Call me narcissist if you must but this blog is all about ME. I have another blog about my kids, whom I love and adore writing about. But I was Nicole a long time before I was mom and I don't intend to give up being Nicole overnight.

You can read all about my kids at Naptime Optional.
Or you can follow along on our Arizona adventure on my 365 project blog.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Piping hot bowl of Crazy


There was a line in an episode of Scrubs in which JD refers to Elliot as a piping hot bowl of crazy. My husband laughed and laughed at this line, and has quoted it many times since.

Unfortunately, that is likely how the lady at the utilities department now describes me to all her friends and coworkers.

I'd like to blame it on the anxiety of the impending move and the associated anxiety and stress of getting ready to close on a new home.

Although that may have accounted for some of my craziness today, I think I mostly just got tired of stupid bureaucratic rules that I feel powerless to change.

I called the city utility company today to arrange for the water to be turned on, and the lady on the phone asked for my Social Security Number. I had already talked with both the gas and electric company who both also requested my SSN, so this request didn't surprise me. I declined to give it to her, as I had with the gas and electric company. Both the gas and electric companies wanted it so they could do a soft credit pull to make sure I was going to pay for my utilities should they go to the effort of turning them on for me. Upon refusing to give my SSN both utility companies instead assessed an up front deposit that will be refunded once I have made 12 on time payments. This is not a practice that I'm thrilled about. It sort of feels like a "guilty until proven innocent" approach. I mean what happened to just turning my power off if I don't pay? But, the deposit is refundable and it gets me out of giving my SSN. So I pay the deposit.

I assumed the city utilities would have a similar policy, so I politely declined to give my SSN. The lady on the phone informed me that I would then have to come into the office in person and provide identification before they would agree to service. And so I loaded my 3 kids up on the car and drove an hour to the City offices because it is that important to me to not give out my SSN unless absolutely necessary.

Upon arriving at the office I provide my ID and then the gal behind the desk again asks me for the SSN. I explain to her that I was under the impression that if I came personally into the office I wouldn't have to give it. I explain that I packed up my 3 kids and drove an hour specifically to avoid giving that information. She proceeds to explain that she is sorry I misunderstood but I still have to give my number, coming into the office was just to prevent me from having to give it over the phone.

At this point I'm starting to get mad because loading my kids in the car was NOT the way I wanted to spend my afternoon and now she was telling me it was all for nothing anyway. Assuming she wants my number in order to do a credit check I provide her with a copy of my credit report (with my number blacked out) that was given me by my lender.

At this point she explains to me that they don't do a credit check. The purpose of providing my SSN is merely to provide a unique identifier so that when I call on the phone they can assure they are talking to me. She tells me, "It's a security measure."  So just to clarify I ask, "so basically you are just using it as a PIN?" She confirms that they ONLY reason they want my SSN is to use it as a PIN.

So of course I ask-why can't you just assign me a randomly generated 9 digit number then. As long as I know it and you know it it provides the same amount of security when I call on the phone without the exposure and risk associated with giving you my SSN.

Her response? "It's just our policy to use your SSN?"

"And what if I refuse to give it to you?"

"Then we will refuse service."

"What is to stop me from giving you a bogus number?"

"I guess if you feel good lying to me."

"Well that's just the thing. I don't want to lie to you. But I need water turned on at my house and I see NO need for you to have my SSN. So what choice does that leave me?"

The conversation went back and forth like this for quite some time. I tell her about how my Dr's office was at one point hacked and my SSN was compromised.The office then had to provide credit monitoring for everybody whose records were compromised and had opened themselves up for a class action lawsuit and this is what the city was opening themselves up to with their antiquated policy of requiring a SSN. Her response was that in all the time she's worked there they have never had any problems. To which I replied by saying that no problems in the past doesn't guarantee no problems in the future because let's face it, their little office isn't exactly Fort Knox.

I may or may not have used a few, shall we say, choice words. (Ok, I did.) I asked several times to speak to a supervisor, which she continued to refuse to let me do. We argued around and around and around in circles until I was so angry I was literally shaking and on the verge of tears all at once.

I swear I'm not typically "that" customer. This confrontation was so not typical of me. But something inside just snapped.

In the end, I am sad to admit, I gave her my number because bottom line is that I have to have water at my new house. I wish I had given her a bogus number. I'm typically a very honest person so I'm not proud of the idea of giving a fake number. But I'm not too fond of the idea of them having my SSN either. Really the only reason I didn't give a fake one is because I was so worked up at that point that I couldn't think straight enough to come up with something that I'd remember later.

I have since though written to the Utility Billing Administrator (yes, that is a real job title) explaining my dislike of the current policy and requesting that my number be scrubbed from their system and that I be assigned a random 9 digit number as in PIN. I cited Section 7 of the Privacy Act  of 1974 (thank you Google!) that says

"It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number."  Sec. 7(a)(1).

I don't know that you can interpret water and sewer service to be a "privilege provided by law" but it's a start anyway.

I also intend to write a letter to the City Council as well as to the Mayor if needs be.

Is their policy outdated and in need of revision?Defiantly! Am I getting just a tad worked up this? Perhaps. Am I a piping hot bowl of crazy? You bet! But I've never heard of a single person who changed the world by rolling over and playing dead.


Michael said...

"Piping hot bowl of crazy, that is Dr. Elliot Reed".

Liss said...

you go! i don't think i've had an SSN issue since college, but then maybe i'm oblivious. and write all those letters. the whole identity theft etc crap is not worth a company's time to stay in the dark ages.

orangemily said...

I agree with you 100% and have had similar frustrating conversations that get me nowhere! Good idea to write letters! It's ridiculous the way everyone thinks they ned yoir SSN these days!

Emilee said...

no way! i think you did great! i would be boiling too! i hate when people want you ss # for no reason, it makes no sense! duh! where have they been the last 10 years with ss fraud! keep us posted because i think they should give you a pin!

HeidiPie said...

You really did that! That makes me so happy, I am smiley all over! =)

That is a stupid, stupid crazy thing for her to say that if you refused your SSN she would refuse service. Wow. I mean just like you looked up. They can not refuse you service. Especially just because they are going to use it like a PIN. That is ridiculously crazy.

Out of all our moves we have never had problems having to pay deposits because they always check credit and everything...but this move it made me so mad because they wouldn't check our credit and made us pay the $250 deposit, "just because that's our policy". They are going to be returning our money after 12 months. But still, who has extra cash laying around when moving to just do that? Moving is expensive.

In other words, you should call your new ward and let them know you're moving and would like help moving in. We've done this with ALL our moves and it helps immensely. You don't have family around to help and it is insane not to ask for help when you really need it. Get a hold of the EQ president and just ask. Say you're moving into the ward and would anyone be able to help you unpack. Good luck with it all. Our stuff was unpacked in an hour.

Holly said...

Wow, go you. I'm really impressed. And it might have been hard on you too knowing that your kids were just waiting bored in the office. I love knowing that Privacy Act, so thank you for that. Why don't municipalities know about that? I can relate because I hate giving out my SSN. I even hated giving it out in college. They used to post grades outside the classroom doors listed by your last four digits. And all the hospitals use SSNs too.

Speaking of hospitals, I miss Scrubs. Sigh.