When last I took the unusual-for-me step of introducing you to some deep details of what was going on in my personal life, I had just gotten laid off from my job and was coming out of my fourth back surgery in two years. Well, sit the fuck down a minute, because the story's only gotten more exasperating from there.
I went in for my fifth and, God willing, final back surgery a couple weeks ago. Backing up a ways, I had some stainless-steel rods installed on my spine when I was 16 years old to treat my scoliosis, and in surgery #4 the docs discovered what they figured was probably the reason I'd been growing all these cysts one after another on my back: a little bracket connecting the rods had come loose and was wiggling around just enough to carve out a spot where bacteria could collect and my back could get all inflamed. Surgery #5 was to remove that little bracket, which I will take home and shoot repeatedly with a .45 whenever the pathologists get done with it, and I had my follow-up appointment earlier today; the neurosurgeon took my sutures out and said everything looked pretty healthy.
In between the two surgeries, though, I did manage to incur nearly $3,000 in car-repair bills on my 10-year-old Volkswagen from various parts randomly failing, breaking, or snapping off and flying into another part of the engine. Fortunately, my parents were kind enough to cover those for my still-unemployed ass. But, the day I came home from surgery #5, I arrived to find a summons jammed in my door: I'm being taken to small-claims court for nearly another three grand by a company in South Carolina I'd never even heard of.
Backing up some more: Two years ago my identity information somehow got stolen by some jagoff in southern California who proceeded to open more than a dozen accounts in my name, ranging from minor charge accounts with Target and Wal-Mart all the way up to a line of credit with CarMax, from whom he bought -- and I'm not making this up -- a Range Rover and a Mercedes-Benz CLK500. I only found out about it when companies started sending me letters asking me to clarify some of my identity information because some stuff I'd put on "my" credit application didn't match up with what was on my credit report; I promptly filed a police report and was even matched up with a detective in the Financial Crimes Unit of the Pasadena Police Department who was trying to track down the perpetrator. A few months later, the detective called to tell me the guy had been caught and the cars had been impounded, and I filed what I thought were all the proper reports and claims with the credit bureaus to start getting the fraudulent shit taken off my credit report.
Only it turns out that quite a lot of stuff didn't get taken off. One of the CarMax accounts, unbelievably, was still on there when I checked up on it again a few weeks ago. And apparently Wells Fargo was still trying to collect on the debt that the California miscreant had rung up even after he'd been arrested. When those efforts failed for obvious reasons, they sold the debt to an outfit in South Carolina called LVNV Funding LLC -- the company now trying to drag me into court.
Not long after getting the summons, I did a little research into LVNV Funding, and all it took me was five minutes of Googling to conclude that LVNV is about as sleazy a bunch of ripoff artists and extortionists as are allowed to operate legally in this country. Basically, companies like Wells Fargo take old debts they've given up on trying to collect and sell them to LVNV, who incurs minimal risk by purchasing the debt for pennies on the dollar but can reap a pretty nice reward if they can get the debtor to pay the amount in full. This they accomplish by siccing any one of a number of vaguely named subsidiaries (Resurgent, Astra, Venta, etc. etc. etc.) on the debtor through phone calls, letters, and, evidently, lawsuits designed to intimidate the debtor into paying up. Their M.O. appears to be sitting back and hoping that either a) the debtor is so scared he pays up right away or b) he ignores the eventual court summons, fails to show up for court and thus has summary judgment found against him, and then LVNV gets to go in and start taking his money or his stuff. Worse, while all this is going on they somehow manage to "re-age" your debt on your credit report, which basically means resetting the "last account activity" date so that the statute of limitations can't run out. As long as that bad debt is sitting on there, it's killing your credit record, so they're basically holding your formerly good credit score hostage until you pay up. (My own credit score has plummeted more than 70 points just in the last year.)
I've already done what apparently few people bother to do and responded to the lawsuit through the proper channels here in Birmingham. I gave LVNV's law firm here in Birmingham a full description of the identity-theft case and why I'm not responsible for the debt their client says I owe, and they say they're investigating it. But at least at the moment, I'm still scheduled to go into small-claims court three weeks from now and hope I can get this thrown out. We'll just have to see.
Meanwhile, I'm seeing a therapist for depression -- a condition that I'm realizing started many months before all this other shit started going down -- and that's been promising so far, but I still don't have a job. I've applied for more than 30 positions at universities, media outlets, and corporations all over the East Coast, and so far have received about a half-dozen definite rejections but no invitations for any interviews. I've managed to budget things out to where I can make it to the end of the year without starving even if I don't find a job during that time, but the latest wrinkle is that the company that purchased my apartment building a few months ago has been ramping up renovations, and there's a very good chance that I'm going to have to vacate my old, drafty, but beloved old apartment sometime in the next few months so that they can continue that process. Should that happen, I'm probably going to have to move in with my parents; between my unemployed status and the disaster area that people like LVNV have made of my credit rating, there's no way in hell any reputable real-estate company would lease an apartment to me.
Anyway, as ludicrous as this might sound, I didn't reveal all of this in an effort to seek anyone's pity; pity's nice every once in a while, I guess, but it doesn't accomplish a whole lot in actual practice. And in spite of the fact that these past two months have without a doubt been the worst two months of my life, I know I'm still better off than probably 99.999% of the people on the planet. (Would I rather be unemployed and getting sued, or having my limbs hacked off by the Taliban just because I tried to send my daughters to school? I'll take the lawsuit, thanks.) Rather, I make only two requests of anyone who might be reading this. First is that you keep me in your prayers -- doesn't have to be anything fancy, just something like "Please let Doug get an interview for one of those jobs he applied for at UGA" or "Please let Doug run into Erin Andrews at a bar and have her be just tipsy enough to think that going home with him is a good idea, that'd probably lift his spirits right about now" (because yes, it would). I know I'm a loathsome commie pinko leftist, but I do subscribe to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition and believe very fervently in the power of prayer, so if you've got any more pull with God than I do, it would not make me feel the least bit uncomfortable for you to use some of that on my behalf.
Second thing I ask is this: If any of you have had any run-ins with collection agencies or junk-debt collectors like LVNV Funding, NCO Financial, Fred Hanna, Unifund, or any of the numerous others who purchase old debt and then hound people into paying them off, or if you know of anyone who has, please e-mail me and tell me your story. I can already name two different federal credit laws LVNV has broken in their dealings with me so far, and from what I've gathered, they don't seem to be the least bit scrupulous about following those laws with anyone else, either. And once I've gotten LVNV off my back for good, I'd like to start talking with my state legislators, my state attorney general, maybe even my representative to Congress about the hell that these companies cause people and how badly we need some kind of additional legislative safeguards to ensure that they aren't permitted to basically extort money from people who don't owe them a dime to begin with. Maybe this will be the kind of crusade through which I'll find my life's greater purpose or something, but even if it's not, something still needs to be done about these junk-debt collectors, and I'd be happy to listen to anything you want to tell me that might help.
Anyway. I'm sorry if all this has bored you half to death, but if my presence on this blog has seemed a little sparse lately, this is pretty much why. I'm going to dig my way out of this one way or another, so just bear with me here and join me in hoping and praying for the best. And when all this is over, and I have a new job and a new apartment and a patched-up credit score, you're all invited to come over and get stinking-ass drunk with me. I'll keep you posted on when that shindig is going to go down.