"Missed Address" by Troy H. Cheek on Apr 07, 2008
Some years back, I developed an almost pathological dislike of junk mail. For a short time, I was obsessed with how advertisers were getting my name and mailing address. My obsession was such that, unlike most of my likes and dislikes, I actually did something about it.
I started giving out fake addresses whenever possible. When I just had to give out a real address, I added a unique identifier to it. Since our mailman Jake didn't pay much attention past the name, I could add things like "Suite 207" to the end of the street address and still get my magazine or free football phone delivered. I also dabbled in apartment numbers and middle initials. I kept a log of which business I gave which unique identifier, just in case I started getting advertising addressed to that suite later. I'd know who had given out my address.
Eventually, I tired of this little trick and pretty much stopped the practice. Oh, I'd still get junk mail with the extra address bits, but it didn't bother me anymore. I'd just throw it away, knowing in my heart that any piece of mail with something extra in the address couldn't possibly be something that I'd actually want to read.
In fact, just the other day, I saw something addressed to a nonexistant apartment. I was almost to the garbage can when I noticed that the return address was familiar. It was from the bank which handles my checking and savings accounts. I shall refer to this bank as First State Bank, formerly known as First County Bank. There's also a First City Bank in town, but I chose First County for all my banking needs because it was located closer to the main road. I like being able to make obscene hand gestures at them as I drive by.
Seeing what was obviously a piece of junk mail coming from my bank sparked some of those old feelings again. I tore open the envelope, not because I was interested in buying whatever was advertised, but so I'd know exactly what I would be complaining about the next day at 9AM.
Inside the envelope was what at first glance appeared to be a standard scam. Supposedly, my financial information had possibly been compromised. I get a dozen emails a week feeding me that same line. However, this letter didn't ask me to provide personal information to verify my account or any of the usual scam nonsense. Instead, it told me that First State Bank would be cancelling my current account and opening a new one with a new account number. That way, the old information couldn't be used by anyone who might have gotten access to it.
I was more confused than angry when I stopped by my local branch of First State Bank, formerly my only branch of First County Bank, to confirm all this. The friendly courteous staff were happy to make a few calls, confirmed that it was possible that my account information had indeed been compromised some time between 1998 and 2006, and verified that the letter notifying me of the account change did originate from the corporate First State Bank office.
What they couldn't answer was the next question: "Where did they get the address they sent this letter to? This isn't my address. I don't get my monthly statements at this address. My address doesn't have any apartment number. I never gave First State Bank this address. How did they get it?"
The staff first tried to convince me that this must be an address I had given them, but eventually agreed to check the records. Of the addresses they had on file for me, the one in dispute wasn't one of them. They agreed that something was screwy, but they couldn't suggest a course of action to fix the problem.
What problem? Well, I was a bit concerned that, in addition to new account information, I was going to be getting a new ATM/debit card. This would be my third or fourth since first opening my account. I've lost track. All I remember are getting letters saying "First [Whatever] Bank is being sold, but don't worry! Only the name will change!" followed by letters saying that I needed new checks, new direct deposit routing numbers, and new ATM cards. I was concerned that the new account information or the new ATM card would go to the wrong house, be returned to sender, or be trashed accidentally without opening. After all, the notification letter was incorrectly addressed. How was I to know that future letters wouldn't be as well?
Since the local staff couldn't help, I called the corporate office and asked for the guy who had mailed me the letter in the first place. He also tried to convince me that this must be an address I had given them, even going so far as to try to pull up the computer image of the card I had signed when I first opened my account just to see what address I had given then. He couldn't. I politely explained that I had opened the account before First State bought First County or, for that matter, before First County was known as First County. Not to mention that I had changed addresses two or three times since then. He suggested that this incorrect address had been one of the ones I'd had in the past, but I also corrected him on that. Finally, he admitted that First State must have the wrong address, asked me for the correct one, promised to fix it before my new ATM card was mailed out, and shooed me off the line.
I got a little upset about being shooed off the line, so I called back to complain some more. Now that I'd gotten him to admit that First State had the wrong address, I wanted to know how he got it. I mean, how likely is it that some sort of typo or temporary database corruption should manifest itself as one of my secret codes?
The guy I wanted to talk to was busy, so another helpfully helped me. He said it was very likely that it was just some sort of typo or temporary database corruption, as my address was correct in the First State Bank customer database. The first guy wouldn't have had time to change it yet. Second guy said that first guy had hand-typed the names and addresses on the notification letters, so two lines of the printout he was typing from had run together, or he'd just lost his place while typing.
I posited to the second guy the suggestion that perhaps the first guy was going by the information used by whatever entity had possibly compromised my customer data. The whole point was that some vendor might have held onto my account information after some financial transaction or another. Mail order vendors were some of the people to whom I gave all those funny addresses. Could the first guy have been going by the address used by that vendor?
Absolutely not. He would have had no access to the customer data used by the vendor at all. Besides, if the address used by the vendor hadn't matched the address on file for the First State customer, the transaction wouldn't have gone through to begin with. I pulled out my files, looked at all the times I'd used my ATM/debit card as a credit card and ordered stuff over the internet using my funny addresses, and called him a liar. He didn't take it too well.
I did, however, get my new ATM card, PIN, and account number mailed to the correct address.