Mamma mia! Che casino! What a disaster!
Just a couple of weeks ago, Lucy asked me what I was enjoying about being in Italy this year, and one of my answers was that I felt good being able to deal with life’s issues on my own. I can now speak Italian well enough to handle most transactions, such as obtaining a parking permit for our rental car, paying my utility bills and even giving directions to strangers on occasion.
But as the Bible says: “Pride comes before a fall.” Now my ability to communicate is going to be stretched to the fullest, because someone in Italy has stolen my identity and rung up debts with the Agencia delle Entrate, the Italian version of the Internal Revenue Service.
I’ve received two notices from the AE, one last year stating that I owed tax for a commercial telephone line with the company Vodafone, and another this year claiming I owed taxes on my car. In both cases, they had my correct name and codice fiscale, but I didn’t have a phone contract with Vodaphone and I don’t own a car.
I essentially ignored the bill for the phone because I figured it was a clerical error and maybe the agency would figure that out on its own. But when I got a bill for 346.73€ owed in the region of Lazio for “tassa automobilistica” for the year 2014, I decided I had better get this cleared up. Probably there is another Paul or Paolo Spadoni, and when I became a resident of Montecarlo in 2016, my name accidentally became associated with his. There are other people named Paul or Paolo Spadoni in the world, but the likelihood of there being another Paul Robert Spadoni is slim, so I just had to find out the full name of this other Spadoni auto owner and that would clear up the misunderstanding.
I recognized that the AE is not an agency to take lightly, and I first e-mailed my cousin, Simone Spadoni, who is a lawyer here, to ask for advice. He wrote back to say that I could hire a lawyer to fight the bill, but there was no guarantee of success, and I might pay more in legal fees than it was worth. At a minimum, I’d have to pay a lawyer 250€, he said. I didn’t like this answer one bit, though. My first thought was that a lawyer could clear all this up with a phone call and a few faxed documents and charge less than 250€. And then, if I paid the AE bill once, wouldn’t I also run the risk of having to pay this other person’s debts year after year?
I considered asking someone to go with me to help translate, but the only friends I have who are bilingual are working people. I didn’t want to ask them to take time off and lose pay. And hadn’t I just told Lucy that I enjoyed the challenge of speaking Italian to take care of my own affairs?
So yesterday I went on my own to the AE. On my third try, I found the correct entry to the large and modern office on the outskirts of Lucca. I asked the man at the information desk if he spoke English. A little, he said. Okay, I answered, we’ll try Italian first and see how it goes. That would be better, he replied.
With documents in hand, I successfully explained the problem. He gave me a form to fill out, which took me a few minutes. When I came back to his desk, he was gone, perhaps on a coffee break, but he returned 10 minutes later. He then left to get two print outs, one with showed that I not only owed 346.73€ for 2014 but another 427.26€ for 2015.
I told him again that I had never owned a car in Italy and had not been in Lazio in either 2014 or 2015. In fact, I didn’t think I could have owned a car in Italy without becoming a resident (which I did in 2016). He was sympathetic but said he couldn’t do anything without more information. He suggested that I go to the office of PRA, the Pubblico Registro Automobilistico, to find out more details on the car I supposedly owned, and he gave me an address.
Unfortunately, the address was incorrect, but thankfully I now have a smart phone and used it to find the right place. All of this running around made me feel so sorry for other immigrants to Italy, those who are poor and can’t afford rental cars, smart phones or to miss time from their jobs. Not to mention language lessons, or an attorney or at least Italian friends who can help translate.
When I found the office, it had closed for the day. It’s only open from 8-12:30. But I went back this morning and found it bustling with activity. They have one of those little machines where you check in and get a number, depending on your need. I waited only five minutes before I was paged to the desk of Cristina Iacopi, who turned out to be extremely competent, friendly and helpful.
She understood my problem immediately and went to work on her computer looking up information—disturbing information, I should add. A person using my exact name, and codice fiscale, and listed as being born in Tacoma, USA, on my birthday, had purchased a Cooper Mini that came from Spain in September of 2013 and sold it in June of 2015. It is not a simple clerical error but a clear case of identity theft.
After about 10 minutes of trying to contact her colleagues in Rome, Sra. Iacopi finally got through. They can send her all the documents related to the purchases, which should show signatures and any documents used to prove identity. Of course, it’s also possible that the notaio who approved the transaction was on the payroll of the scammer. It will take at least a week before the documents arrive, so I left my phone number and e-mail address with Sra. Iacopi, who said I could decide after we see the paperwork what to do next.
And so, I wait. Or maybe not. This evening I met another cousin, Paolo Venturini, a retired engineer from Milano who shares an interest in genealogy. He advised me to go to the police and file a denuncia, just as I would do if someone had stolen a car from me.
“This person stole your identity, and you must file a report with the police,” Paolo said. “Then you’ll have a document to show the Agenzia delle Entrate. The document will show them you’re not responsible for the taxes on that car. The police have a special division for identity theft, and they can start an investigation.”
It looks like I’m going to get a lot of practice using my language skills in the coming days. And when I win my case—without a lawyer—I will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But I know I’ll need to be at the top of my game, because the stakes are much higher than they were for getting my parking permit or paying my trash collection bill.
Note: Here is an update on this case.
Note: Here is an update on this case.