Tuesday, September 1

FML, Inc.

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.

25 comments:

Whirl said...

Sorry to read that you've fallen on such hard times, Doug. I've never had to deal w/ collection agencies like that (thank GOD), but I have been the victim of identity theft in the past. Nothing quite as bad as yours, but it still sucked. You'll make it through- these things have a way of getting settled, even if it takes a great deal of time, effort, and headaches. And here's to hoping you get one of those positions at UGA, although it might be awhile. As far as I know, UGA is on a hiring freeze at the moment.

jkelsofarrell said...

I don't comment often, but I read your blog religiously and even though I am a corn-dog smelling LSU fan, I will keep you in my prayers to my various deities.

I empathize with the job hunting, my husband has been unable to find a job in his field since last September and has been teaching part-time at the University of Phoenix so that we can keep up on the mortgage payments because my highly glamorous position as an Assistant Prof of English doesn't pay all that great. And I haven't been able to pay on my student loans since May of 2008,

But, like you pointed out, our situation is better than the vast majority of people on the planet and once the Tigers kick off this weekend, all will be right in the world.

Walk On Boy said...

Damn man. That sucks. And I feel like a jagoff saying that, but that's about all there is to it. God and I aren't real tight right now, but I'll throw in a good word for you. For whatever that's worth from a guy you've never met.

You have a helluva sense of humor to get you through hopefully relatively unscathed. That and the Dawgs coming back out to keep you distracted.

Best of luck with everything.

furrer4heisman said...

If you're still going to OU-Texas, I will buy you many a beer on the West End Friday night.

Cian said...

rough sledding... good on you for seeing a shrink - if you get a good one, they can really help. if you're ever in nyc, i'll buy you a drink for the great job you did on the NE preview... feel free to pitch any long-form projects, I swear one day the Einsteins will be a money paying (if not a "money maker" per se) enterprise

seaotter48 said...

Sorry to hear about all that has happened but it really does seem like you have a perspective on things. Hang in there and keep your chin up.

Sue E. Pig said...

Doug,

I am truly sorry for having just read that. There's no way of knowing just what God thinks of His and my relationship at the moment, but I speak to Him often, and I'll surely mention your name at the next conversation.

I can't begin to verbalize just how much joy this site has brought me over the last four years, during which I have been reading intently. You are quite skilled in your trade, and, therefore, something will come along. Good things happen to good people, of which you are one.

As a left-leaning, Catholic, college football fanatic of Slovak heritage, I'm sure we could enjoy several beers should you ever find yourself in Chicago.

opsomath said...

Damn dude. Just want to second all the people who think that you are a talented writer and will surely find a paying gig of some sort in time.

The Consumerist, one of my favorite personal-finance type blogs, has a whole set of articles they have done on debt collectors and dealing with them. The articles they have tagged as relevant: http://consumerist.com/tag/debt-collectors/ . Remember, evil corporations: don't fuck with the blogosphere.

I will remember you in my prayers and you can add me to the list of people who will buy you a pint if you're ever in their hometown: for me, that's Athens, so if you're here for a home game... opsomath@gmail.com .

Take care.

Tantra Flower said...

Of course I will pray for you, Doug. Good luck with everything. *big hug*

Scott Hartman said...

I'm sorry to hear about all this Doug. We'll be thinking about you and can't wait to drink beer in Athens in a few weeks. That always eases pain. Always.

BulldogBry said...

Doug,
All I know about you is that A) you have a great blog that many look forward to reading (me included) and B) You were more than kind to me when I met you at that Blogfest thingy on campus before the 2006 Spring game.

And I know that good guys deserve better.

As an HR Recruiter, I'm on the other end of the job search process and I really do have empathy for job seekers. The right fit will happen; it always does.

I would like to think that the reason you're going through all of this is because, when everything turns around for you (and it will), you will remember what it's like and you'll be able to help someone else get through it. That's something we loathsome commie pinko leftists pride ourselves in. I'll talk to the Big Guy tonight and let him know you've more than paid your price and you're ready to help someone else.

Your pal in Roanoke,
Bulldog Bry

Zen Bubba said...

You get my prayers as well.

