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PayPal Letter To Deceased Customer: 'You Should Read This Notice Carefully'

PayPal wrote to a British woman who had died of cancer, saying her death was a breach of contract. The company has since apologized and pledged to find out how it made the mistake.
Jeff Chiu
PayPal wrote to a British woman who had died of cancer, saying her death was a breach of contract. The company has since apologized and pledged to find out how it made the mistake.

Lindsay met a man named Howard on a dating site, fell in love, got married and added Durdle to her name.

Howard said they lived happily for a decade until she got sick — breast cancer — twice. She struggled. It spread. And she died on May 31.

On Tuesday of this week, Lindsay received a letter at what had been her home in Bucklebury, England.

"Important - You should read this notice carefully," the correspondence from PayPal began.

"You are in breach of condition 15.4(c) of your agreement with PayPal Credit as we have received notice that you are deceased," the letter informed her.

Because of the recent change in her standing, the company said it had a few options: "we are entitled to close your account, terminate your agreement and demand repayment of the full amount outstanding."

She was on the hook for 3,240.72 pounds, roughly $4,282.06, and could face legal action if the debt wasn't paid.

"We do understand that you may be experiencing financial difficulties and are eager to help," the letter offered, suggesting she reach out.

Still, PayPal deemed the breach "not capable of remedy."

Howard Durdle found the letter upsetting. Especially since he was the one to alert PayPal of Lindsay's death, requesting that the account be closed.

He told the BBC that just three weeks after his wife died, following the company's instructions, he submitted copies of her death certificate, her will and his ID.

PayPal has since apologized and erased the debt.

"We apologize profusely for the understandable distress this letter has caused," PayPal wrote in an emailed statement to NPR.

"As soon as we became aware of this mistake, we contacted Mr. Durdle directly to offer our support, cleared the outstanding debt and closed down his wife's account as he requested," the statement continued. Additionally, PayPal said it has "urgently reviewed the company's internal processes to ensure this does not happen again."

It did not clarify what those processes are or how they might have been changed.

Durdle told the BBC a PayPal employee explained the letter was likely due to a bug, a bad letter template or human error.

In interviews with The New York Times and the BBC, Durdle didn't take issue with the idea of the attempt to collect the debt — according to the Times, "In Britain, spouses are not automatically responsible for their deceased partners' debts." In the U.S., laws vary from state to state "but generally survivors are not required to pay a dead relative's bills from their own assets," the paper reported.

Instead, Howard Durdle took issue with PayPal's insensitive approach.

"With grief, there are ups and downs," he told the Times. "There are days when you are very fragile, and there are days when you are feeling stronger. We are lucky that this week I was feeling quite strong."

His hope, he wrote on Twitter, is that more organizations "can apply empathy and common sense to avoid hurting the recently bereaved."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.