Regular readers - er, both of you! - will be aware that I'm self-employed and while I love the freedom this can bring, chasing down people who owe me money is one of the downsides.
I have been chasing one such person, whom I shall call The Scarlet Pimpernel, for months. She now has unpaid invoices going back more than a year and the sum total of them all has achieved five figures.
I have a very nice lawyer who specialises in debt collection - I know that sounds weird but he IS a nice guy and enjoys a robust glass of red wine when he's not sending summonses - on the case, but the Pimpernel is clever.
The Pimpernel appears to live under a bridge or on a park bench. Someone else is living at the last known address I had for her. Today I tracked down a more recent address she had used last year but when I drove subtly past the house a few things didn't compute and I've since discovered someone else has been living there for years.
She's not in the phone book. Plenty of people aren't these days as you end up getting too many telemarketers ringing you.
My next point of call will be the electoral roll; assuming she was a good little citizen and voted in the last election I will have an address current as of March last year. Which may or may not be the current one this week!
I'm getting rather angry over all this. It's not just the money; it's the feeling of being lied to.
I wish she had been upfront and said she was cash-strapped; we could have arranged from day one for her to pay me an amount each week or month to cover the enormous workload I was doing for her (at a discounted rate I might add as she gave me regular work). She gave an initial impression of being well-off, and is also a very likeable person. So... I worked during the weekends and evenings to fulfil her requests, and quite often I'd finish a task and she'd change her mind about it and I'd have to do something different. My stress levels were volcanic. I wasn't sleeping at all well. I felt nauseous with nerves and stress. I was depressed and cried at the drop of a hat. I had to knock back other clients because I simply ran out of hours in the day.
The Pimpernel told some amazing 'cheque is in the mail'-type porkies, too. For every payment she made - and she did pay her early invoices, albeit much later than I'd liked as well as some for her bigger corporate clients when they in turn paid her - there were false starts, stories of accounts frozen by the bank because they'd been hacked, or she'd forgotten to bring her ATM card with her when we met, stories of the bank's website being down for maintenance for nearly a week... That last one, last year, was the one that put me into orbit. I also have an account with that bank and knew damned well the website was working perfectly but checked with the bank to make sure. The bank told me that freezing hacked accounts isn't their policy either.
At that point I pulled the plug and said I wasn't doing any more for her until she started paying off the bills (which I'd been sending regularly with reminders). I suggested paying them off by the month but didn't get a response.
My last resort was to engage my wine-loving lawyer and of course a polite letter to her had no effect. She wrote back saying that I had caused her grief and depression. I think she got that the wrong way around.
She has also claimed in social media channels that she taught me new skills, I billed her for them and then blogged about these skills as part of my own client offering. I used those skills to do something for one of her clients and wrote about the experience, with a link to The Pimpernel's own site and glowing blah-blah about the Pimpernel herself. She claims in that same post that she is no longer offering those skills and appears to be blaming me for that. Something tells me that she can't find another dope like me to work like a maniac, give a discounted rate and not get paid. That's the real reason she's cut back on those particular offerings.
So now we are in summons-land. We are tracking her down, inch by inch, to that park bench or bridge. I feel sorry for her, because I would hate to owe somebody that much money - in fact I wouldn't let myself get into that situation in the first place - but I am also angry at the lies and the stress I went through to do her tasks.
I have learned a lesson though. New clients now have to pay 1/3 of the agreed cost before I start a job for them. No more Pimpernels please.