When I woke up on Thursday morning I had the unexpected benefit of no longer needing to schedule job interviews and look for “that perfect job somewhere out there.” Once again, in yet another parallel to last summer, things have fallen very nicely into place. I thought, I feel lucky. But maybe luck is just what you notice. In many ways it would be easy to say I have been rather unlucky as of late, what with the knee situation, the ridiculous boy situation, the budget situation, and the (former) job situation. I felt a bit like Jimmy in terms of the severity of my Situation(s).
You don’t wanna fuck my shit up?
YOU’RE. FUCKIN’. UP. MY. SHIT. RIGHT. NOW.
But then in a two-day time span the knee situation was put on hold, I was pleasantly surprised by two distinctly different boys in very surprising ways, my former school district paid me out for the summer, and most exciting, I got a job.
I meandered around my place with a huge cup of gourmet coffee and contemplated the intense velocity with which my attitude, perspective and situation can change. I sat down and checked my email and saw that I had a message from mom. It said that Dish Network had forwarded my account to a collection agency and that I was going to be referred to the credit bureau.
This was very peculiar. Mostly because I have never, in my entire life, had an account with Dish Network.
So, I called them to see what was going on. Yes, they said, they had forwarded my account to collections because I was in default for $273.89.
- I have never had an account with you.
- Well, it says here that you have.
- Well, I have not.
- Okay, let’s see.
- Yes. Let’s.
- Can you give me your Social Security number?
- Yes. XXX-XX-XXXX.
- Hm. Well, that is the number on this account. Have you ever had an account with us.
- Are you sure?
- There is no way that you could have opened an account with us?
- I *could* have but I never have.
- Well. Have you provided your information to anyone else who might have opened an account on your behalf?
- Are you kidding me?
- Can you tell me an address where you might have had an account with us?
- No. Because. I. Have. Never. Had. An. Account. With. You.
- I see. Okay.
- Can you tell me the address associated with this account?
- Yes: 321 E. Sunset, Gerlach, Nevada, 89412.
- Yes, Gerlach. Do you have family there?
- Do you know where Gerlach is? No, I do not have family there. – I do not come from gypsum mining stock.
- So, do you have any friends or associates there who you might have given your personal information to?
It was painfully clear that this conversation was going to continue on this Lewis Carroll inspired spiral. I asked to speak to someone who could tell me what to do about an account that had been opened in my name by someone else. I was forwarded to no less than three other people to whom I was given the privilege of retelling the entire set of circumstances each time. Eventually, I was speaking to someone in the executive office who deals with fraud. Ruth was not a whole lot more helpful and refused to talk to me about any details surrounding the account, something I thought was strange seeing as according to Dish Network, it was apparently MY account. But she told me that if I “thought” this account had been set up fraudulently and I wanted to open an investigation I would have to:
- Find, download and complete an FTC ID Theft Affidavit.
- File and collect a police report.
- Fax, email, or mail the above along with a copy of my ID to Dish Network, at which point they would begin the investigation.
This seemed the height of ridiculosity in my mind, as this was clearly a fuck up on their part, but I was sick of listening to her and having her interrupt me while not listening to me so I thanked her and got off the phone.
Next I called the collection agency. The collection agency that had sent this notice to me, at my parents address, is called Afni, Inc. They are a well established company based in Bloomington, Indiana, according to their website. The woman I spoke to at Afni was incredibly pleasant. She provided me with a lot of information that Dish Network would not. She told me that the account had been opened on January 7, 2009 and that regular payments had been made on the account until May 18, 2010. She gave me the phone number associated with the account, but was quick to tell me I could not call this number because “numbers are recycled and I would hate for you to accuse someone of something they had nothing to do with.” She also explained that the billing address was not the location of the Dish Network service. And, that it was very strange that this was happening with a Dish contract because a Dish representative has to actually go to the customer’s physical location to set up the service at which point someone would have to provide a photo ID (ostensibly one with my name, and their photo – not unheard of, but a lot of legwork) as well as my social security number, and have a credit/debit card with my name on it. She also said that this case was very strange because it appeared that the customer had returned the equipment to Dish network because otherwise what was owed would be far more.