Also, you get my advice to contact an attorney familiar with Alabama law regarding libel and slander. Since they are now noticed that the false credit charges were not made by you they have a reasonable amount of time to remove it from your report.

Sue the bastards, take their sorry asses to court and see if they bother to show up. Then seek judgment, take their stuff and sell it to satisfy the judgment.

Of course you need the advice of a lawyer in Alabama, and assuming the debt collection agency has contacted you there, you can probably sue there.

Snead said...

May His noodly appendage tough you.

And shit man, hang in there.

DAve said...

Got you in my prayers, brother.

Regarding your request for info on collection agencies, I would definitely contact Ben and Meghann of Consumerist.com (go to the site and you'll see contact info for both in the left column- including their twitter accts). There's a decent chance they'll post your story and solicit assistance from their extremely large readership.

Hope to see you at Tent City in a couple weeks.

Johnny said...

Thoughts and prayers from West By God Virginia.

B said...

If your Mom's praying, then God's listening. He probably wouldn't listen to this agnostic anyway.

Like all of the above, I've noticed you have talent and are one of the best wordsmiths out there. Talent doesn't stay idle for long. The job is coming but first they right person has to quit, the right person hear about you and the magic will happen. With all the bad happening just imagine it without your family helping out, your friends encouragement, and your dogs love. With luck and talent, the world will soon right itself and you will again be living the High Life.

B

Tommy said...

Prayers from Texas, Doug. Not sure about my RRS plans, but if I make it up to Dallas, I got your bar tab.

I went through a rough patch where my Mom died, I got laid off and, due to being jobless, depressed and living 3,000 miles away in California, my new bride and I were having difficulties. A year later, I was in supercool Austin, working for a booming startup, buying my first house, and traveling in Italy, where we were busy conceiving our firstborn.

Here's what I learned:

1. Respond to desired outcomes, not present circumstances. If you visualize how you want this to end and drive towards that, you don't get balled up in negativity and wind up creating more problems for yourself.

2. The network takes care of its own. People love doing favors, even for perfect strangers. I don't know whether it's pure altruism, or just people egotistically embracing an opportunity to show how much pull they have, but who cares? When you need help, ask for it and be specific. More often than not, you'll get what you need.

3. Be a back door man (heh). Building on #2, as it relates to job-hunting. Never work the front door if your network can get you through the back door. I'm resolved to never send a resume to anyone. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., to find a friend who knows someone, get a lunch with that someone and work it from there. Sending resumes to recruiters is the lowest-percentage way to get a job imaginable.

4. Nietzsche was right. You can look at this as God putting you through the ringer to put a little hair on your chest. You've got your health, your wits and your network, three things that can get you through just about anything I can imagine. You're about to learn how to really use those assets.

5. Bucket your problems individually. When I ran a marathon, I realized that, psychologically, 26.2 miles was too much to bear. A mile, three miles, sure. So I just started thinking about the race in small chunks. You're not going to solve all this in one masterstroke. So, while you're devoting bandwidth to the job hunt, just do that and don't worry about the credit issue. Then break out some time separately to hammer on the credit thing. Don't get emotional -- just work each problem in isolation with Zen focus. Worry is a waste of energy, because not only does it not solve the problem, it erodes your broader confidence.

Most of my pull is in Austin, but I might be able to hook you up with some remote work. Shoot me a note on Facebook and let me know how I can help.

Tommy

runningbyrd said...

Doug, hope this helps.

http://jalopnik.com/5350457/mega+gallery-james-mays-lego-house-nearly-complete

Go dawgs.

rb

Schatten said...

Sorry to hear that shit, Doug. The exact same horseshit happened to me after my divorce: SOL had run in Alabama, the ex files an answer down there, and they transfer to Iowa. LNVN is as sleazy a horseshit fly-by-night as I've ever seen...

And I'm a damned lawyer!

Josh said...

Doug,

I've been through depression and it is serious business. You hang in there and realize that there are a lot of people pulling for you.

Tommy - great advice.

I've heard about these credit companies and they amke my blood boil!

I'm not Catholic, so I'm not sure if my prayer counts. But it'll be there.

Josh

PS: I've hot a few drinks on me waiting for you in New Orleans.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Double down on the drinks in New Orleans.

