Paging Ruben Patricio

I have never met the man but he seems to be a popular guy. Ruben Patricio apparently had my cell number before I got it in 2004. Since then, I’ve received countless calls from people looking for him.

Perhaps he won the lottery and hasn’t picked up his check, but somehow I doubt that. My guess is that he owes people a whole lot of money. Maybe his cell-phone service got cut off from non-payment or perhaps it was just one part of his plan to step away from an identity that served him but no longer suits his purposes.

That’s how I would like to imagine Ruben Patricio, living in luxury on tropical island. With one hand holding an umbrella drink and the other feeling up a frisky native girl, he has accomplished what most of us only dream of. He has beaten the system.

The reality is likely far less romantic. He probably ran up huge debts and found there was no way he was ever going to pay them off. Hounded by collection agencies, getting rid of the cell phone would eliminate at least some of the aggravation.

Is he a deadbeat? Maybe. People often mistake a credit line for free money and behave accordingly. Then again, he could have doing just fine with his financial obligations until he lost his jobs in a massive round of layoffs. There has been a lot of that going on in recent years.

In the past, someone in similar straits would simply declare bankruptcy. You could only do it once every seven years and it put a nasty blot on your credit rating, but it gave you a clean slate. This system lasted until the 1990s when the credit-card lobby started to gripe.

There was a time when a person looking to establish credit was faced with a Catch-22. You needed to have already credit in order to get any. Fortunately, there were ways around this. You could get a family member to co-sign. If none were available, it was easier to get a card from a gas station or a store like Sears. The limits were ridiculously low but after you established a pattern of prompt payment, you were deemed worthy of plastic from the big kids.

Pattern establishing takes time and the credit-card companies proved to be an impatient bunch. They started an aggressive marketing campaign, targeting those they traditionally considered high risk. What could go wrong?

As you can imagine, the bankruptcy rate skyrocketed. With hurt looks on their faces and briefcases full of campaign cash, lobbyists descended on Washington demanding reform. Delinquent debtors were vilified as parasites on the very fabric of society and in 2005, legislation was signed making a clean slate obtainable only after you have been bled completely dry.

The new law was a godsend for the collection agencies. Though legally barred from calling you at four a.m. and threatening to poison your dog unless full remittance is made forthwith, there are plenty of daylight hours for them to harass you using less strongarm tactics.

My credit is good and I have to deal with these swine on a regular basis. “No,” I tell them. “I am not Ruben Patricio. I don’t know the man and have never met anyone with that name. Please leave me alone.” They don’t. The only way to get them off your back is to convincingly threaten them with legal action. Even then, it’s a partial victory. There are plenty of other collection companies that will jump right in.

So if you’re reading this, Ruben, do me a favor. Tell these collectors you can’t reached at my number. But whatever you do, pay them nothing. It only encourages them.

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