I considered all of this information and it did sound strange. How could someone have all of this information and if they did, why would they stop at only a Dish Network account? I re-examined all of my credit reports and saw that there was no indication of fraudulent activity anywhere, that there were no accounts I did not know of, and that, as I already knew, my credit was nearly perfect. I could not figure out how this could have happened, unless perhaps someone who worked at Dish Network was hooking up a friend or something?
None of it made sense. I did have my social security card stolen with some other items. In 2006. Could it take 3 years to resurface? I have been to Gerlach, Nevada. It is a horrible and depressing place at the far eastern edge of Washoe county. There is a high school there and it is on the way to the Black Rock Desert, a.k.a. Burning Man. Could I have dropped a key piece of identifying information during a routine gas stop and not ever noticed? Un-fucking-likely. Both #3 and #4 still live in Nevada, and while I know #3 could not be bothered with messing with me in this way, I would not put it past #4. Still, if he were going to mess with me, I would imagine it would be on a much larger scale. Like, say, the house we shared the mortgage burden on and he got. Who would bother with something like this?
Of course, I did call the number Afni provided and it was an invalid number. Strange that it had not been recycled, I thought. Then I went to the FTC site, got the paperwork, filled it out, marched down to the local pokey, got the police report, and called it a day.
Later on I was contemplating the situation a bit more. I Googled the collection agency. I found something very interesting.
Located in Bloomington, Illinois, Afni Collections, Inc. has been sending fake collection notices to people all over the United States—possibly even to Canada—hoping that someone is willing to take the bait and give them money that isn’t actually owed. In some cases the bill had been a legitimate one many years ago but has since been paid off; in other cases—myself included—Afni sent collection notices for Verizon bills that simply never existed in the first place.
It appears, after a bit more investigating on my part, that Afni, Inc., is in the business of buying “uncollectable” debts that have passed the statute of limitations and send out notices hoping that consumers will be unaware that they are not liable for payment, primarily because the collections are based on accounts that never existed. Their primary vehicle for this was Verizon, but it appears they have now moved on to Dish Network.
Suddenly the lack of any other evidence of fraud connected to my identity became very obvious. The “invalid” phone number that Afni was so willing to provide, the very strange circumstance of the billing address, the Afni rep specifically told me that the billing address and the service address were not the same… How did she know that? And in that case, what was the physical address, and why did she not tell me this? I had thought maybe some person who was so sad because of the simple fact that they lived in Gerlach, Nevada and maybe had no job, just wanted to watch television and so they had strategically used my account information to have one simple pleasure in an otherwise totally shit existence. I felt bad for this fantasy individual. Now it appeared this was not some sad, unemployed, rural Nevadan. It was a shitty company (or two) perpetrating a really offensive business practice. Simply put, I do not want them fucking up my shit, so I needed to get to the bottom of this.
It appears that the Dish Network/Afni claim is pretty bogus. I am not sure if they are working in cahoots with each other or what. It does appear that the account in default did originate with Dish and is in my name. Though, the fact that the account was established while I was living in Hong Kong and cancelled while I was ensconced in an ashram in India, not to mention the fact that I have never had anything voluntarily to do with Gerlach, Nevada, makes it pretty apparent that someone who is not me went to a lot of trouble for a stupidly small sum of money. I suppose the theory is if you defraud enough people you can use small sums that they won’t investigate because they just want the situation to go away and then you can make a ton of money, if you are Afni. I don’t really know, being that I am not in the habit of ripping people off (#4 might contest this, but I would counter that there is no dollar amount you can put on the years I gave up in Reno, so that argument is circular and pointless.)
Still, I am going to follow through with all of the bureaucratic nonsense that Dish Network is requiring, and I have put a fraud alert on my credit information. But I have a feeling that this investigation is going to reveal an “error in billing” somewhere along the line to avoid incriminating either company but you can be sure I am not giving either one of these jack-ass companies a dime.
After I found all this stuff out, I felt like the Wolf. Like, I solve problems. And my identity, though recently challenged by both a former supervisor and a major company (or two), turns out to be much closer to what I thought in the first place. Lucky or unlucky or whatever, I am still drinking gourmet coffee and “I got this.”
Shit, Negro, that’s all you had to say.