I’ve been hacked. Officially. Someone pretending to be me - go figure - has applied for unemployment benefits in my name.
By the way, if you, whoever you are, really want to serve as my stuntman, there are a variety of situations in which you could actually be helpful to me. For example, the next student complaining about his or her grade would be a good start. Go for it, Pretend Me. You respond to the next email that begins, “Dear Professor: What can I do?!” My usual response of “How about turning back time and paying attention in February?” doesn’t seem to resonate.
Back to the identity theft.
Keep in mind, this is Kentucky’s fault. The state unemployment system suffered two data breaches last year. Initially, state officials said the personal information of Kentuckians was not at risk. Turns out, it was.
My pleas to the state of Kentucky, “Hey! This is the real me. I have a job!” have since been sucked into the vortex that is the state office of unemployment insurance. Go ahead. Give them a call and see what happens. Leave it to bureaucrats to come up with new ways not to deal with humans.
I rang them expecting to be put on hold for several hours. Fine. I had it all planned out. I was going to call from my desk phone and just listen to hold music all day while I graded assignments. However, in a subtle but brilliant tweak of the system, sitting on hold and working or watching bluegrass grow is no longer an option, at least not in Kentucky.
“Your call is very important to us...We’re experiencing very high call volume. Please try your call again later.” Click. I guess my call wasn’t that important after all.
Yes, they hang up on you. It’s genius. They’ve built rudeness into the system so it seems completely routine. I’m not sure when “later” is because I’ve been trying this for weeks. But I’m no hayseed. I’ve been around the block a time or two. I’m beginning to suspect they’re really not going to be there later, or ever.
Undaunted, I went to the website, which looks like it was designed by me - not a compliment. Then, I saw it, in small print. My way around the system. The greatest idea in the history of bureaucratic circumvention.
“For those who speak Spanish, call...” Do I dare? Yes. Yes, I do.
Surely, that line won’t be as busy. I’ll get right through. I rehearsed. “Hola. Como estas?” I dialed. Ringing. Ringing.
“Buenos tardes. Oficina de Seguro de Desempleo.”
“Um, um...Hola! Como estas?”
After that, I had nothing. I panicked. Then it dawned on me that the 30-year interim - since my college freshman Spanish class - of not speaking a word of Spanish to anyone would be a problem in a conversation, in Spanish, about fraudulent unemployment benefits.
Me duele la cabeza.
Back to the phone. I called again, and again, not in a normal way but in the way you might call a radio station contest line for Supertramp tickets back in the day. I didn’t work then and it’s not working now.
“Try again later.”
This leaves me with only one viable option. Show up. Go to the unemployment office, if there is one. As Tony Soprano once said, when explaining how to extract money from a borrower behind on his payments, “You gotta go over there.” Of course, the guy Tony sent “over there” was carrying a baseball bat, which is where the analogy breaks down, but you get the point.
I must admit, I’m kind of curious. What’s really going on over there? I imagine diabolical laughter, a la Vincent Price, when they see my number pop up. Well, no one will be laughing when I turn up, in the flesh, and declare, “I’m employed!” Bet they don’t hear that one very often.
Finally, and perhaps as a way for the office of unemployment to prove that it A. exists and B. is doing stuff, it sent me a three-page letter yesterday on how to reset my unemployment PIN because, you know, I’m unemployed.
I was invited to call if I had any questions.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org