Posts in Life

The day my music died

Back to this day, June 25 in 2009.

I escaped my home in Amsterdam for a week off and bought myself a night train ride to Italy. And after a few days in the metropolis city of Milan, I continued on to Rome in a 3-hour train ride through the green country side. I was able to couchsurf with a young Italian couple living in the outer suburbs of Rome.

They basically took my hand and dragged me along in their Italian life. When they were working, I managed to explore Vatican City, I saw the Pantheon, ate pizzas and saw the impressive Colosseum. And I probably visited all 19 basilicas, because I am a nerd. And I did what the Romans do: eat all that delicious gelato ice cream. All day long. It was a hot summer day.

In the early evenings I would meet up with my hosts again and life was very pleasant. We played music, they invited friends over or we went out for drinks.

I was very lucky when one of my hosts had to work in the security department of a big stadium concert. If I wanted to join her. Yes, of course. It was a concert by Tiziano Ferro. “He is the Michael Jackson of Italy. Our biggest pop star!”, she said. I remembered that name. Tiziano had a little summer hit in The Netherlands earlier (youtube). Thanks to my hostess I was able to get into the stadium if I only could just help out the people in their wheelchair area in front of the stage and make sure they are all happy there. What a blast that was. And the crowd sung along. I learned some more Italian and the concert was an absolute joy to attend.

It was just after the show, when I was taken backstage in the catacombs of the stadium and waiting for my hostess to be finished with her job, when the mood changed by a full180 degrees.

I had a received a text message on my phone from a good friend in The Netherlands. Everybody around me seemed to have received such a message. People were on their phone sending more messages. This wasn’t the time yet when we all had data and could surf to the BBC website for a news update. It went by phone and texts. People were in disbelief. Some people cried.

The night ended in mourning. Playing the music. Sharing stories. Have more wine or beer. Staring out of the windows.

It was the day Michael Jackson died.

Where in Texas is Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sir?

Since the beginning of the year, I have been receiving confirmations of energy contracts for a certain Tiarra Washington, for various houses/addresses in Houston, Texas. The tally is now at 44 different contracts. From different companies too. There is Reliant (an NRG company, ha!), 4Change Energy, Pulse Power, TriEagle Energy, Just Energy, Good Value and even The Greenest Choice.

So, this Tiarra might be a landlord who signs these contracts for energy suppliers to connect with at these addresses, nobody knows.

How do I know? She used my email address at Gmail. Every. Time. I have received various such confirmations in the last year, mostly for somebody reserving a car to rent in New Mexico or a confirmation of theater tickets in Buenos Aires. My first name is Spanish and my email address could be accidentally entered instead of one Ramon’s actual email address.

But it this case it got out of hand.

Not only I received confirmations of registration, I received the policies that came with the registration and in most cased, I could log on as this Tiarra, by simply using my email address and the given account number on the mail and see “her” energy usage and the current billing on a company’s website.

Reaching out to the energy supplying companies involved, ended up mostly fruitless. They either don’t accept replies to emails and the few times they did, they asked me to identify myself with a passport copy, address details (like on a bank receipt) and to provide recent bills.

One night I had a fun call with one helpdesk, where I actually called the number of the company on Skype. After a 15 minutes wait (I had all the time) I was connected to a person with an Indian accent who would try anything to help me and my email address removed from their entire system. Rashid was his name and he was working at a call center in Mumbai, India. I told him I live in Cambodia and he was excited. “I am only a few hours ahead of you!”.

He also told me he personally answers all kinds of calls from many energy companies in Texas. Most of them are resellers, they don’t have much more than a logo and a website with a signup form and they might have dumped a paper flyer in people’s mailboxes, promising the cheapest or greenest energy.”

The company call center guy is actually telling me this? “I think it is all a big scam, but hey – I only have to answer the phone and process all the complaints. It pays my bills and my 11-year-old daughter can go to school. I am saving hard for her upcoming private high school.”

While socializing with Rashid in India I thought about these people in Texas and all the electricity (and heating) issues they had experienced in the last few months. All because of a highly inept system where anybody can start an electricity supplying company, take your money, but can’t be responsible for the things that company actually provides.

“I know, this is not even allowed in India! If you do this in India, you go to jail. They are all scammers.”

Last week I have been receiving electricity bills on my email address. Tiarra has to pay about $587 per month by average at every address she had signed up. “We only send you the bill by email and you can log in to your account to process the payment.”

Tiarra will never get these emails, because I get them (I have tried to find this person, but any effort was fruitless). “If you fail to pay within X days, we will have to terminate your electricity supply immediately.”

I think about the people living in these houses. Because it won’t be Tiarra, who probably only made huge commissions by connecting these people on the reseller’s electricity network. They will be out of power when the bills are not paid very soon.

One company replied to my email to contact this Tiarra Washington and let her know she’s been using the wrong email address (mine!) – and that email address should actually be confirmed to join a list, service or subscription.

I was told that if I cannot identify myself as Tiarra Washington, I will be considered a hacker of her email account, her energy account and can therefore receive legal actions by their legal department for breaking US federal laws.

“Please do so. Go ahead. I can’t wait.”
“Could you please specify where in Texas is Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sir? Is it a neighborhood or county? We can’t find it.”