When your name gets turned against you

Sun, 3rd August 2008, 11:09

The following column is cute in a sadistic kind of way. We've all come up against similar walls when dealing with the unresponsiveness of large corporate conglomerates. Probally why most people give the best reviews for the smaller hosts

By Daniel Rubin Inquirer Columnist

Don't even start with the jokes. He's heard them all before. And he is not amused. You're either broken or made stronger when you grow up in 1940s West Philadelphia and your last name is Libshitz. And Dr. Herman I. Libshitz, retired radiologist, is no pushover. Verizon is learning this the hard way.

This spring, the 69-year-old physician and his wife, Alison, were trying to upgrade the Internet service in their summer place in Rehoboth Beach, Del. They had dial-up. They wanted DSL. When it was time to enter their user name and create an e-mail address, Verizon wouldn't let them complete the job.

This is how the doctor remembers it:

"We called their help line, and got a wonderful young man in the Philippines who told us: " 'We can't install it because your name has - in it.' "

I asked the doctor how I was going to print that. He said, "Just say it's a word contained in Libshitz."

He'd defended his family name with his fists as a boy at 58th and Pine. He wore it proudly on his Air Force uniform during the Vietnam era when he was defending his country. He'd displayed it on white coats at Hahnemann and Jefferson, then at Duke and Texas, where he spent most of his distinguished career, before retiring to Chestertown, Md. He'd signed it to 200 academic papers and six texts. The doctor asked to speak with a supervisor.

What's in a name

The Libshitzes got the same answer from the supervisor, who suggested they try misspelling their last name. That wouldn't do, either.

The couple uses Libshitz in its e-mail address with Prodigy. So there had to be some way around the rules, the two figured. The doctor went for a third opinion. This involved a little subterfuge. He dialed the Verizon number for billing disputes. He explained his problem, "and the first person said, 'That's outrageous,' and put me on to a second person, who said he'd never heard of such a thing."

A third supervisor, from a help line in Norfolk, Va., agreed as well, but said the only person who could help was in Tampa, and that man would have to call India to get them to change the computer code. No one called him back.

Several days later, Libshitz received a letter from Verizon's customer-relations desk in Everett, Wash., informing him that he could not have the user name because it didn't comply with company rules. So the couple returned the Verizon DSL kit.

"If I can't use my own name, I'm going to stay with my AT&T dial-up," the doctor said. "The hell with them."


What he wants, he says, "is for these people at least to stand at attention to explain themselves. I don't know if you've ever tried to get to Verizon. . . . You cannot get to them. They are insulated from things like this." I called Sharon B. Schaffer, a Verizon spokeswoman, who offered a refreshing answer to my question as to how this happened.

"I don't have a clue," she said. "Actually, I'm kind of surprised. If this is Dr. Libshitz's name, your name is your identity. He's had this his entire life. . . . I think he needs a little bit of personal attention."

A couple days later, she e-mailed me a formal response: "As a general rule (since 2005) Verizon doesn't allow questionable language in e-mail addresses, but we can, and do, make exceptions based on reasonable requests. The one from Dr. and Mrs. Libshitz certainly is reasonable and we regret the inconvenience and frustration they've been caused."

The doctor said he was willing to try again, but grudgingly. "These people have no trouble putting me in their phone book. They send me mail with that name, they send me a bill routinely, and they cash my checks with Libshitz on it. They just offended me."


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