Friday, January 20, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Stuck in a Formless Void

by Peggy Robin

I am currently stuck in a temporal causality loop. By that I mean I did something a short while ago that cannot be undone, but now that it’s done, the only way to move forward is to go backwards and start again, which I can’t do because of the way I did what I did. This is all taking place in virtual reality, not quite in the physical world. At first I naively thought I might be able to restart the process, this time around with paper versions of what needs to be redone, but I can’t get the physical paper versions because the web site thinks I already have downloaded the web version of the information…which I haven’t.

Okay, I see I am going to have to be more specific to make the situation intelligible. Not that it’s actually intelligible to me – that’s the main problem. The whole thing started when I got an email about a tax credit that I can claim. I can have the tax reporting form mailed to me, the email said, or I can print it myself from a web site right now. Why wait for snail mail, I thought, as I flew across the internet to the designated site.

It turns out that the website is run by a third party vendor, entirely separate from the organization that generated the data and owes me this form. First, I have to establish my identity by entering in a passcode, which has been created for me and was included in the email I received. Now the problem starts. I put in the passcode, and I am recognized on the site, but I can’t move on to access the form for some unknown reason. It takes me some time reading over the Q&A on the website's "help center" to discover that the error code I am getting is because the passcode doesn’t match what the site has in its database as my social security number. The third party vendor that runs the website has allowed me to set up an account, and because of that, it thinks I have access to the form, but I don’t actually have it. Once I have exhausted all the suggestions in the help menu, I am finally provided with a customer service number and permitted to be put in touch with a live human being.

Two minutes worth of voicemail navigation and ten minutes of hold-music pass by before I am actually talking to that person. But he is very nice and able to figure out where the glitch originated. The organization that supplied the third party vendor with my social security number is the one at fault. I should call that organization, he suggested, to get the corrected number sent over, and then I will be able to access the form. Now that means I have to work my way through that organization’s voicemail maze, followed by its hold music. Here's where the fun part starts.

The customer service rep at the organization says they cannot correct or resend any information once they have turned over my data to the third party vendor. They can correct my social security number in their records so that they don’t make that mistake in the future, but no one there has the ability (so they say) to affect what they have already sent out about me to a third party. Okay then, I think, I’ll just call the vendor back and tell them to forget about having an account for me, and I’ll just wait to receive the physical form in the mail.

But then I looked again at the email and saw that once someone has registered to pick up the form from the website, that means it is no longer available to be mailed. Hmm…I did create a registration successfully; I just didn’t succeed in accessing or printing the form. I tried to call back on the customer service line but this time the hold is much, much longer. I give up. So I stilldon’t know for sure if I’m stuck, or if the form will actually arrive in the mail one day (presumably sometime before March 15, to give me time to deal with it, and correct the two transposed digits in my social security number). After all, they do have my correct address.

On the other hand, mail delivery to my house is also a nebulous thing. So many times I’ve missed getting bills in the mail, I’ve  switched to e-billing whenever I have the chance. Maybe I’m better off trying customer service again, spending more time on hold, until I can reach someone with enough time, energy and/or authority to straighten this mess out. If there is such a person. I’d end by saying, I’ll fill in the conclusion to this story next week, or next month, but I think that’s might be too optimistic. Sometimes things just trail off into nowhere, and I’m afraid this may be one of them….


  1. Last year I thought I could do my housekeeper's W2 and W3 on line. After 45 minutes on line I was almost in tears, and it was demanding the name of my business. I typed "My own home dammit" -- and that's now the name of my business. This year my tax accountant is filing the W2 and W3 for me. I'll probably get indignant e-mails from our consumer-friendly SSA and IRS saying they haven't received a form from the My own home dammit business-owner. Sigh.

  2. The comment above from "Anonymous" (a.k.a. owner of "My own home dammit") had me in complete stitches. I laughed so hard, I thought I'd choke. Oh my goodness, that's just SO funny!

    And, as if your reply to Peggy's column (which also had me in stitches) wasn't funny enough, when I read your response to my husband, he provoked me to even further laughter after he quipped, "Geez, it's a good thing they didn't add any other expletives to their business name!"

    My own reaction was "Darn it!" I'd love to have a similar business name, but that one's already taken, so now I can't use it myself. I sure hope the IRA and SSA agents get a good laugh out of this, whenever they have to deal with your business.

    Oh, and just one final thing. I think you should be writing your own column, too!