Give me some credit for exposing my 31 aliases
Would you credit it? For years I've been receiving these begging letters. Not from the needy - in fact they come from some of the least needy organisations on the planet. And while they're most definitely after my money, in the short term they want to give it away - and lots of it.
There haven't been quite so many since the onset of the credit crunch, but still they come, and still they are desperate to stuff large sums of cash into my hot little hands. Take the one that arrived this morning from one of the bigger banks, imploring me to accept the loan of pound;15,000 that had apparently been set aside especially for me. Like a ripe plum ready for the picking, all I had to do was reach out and take it.
But then, of course, like most teachers, I'm a good bet. I may not earn much, but I'm in a safe job with a pension at the end of it. There's also my tediously unblemished credit record, with all previous loans paid on time and in full . or so I thought until Sainsbury's told me different.
In December of last year I finally decided to pick one of those plums, in the shape of a Sainsbury's credit card. A few days after sending in my application, a letter came back: thanks, but no thanks. We don't want your business.
Their decision, they told me, was based on a report they had received from Experian, the credit reference agency. Helpfully, they told me how, for pound;2 and a stamp, I could receive the same report.
When it arrived, the report made for interesting reading. Interesting in the way a novel is interesting: that is, it was pretty much a work of fiction. The first thing I noticed was the joint application I had apparently made with a woman called Juliana Benetti for a mortgage with the Alliance and Leicester building society.
As I had never heard of Juliana or applied to Alliance and Leicester, this came as a bit of a surprise. I've heard of men leading parallel lives with a second home, wife and family in another town, but I've never felt tempted. One mortgage is one too many for me. Over the page, an even bigger shock was waiting. Under a section headed "linked addresses", I discovered 31 entries - four whole pages - of applications for finance supposedly made by me. Most of them were in my actual name, but there were also two Stevens, one Stephan and a whole variety of middle initials I have never owned.
Now I could see why Sainsbury's wouldn't touch me with a barge pole. I wouldn't touch me with a barge pole either. It seemed that in recent years I had done little else but apply for credit, using a variety of aliases, from just about every financial institution on the planet.
As I slowly worked my way through them, I became intrigued by my multiple other lives. Many seemed to relate to swanky addresses in Chelsea and other well-to-do London suburbs. One I took a particular interest in related to a vicarage in the W9 postcode, where the Reverend Stephen Jones apparently resides. Maybe we should meet, swap stories - even swap lives for a bit. Atheist that I am, I've always fancied preaching the odd sermon or two.
When I had plodded through all 31 entries - none remotely connected to me - I began to wonder what I should do. Experian had kindly provided me with a booklet explaining that their information came from the lenders, and that if errors occurred, it was they who had to correct them.
Straight away I dashed off a letter to the Alliance and Leicester, alerting them that I might have uncovered a fraud against their company. A month later they replied, acknowledging, in a rather convoluted manner, that it was they who had goofed. "It does appear that an error has indeed occurred," were the precise words used. If this was humble pie, then they were eating a very small slice of it.
As for those other "errors", I had no intention of sending letters to all 31 companies concerned, and told Experian so in no uncertain terms. The weeks went by. Correspondence passed between us. Eventually, after more prodding, they told me they had removed Juliana, along with those 31 other Joneses, from my record.
So be warned. A job in education is no longer enough to determine your financial probity. There may be 31 other versions of you wandering about out there.