move on! She's got a business to run! Likely, only the slackers, who never intended to pay their fee, are getting bent out of shape about this, because they got "caught."

  • prd2bsthrn Aug 15, 3:52 p.m.

    actually that "$45 collection fee" claim is coming from only ONE source..one of which is on that list/wall of shame and they have not given one shred of proof as to their claim.

    yes, please WRAL, why dont we "follow-up".

  • Qwerty27807 Aug 15, 3:42 p.m.

    According to the two competing Facebook sites, she is popping a $45 "collection" fee on outstanding balances, some of these accounts being only a few bucks. This is not the tear-jerker "single mother desperately trying to make it on her own", this is a desperate business owner scamming the public. Lets do some follow-up here WRAL!

  • smokeybear Aug 15, 3:30 p.m.

    I applaud this woman. To me it is stilling if they don't bring books back and they know the rules. Late fees will be charged to them. I saw lady on tv at lunch, if she was one of them, I would be ashamed to be seen on WRAL. Deadbeats!

  • goozleboy Aug 15, 3:10 p.m.

    It is quite a shame the deadbeats of society wish to be treated like royalty when they are acting like gutter debris...it is even more shameful they generally get the special treatment they seek.

  • RKBA Aug 15, 2:35 p.m.

    "This seems to be the mantra of the Democratic party though..

    just couldn't help yourself, could you. It is actually becuase alllll the deadbeats that don't pay their bills, healthcare and otherwise that action has to be taken"

    That's what he said. Deadbeats, Democrat party constituents, all the same thing...

  • RKBA Aug 15, 2:32 p.m.

    "So said offenders don't remember renting a video/game, and don't remember not returning it?????"

    Or can't read the label on the front, I suppose.

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