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You’ve probably found e-mails like this in your in-box. Somebody from Nigeria wants you to help him with a financial transaction involving huge amounts of money. Or, you get one informing you that you have won some international lottery that you never entered.
Sometimes, I even get them in a foreign language. Not long ago, I got one with Ye: '^ ,e<
Of course, we all, hopefully, know that these e-mails are sent out in search of suckers. The people who send them want you to reveal your bank account number so they can drain it, or reveal enough information about yourself so that they can steal your identity. Some of them have links and I’m willing to bet that, if you click on the link, you’ll download some sort of malware to your computer.
We’ve all learned to be cautious, but sometimes people can reach out and touch you without you having to do anything.
I got an interesting piece of snail-mail on the last Saturday in February. It was a threatening letter, written on hot pink paper, from a business in Lynchburg stating that somebody named “Jonathan Barnhart,” living at my address, owed them $217.40.
I’ve never done business with this company. In fact I had never heard of them until this hate mail from them landed in my mail box.
A little investigation revealed that they are a legitimate company, but I wondered how a company that I’ve never done business with got my home address. I finally came to the conclusion that they had done a skip trace on somebody who apparently is trying to stiff them. The letter listed a series of late charges dating back to Oct. 15 and it appears that, having lost contact with the gentleman who owes them money, they ran the skip trace to try to find him. A skip trace can end up returning multiple possibilities and, apparently, they thought my name is close enough to that of the gentleman in question to send a nastygram to my home.
I called them the first thing the following Monday and a lady, whose name I wrote down just in case, told me to disregard the letter. The whole incident, however, leaves me with a distinct feeling of unease.
I can understand why a business would run a skip trace on a deadbeat, but the procedure is a clear invasion of privacy as it can dig up people who have nothing to do with the deadbeat they are looking for. It also means that anyone, perhaps you, could end up being accused of someone else’s financial misbehavior.
I was not amused by the whole affair and, as a victim — a very angry victim — my first thought was that running a skip trace should be illegal and anyone who is convicted of conducting one should be buried alive in biosolids. Upon reflection, after cooling off, it seems more reasonable that this procedure should be tightly regulated with penalties that are substantial enough to encourage businesses to be careful when they do it. Businesses need to make sure that they have, indeed, located the individual who owes them money before mailing out their demand to pay up or else.
A hunter should always be sure of his target before pulling the trigger, and the same goes for a business trying to collect a debt.