7 October 2009

Stupidity of systems and debt collection

Today's tale is an example of stupidity put into system. Or, a system that has accumulated enough stupidity to grow sentience, and has become a cancer onto society.

A preamble; in my distant, distant past (over 20 years ago now), I accumulated a bit of debt due to unfortunate circumstances, not too big for the world to get scared, but not small enough not to cause trouble. I lost a house over it, basically stemming from taxes on income the government of the country I was living in at the time thought I should pay when I, in fact, didn't have an income at the time (in their wisdom they demanded I had to prove that I didn't have an income, a bit like proving that something doesn't exists which is, in fact, impossible. And when you're arguing with a system, you're not going to be heard). It's a long story, one I'd rather try to forget, but suffice to say I have some experience of debt, debt collection and the various instances and how they work.

Since my distant past I try to help people make sense of these systems, mostly for minor things (like when you forget to pay a bill twice ... you'd be surprised how easy it is :), but sometimes also for larger debts that take time, patience and good negotiating skills to overcome. But I've done it again and again.

So, the other day we got a message on our answering machine from some person who's got the worlds fastest talking voice, saying something like 'Hi, Ribbedy Rabbedy from Bing and Bong here (honestly, it sounded just like that!), calling on an urgent matter, call us back on !*$*!!!*$$%%!*$ (I had to go through the message over 10 times to get these numbers right) with reference number %*@%*@%*$$* (another 10 times to get this number), bye!'

I called back straight away, because we have a pretty good system in our house for bills coming in and getting dealt with and knew of nothing outstanding, where everything gets put into the 'in' folder and dealt with at least three times a week, and if dealt with, moved from one side of the desks folder drawer to the other, big cross across the bill, and typed 'paid' in large numbers, before filed safely. But when I called the number, I was greeted by a receptionist who didn't know who'd called me, couldn't find anything with my reference number, couldn't tell me quite what it was they do ('business services' yeah, that explains it) and in the end we gave up. I thought, if it is that important, they'll get back to me.

Didn't hear another thing for two weeks. Maybe they made a mistake, and were after someone else.

Then last night we get a call from someone with a thick Indian accent, probably some poor outsourced guy in Bangalore just trying to fill his quota, trying to explain to first my 9 year old daughter, then to my wife, and finally to me, about something or other. We just couldn't work it out, except big words such as "serious matter" and "debt", and this all smack down in the middle of dinner-time. What they hell? It sounded more and more like a scam, as he was being very secretive, refusing to tell me anything of value, so I tried to just get out of him what company he was calling from, which was something like B'n'B, D'n'D, E'n'E, or any other combo of letters that go with ee-enn-ee ("what do you do? We do business services" Aaaargh!). My daughter confused and my wife worked up, I ended the conversation with saying that if there is a serious matter and you can't communicate properly, send us a friggin' letter, in a stern but polite manner.

Today came a letter. Well, a bill actually, accompanied with threats of "garnishee your wages, tax refund, bank account or *** or take you to court" with "urgency" and "serious" plastered all over it.

I paid the bill after going through our paperwork and not finding a 'paid' version of it, ticking it up as 'human failure to pop an old bill where it belongs for filing' (so, most likely my fault), and then the phone rings. Yup, another representative for this company bugging us. Having just paid the bill, I asked why he's calling, but because these guys (and no Indian accent this time, albeit there was a foreign element to it, since I'm a foreigner myself I detect these things) can only read from scripts he insisted to talk to my wife. I said, no, you just called me on my phone, I'm her husband, is there anything we need to know that the letter / bill doesn't address. "If I could only talk to your wife, I could answer that question."

This is where it gets complicated, and I must induce the powers of logic, inference and bloody common sense. The next 3 minutes went on with me stating "you called me, you tell me, my wife doesn't want to speak to you because you're rude, incosiderate and mysterious about matters which could be cleared up in no time and you insist on being stupidly pigheaded because 'for legal reasons' that you can't explain further you can't explain it to anyone but her *if* there is or isn't anything of importance you need to tell her that the letter didn't."

"For legal reasons" is more often than not business speak for "we don't want to get into legal trouble ourselves", and is something I've been thinking a bit about lately. I've had phone calls from various companies we have services from, Telstra being one of them, who do courtesy calls to you to make sure everything is fine, or nag about some service they're pushing, or other somesuch, and they all start with asking me about info to confirm that I am who I am. "For legal reason."

So I am to tell a stranger, who is calling me on my own bloody phone, that claims to be from Telstra or otherwise to give out personal info for verification of who I am? What is my option for verifying that they are who they claim to be? At current, there is none; this is a one-way street, because I am me, lucky to their client, and they are whoever hell they want to be. This whole identity conundrum has been bugging me more and more of late, and culuminated today with this idiot (who in his defence was reading from a script) failing miserably to understand that in any conversation there are two parts; you and who you are addressing at the time. It may not be who you want to be talking to, but that doesn't alter the reality of it.

I ended the conversation by saying 'I'm going to say no' to his insistant nagging to talk to my wife. The letter and all this insane phone terror comes from Dun & Bradstreet (signed 'sincerely' Corey Smith, National Collections Manager, who I suspect has his name and scanned signature in many D&B templates), one of the bigger players in the debt collecting and reporting business (who I've had slightly better dealings with their Norweigan branch in the past, but only marginally).

What's all this hubbub about, you may ask? 63$. Yup, that's right, 63 Australian shiny little dollars, and not only that, but CentreLink - an arm of the Australian government for family benefits, like child support, pensions and the like - had overpaid us the 63$, and now apparently wants it back the hard way, at any cost (and you can just imagine the cost of all this rubbish!). Instead of, you know, just deduct it from our next payment.

63 friggin' dollars. They should feel so ashamed of themselves. This is what you get when stupid systems grows sentinence instead of a brain.


  1. Oh my dog. Wow. I'm... Well, not impressed. Maybe sad? *shakes her head* Consider the bright side: You don't need to do such things for a living. Hope it worked out in the end!

  2. Hehe, yes systems do what ... systems are designed to do.

    But, the good message is: It will get worse, much worse. Maybe later I will tell a story from my country. Maybe practice shaking your head in the mean time.