There was a man sitting in a car, in front of my house, intently watching my empty driveway. He was sitting in a rather dusty old Honda Acura, hunched over the wheel, staring. I was coming into the front yard to water the plants, and he noticed me looking at him.
He got out of the car–a fox-faced Hispanic man of about forty, casually dressed, slight accent–smiling and waving. “Hi! There’s been a mix up at Fed Ex! They are accidentally sending my packages to your address! I just spoke to them–the driver’s on the way!” A wider, toothier smile now. “Do you mind if I pick up the packages here?”
“Um…guess not.” I decided I’d think about this some more as I did my watering, see what’s up. I began watering, and pondering, and as each second passed I became more certain that something illegal was going on here, and it was an illegality that used my street address. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. I decided to go into the house and get a pen and paper and my phone, write down his license number–but that’s when the Fed Ex truck drove up.
Waiting Man rushed up to the driver, chucklingly gave him the story, gave him a name…I heard “Garcia”…and apparently showed some form of ID. The driver barely glanced at it, and handed over four packages, each the size of a brick; the man from the Acura walked toward his car happily looking the packages over, hefting them one by one. He really looked pleased.
The Fed Ex truck left and I hurried in to get a pen. I should have tried to memorize the plate, because when I came out Waiting Man was gone.
I called the police and a local cop took the incident report. Yeah, a common scam, he said. They used fake data to buy a phone, they have it shipped to someone else’s address, then intercept the delivery and pick it up there. Nothing the police can do without a plate number. Tell Fed Ex, he advised.
I called Fed Ex and they said, “All I can tell you is that four cell phones went to that address from Verizon. It says here, cell phones…” They wouldn’t talk to the cops. Suggested I tell Verizon.
You can’t email Verizon about this topic–their email fraud form is only for, well, email fraud, there’s no other useful email address. Nor could I find a postal mailing address for administration. So I called them, spoke to billing–couldn’t get anyone there interested in the issue because that was not their department. “We only deal with new accounts or billing problems…”
I decided I’d done what I could. But within ten days we got a pile of separate bills from Verizon for “Donald Kinyon” and “Victoria Kinyon”, two people I’d never heard of, at this address. This was disturbing. Probably it wasn’t identity theft per se but it smelled like something akin to it.
I tried Verizon’s customer service again. “We don’t deal with that in this department.” Who does? “No one. But you can talk to fraud…” It took about an hour to get through to Verizon’s fraud department. The man said, “Yeah, sounds like they picked your address at random…Open the mail for me please, find the account number.” I opened it, saw a bill for thousands of dollars in charges for these two probably imaginary people. I gave him the account number, told him we’d been in the house for seventeen years, never heard of these people on the bill. He said, “Yep it’s billed to your house, I see.” He couldn’t get it unbilled from the house. “Just write ‘No one by that name at this address’ on the bill, and Verizon will stop sending them.”
I did as he suggested –they didn’t stop sending the bills.
I talked to the postman who said when he saw them he’d send them back as wrongly addressed, and he does do that sometimes, but sometimes they come anyway.
Months later, many moons, we still get bills–four today. Annoyed, I called Verizon billing. They said, we don’t deal with that, and put me through to Customer service. Customer service heard me out and then said, “There’s nothing we can do. It’s billed to that address.”
“But they’re not here. Surely Verizon doesn’t want to bill to an address where the people are not in residence.”
“We don’t deal with that here.”
“Then who does?”
“No one that I know of.”
“Let me give you the account number–”
“How’d you get that? You…opened the bill?”
“Yes, had to, to get your 800 number.”
“That’s against the law, opening other people’s mail!”
“But…the ‘other people’ don’t exist–I mean, they don’t live here and they probably don’t exist…Look, I know you guys can simply stop sending these bills for someone else to my address–somewhere there can do it.”
“No,” he said coldly. “We can’t.”
He insisted–rudely and very sniffily repeating it over and over that I had to talk to the Fraud department, or no one.
“But I already–”
He cut me off mid sentence, and put me on hold.
Eventually I was back at Fraud. This time I got another man in Fraud department who said, “This is not a fraud issue.”
“How is it not? They’re defrauding your company of phones and the bills are coming here. End this!”
“Can’t do that, the bills will keep coming to that address.”
“But–someone at Verizon has to know how to stop sending a bill to an address where the person billed is not in residence.”
He suddenly sounded suspicious. “But you say the person doesn’t exist!”
“Then– billed to an address where the name is wrong, and the account doesn’t apply to anyone here.”
“There’s no one who can deal with that.”
“No one at Verizon can stop a bill going to a house where the person billed is not in residence and never has been? They won’t stop wasting effort, paper, time, billing a residence when they know, by now, it’s fraud?”
“I can connect you to Customer Service…”
“But I’m not a customer–I’m a person affected by your company’s refusal to reasonably deal an issue of fraud that has impacted me. And in fact I’m also trying to help you guys by reinforcing the report of this theft and saving you trouble by asking you stop sending the bills for the stolen phones to–”
“There’s no one who can stop the billing to that address.”
“No one? You guys at Verizon are completely at the mercy of your computers?”
I could almost hear him grate his teeth–this was his Hell too. He didn’t feel like working on Saturday in the first place. “Sir, this is not a case for our department. I can connect you to billing…”
“They sent me to you!”
“…but the bills will continue to come to your house.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know.” There was a slight satisfaction in his voice as he added, “Maybe forever. Goodbye.”
Welcome to the new corporate America. We are opaque. We have filters; we have human firewalls. If you have an issue with us, you had better fit through a tiny slot that profits us. Or, you could sue us. Good luck with that.
Otherwise, simply…go away.