2006-11-09 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Big Brother is really Big Pizza
By Sam Bari

Are you one of those people who make every effort to avoid getting junk mail? You do your banking online, and pay all your bills electronically. You never receive a late notice, and won't even give your zip code to Radio Shack, let alone your name and telephone number.

Then, one day you receive a flyer in the mail selling insurance. It is not addressed to "occupant." It is addressed to you, personally, with your full name and street address, all filled out on a printed label from a computer database. A week or so later, you receive a sweepstakes notice. It's a full-color, four-page, glossy advertisement inviting you to enter a contest and buy a bunch of magazines. Again, it is addressed to you, with your full name and street address, for all to see.

Before you realize what happened, your mailbox is chockfull of junk mail every day, all addressed to you, and you stand around scratching your head as you wonder how and why. Now - here's a worse scenario.

If you have an outstanding traffic ticket, an unpaid debt, owe back taxes, child support, or even an old unpaid utility bill - beware. The next time you order a pizza, the deliveryman might be delivering more than a double cheese and pepperoni. He could issue a summons and possibly slap on the cuffs when you reach out for your pizza box.

Now, if you're a really bad guy, and on-the-lam, so to speak, police, federal agents, or other law enforcement could show up at your house and roust you out of bed in the wee small hours of the morning. That's right - at the very house you so carefully rented in someone else's name, and never gave out the address, or so you thought. Again, you're standing around totally amazed and bewildered.

The answer is simple - you ordered a pizza, and Big Brother's patience for scofflaws is nil.

Governments from the feds to small municipalities are outsourcing work to the private sector by the truckload. And, they're saving taxpayers big bucks while doing so. For instance, in 20 years, most prisons will be owned and managed by private firms contracted to build and maintain the facilities. Many states have already gone that route. Even law enforcement is being privatized, and outsourced.

One of the many government tasks that save taxpayers big dollars and actually generates cash is debt collection. Millions of dollars in uncollected fines are collecting dust because it is not practical for the government to send personnel into the field to collect. However, it is worthwhile for a private firm to collect in an area where they are servicing several levels of government - say the state, county, and city. Some of these firms are very good at what they do.

One of their favorite sources of information for making collections is a pizza delivery database. Any fast-food delivery database will do the job. It appears that these databases are usually quite accurate. Most people give their correct name when ordering a pizza, and they certainly give their correct address. When a customer calls in an order, it is entered into a computer with their name, address, time of the order, and all pertinent information needed to complete the transaction.

The pizza delivery firms can sell those databases with impunity. Names are matched with collection lists, Social Security numbers are attached to avoid same name mix-ups, and the aroma of melted cheese lures the culprits to their doors. The databases even reveal how often a customer orders. If an individual is wanted for some serious infractions, and the database says they order a pizza every Friday night at 7:30 p.m., guess who's going to deliver the next order.

When you order merchandise online and the firm states in the sales contract that your personal information will not be sold or given away, you can be fairly confident that you are secure. Fast-food delivery establishments do not offer sales contracts of any kind. Nor do they promise not to sell your information. They gladly sell that info for big bucks and update it as often as the buyer cares to pay.

So check your records carefully before you order fast food over the phone. Otherwise you could get caught by Big Pizza. And they'll be happy to deliver you to a very bad part of that system that we haven't even begun to understand.

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