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August 8, 2010 / The_Mike_Johnson

S. Larson’s Voicemail Must Be Full

Could this be S. Larson?

Photo by Glen Edelson

A few years ago I was a Citibank credit card holder and would receive mailings from Mr. S. Larson. These mailings would not only provide me with good news, but also bad news informing me of an increase in my annual credit card fee, or that the annual percentage rate on the card would have to be increased. After receiving the bad news I felt the best way to address these issues would naturally be to respond to the person informing me of these changes: Mr. S. Larson. There were various occasions where  I attempted to contact Mr.  S. Larson so he can answer my questions, but I was never able to get hold of him (or her).

I was amazed to read the August 8, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, “Mystery Writer: Does Citibank’s S. Larson Really Exist?” that I was not the only customer trying to reach S. Larson:

People who use Citibank credit cards have wondered about that for around two decades. S. Larson sends them letters—millions of letters. S. Larson always signs these letters in the same diligent hand of a grade-school penmanship student. The words “Customer Service” appear under S. Larson’s name. S. Larson has no title. S. Larson has no gender. But when those in receipt of letters from S. Larson call Sioux Falls to speak with S. Larson, S. Larson never comes to the phone.

When Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Newman contacts Citibank to get more information about S. Larson, Citibank refers to the usual reply:

Citing “privacy and security,” Citibank won’t say anything about S. Larson except “we are proud of S. Larson.”  Mr. Russell phoned Sioux Falls, demanding to speak with S. Larson. “S. Larson was always unavailable,” he says.

Another ex-worker who knows S. Larson—”It’s a human being,” she confirmed—phoned S. Larson and asked about giving an interview. “S. Larson? That’s not a person,” says Larry Russell, who runs a financial Web site in California. Four years ago, he realized his interest payment had jumped from 2.99% to 32.31%. He complained in writing. S. Larson replied that he was “not eligible” for a refund. Finally, a service rep gave him an answer: “I was told that Larson is not a human being,” says Mr. Russell. “It’s a name spit out by the system. There really was no S. Larson.” Caller: “May I speak with S. Larson?” Rep: “I actually can’t transfer you.” Caller: “And she’s customer service? What’s her job?” Rep: “She is President of the Disputes Department.”This person still lives in the neighborhoods and doesn’t want to be found,” she said. That was all she would say about S. Larson

Finally Mr. Newman does the same as other Citibank customers have done and picks up the phone to reach S. Larson:

There are 167 Larsons in the Sioux Falls phone book. Luckily, Citi’s automated directory is open to anyone who dials its main number. A spoken request for “S. Larson” brought up a Chris Larson, a Spencer Larson and a Nicholas Larson. Then a request for Sandra Larson delivered a direct line in Sioux Falls. “Hi,” said a woman’s voice, serious yet sympathetic. “I am in the bank today, just away from my office right now. If you’re calling about a Citi Card account or a refund check, you will need to dial 1-800-950-5114. Otherwise, leave your name and number, and I’ll return your call shortly. Thank you.” A message was left. S. Larson hasn’t called back.

Hey Citibank – free tip here (really, I won’t charge for this one), how about you give S. Larson a Twitter account and be the voice behind Citibank? Try it!

Read the full Wall Street Journal article.

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