Angela said...

You got my prayers, dude. I am so sorry to hear about all the crap you've been going through. Man. So, so sorry. In the meantime...what works for me? Jesus and Zoloft. A happy combination they do make.

Garth said...

Doug-
I have been a fan of your blog for at least two years, and I always look forward to the Friday +5.

You're a very talented writer -- way better than I -- and I'm an English major. Perhaps you can write a novel, screenplay, etc. -- you're that talented. I have no doubt that everything will work out for you. Remember that life is a roller coaster ride. Enjoy the highs and try to relax during the lows.

You know that you're eligible to collect unemployment, right? The checks aren't huge, but they do help.

Drinks are on me if you're ever in San Francisco. How about a Random +5 of best places to get drunk?

Universal Remonster said...

Hey Doug,

It seems that everyone else has already said it all, but I wanted you to know that I'll be thinking about you. In April of '07 I went through a similar situation to the one you are in. I found myself out of a job, depressed, being asked money for a fraudulent debt, and battling seriously with my then-fiance (this was actually right after we had met at the spring game that year.) I applaud you for seeking out a therapist... it took me a couple of months before I did but I am happy it happened, because it really helped me.

All I can say emphatically is that there are wonderful things in store for you. You're fantastically funny, a far better word-smith than I am, and basically just a cool dude. Just you wait and see.

Now I'm just going to look forward to that party where we get shit-hammered. It'll be a good one.

fbloom said...

Doug --

Like the rest of your fans, I'm sorry to hear that you've fallen on such hard times. Things will get better soon, no doubt. And when they do, you'll be all the better for it. ("That which does not kill me . . . blah blah blah.")

I don't know anything about LVNV, but I do know a fair bit about the law. (I teach law, in fact. It's my job.) So I can, with some authority, say this: Do everything you can to protect yourself. Then do it again.

For what it's worth, I think your instincts are exactly right: Operations like LVNV prey on weakness, on shame, and on the difficulty most people -- even terrifically smart people -- have navigating our legal system. LVNV knows it's both hard and embarrassing to push back against their sinister antics, but you've got to do it. You have to. If you don't, a bad situation will only get worse -- not least because, as you said, the court will enter a default judgment against you. It's a devious way for LVNV to win, but they're not concerned with tactics; they're concerned with cash -- and they can get plenty of it with a default judgment in their favor.

At the very least, then, please respond to everything that LVNV files or submits to the court. Everything. Don't ignore anything, and certainly don't assume that their attorneys (shady characters, no doubt) will treat you fairly. Unemployment has more than its share of disadvantages, but it does offer you more than your normal share of spare time. Use some of that time to be your own advocate.

It'd be better still, of course, if you had a lawyer. (For the record, I'm not so sure about the libel / slander idea provided above, but whatever.) So if you can find someone good who's willing to take your case on the cheap -- or, better yet, for free -- do it. If not, call the law schools nearby and ask if any of them have clinics or programs that might be interested in your case. Perhaps they do; perhaps they don't. You may as well ask.

And if you're left, for now, to go it alone, make sure to call the relevant court to get more details than you have now. Will you be able to tell your story to the judge? Will legal counsel even be allowed? (Lots of small claims courts expressly prohibit lawyers from participating. Something about gummin' up the works, I guess.) What can you provide by way of evidence? Can you call witnesses? Etc., etc. Whatever you do, have multiple copies of all of your correspondence with that Pasadena detective ready to distribute -- and have his / her number on speed-dial too.

And in the meantime, don't be shy. Ask for favors. You've got friends all over. Somebody's gotta be a nearby attorney -- or at least know a nearby attorney -- who wouldn't mind pitching in. (I'd do it if I weren't 3000 miles away.) And if none of those people can help, keep asking. You've made lots of friends -- real and (like me) faceless / anonymous -- over the years, I'm sure. Now's the time to lean on 'em.

Let me know if I can help in some other way -- or if this helps you in the slightest.

Good luck, Doug. I'll keep reading, if nothing else. And I'll hope that maybe, just maybe, our paths will cross when your beloved Dawgs play my beloved Buffs next time.

Take care. And kick the stuffing out of OSU.

fbloom@hotmail.com