Driveway spam

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Ken Norton is getting the SF Examiner delivered to his home, although he’s never asked them for it. He calls it Driveway Spam.

I had the same problem with the New York Times. It would show up every once in a while. I assumed that the delivery guy made a mistake and someone in the neighborhood was missing their paper.

Then the paper started showing up daily. Still assuming the problem was an errant delivery driver, I thought that surely the intended recipient of the paper would start to wonder why he was being billed for a newspaper that didn’t show up. He’d call the paper and that would be the end of it.

After a month, I called the paper. The person in the subscription department took my name and address and promised to stop delivery. A couple of months later, the paper was still coming. I called and spoke to billing this time. I’m certain that the call center I spoke to is located in the Keystone Cops office tower. They asked for my account number.

"I don’t have an account number."

"Well then what’s your address? That’s odd, I don’t see an account under that address."

"No kidding," I replied. "I’m not a subscriber."

"You aren’t receiving the New York Times," she’d say.

"And yet here it is, sitting right in my hands. And at my feet are the last three months worth of papers."

Was I certain it was the New York Times? I assured her it was either the Gray Lady or someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make a very good forgery. Every day. For three months.

They couldn’t cancel delivery because I wasn’t actually getting the paper. They had no idea how to even track down my phantom subscription. I suggested that perhaps they talk to the local distributor. They obviously have my address somewhere. They manage to find it at 4am each day.

That was it, then. They’d talk to the distributor and the paper would stop showing up. But it didn’t. The paper kept coming. Maybe the distributor was slow. Maybe they needed to send an encrypted message in Braille by carrier pigeon. And the pigeon got lost, or simply couldn’t read Braille, what with those tiny claws he calls toes. In any event, they’d straighten it out. After all, the nice lady named Betty said they would.

Weeks passed. I now had enough fishwrap to take care of Jaws and most of the sequels, so I called the Times again.

"What’s your account number?" she asked.

Finally I was able to explain the problem. They proposed calling the distributor. Perhaps that would work this time. Maybe they’d use a pigeon that hadn’t flunked the orienteering merit badge as a Squab Scout. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I’d already called a number of times and sat on hold to cancel a paper I wasn’t paying for. I wasn’t about to do it again. I pointed out that California has a law against littering and the minimum fine is $1000 per occurrence. With seven days in the week (every week of the year!), that ought to add up pretty quickly.

I was assured that the New York Times was not littering. So I had to explain what litter was. "You’re throwing paper onto my driveway. Paper I don’t want and have to clean up. What’s the difference whether that paper says New York Times and contains articles, or says McDonald’s and contains half of a cheeseburger?"

They must have used the smartest pigeon in the coop that day. I haven’t seen the New York Times since.

Dave Kaufman - Techlife
January 12, 2007 5:55 AM

Imagine if the lawmakers gave power to individuals for email spam.... "Hello, you have sent me 2500 spam emails since July 2004, according to the police, which are conferenced on the line you can either pay me by credit or cash, the fine is $1000 per occurence. Oh yeah, we charge a 3% convience fee for using a credit card."

January 12, 2007 8:36 AM

Great story. Your analogy at the end is excellent.

Ken Norton
January 12, 2007 9:36 AM

Thanks for sharing this tale. Your story reminds me of another experience. A few years ago my wife and I decided we'd try to get rid of most of our junk mail. We kept a stack of junk for a month and then called, emailed or snail-mailed as many as possible. Most of the "reputable" companies agreed to take us off their list, except one - Comcast. Comcast told us they could only update our "marketing preferences" if we became a customer (we use DirecTV). To this day we get 2-3 pieces of Comcrap every week. If it came down to the last straw, perhaps you could have signed up for NY Times delivery service and then put it on "vacation hold" indefinitely. :-)

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