Potential St. Louis County Library Scam

Updated July 10, 2007

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"Now I've seen everything"

It seems these days you have to be careful of just about everything (and everyone). Identity theft is apparently running wild, and it seems that everyone in Nigeria wants to give me their money. Until receiving a letter in the mail on Monday I thought I'd heard of just about every warning.

About three weeks ago I was at the St. Louis County Library doing genealogical research (what else?). I even stopped by to donate a copy of my latest book ("St. Louis 1840") to one of the staff in the Genealogy Department. Since the DVD movies are in the same place I picked up three when I left. I like old movies so I got the first film Jerry Lewis did after he split with Dean, Hitchcock's "The Birds", and just for grins, "Hannibal". We watched two of the three, and my wife returned them, using the depository slot, at the Tesson Ferry branch.

Monday I got this letter in the mail.

I read it a couple of times trying to understand what it meant. All three DVDs were "soiled". All three DVDs were "discarded". I owed the Library $54.96.

Now I'm not a novice at renting DVDs. As a matter of fact I usually have to clean them before I can even get them to play. Especially the ones we rent to view with our granddaughter. Seems almost all kid's movies have either jelly or peanut butter on them for some strange reason.

But I must admit, I've never received a movie that was so "soiled" that I felt the need to "discard" it. The letter was very explicit in it's instructions on what I should do next. Simply make out a check for $54.96 and send it to the address listed. What I didn't see in the letter was a name of the person that sent it or a phone number to call to find out how stupid they thought I was.

I resorted to the Internet, and pulled up their website. There is only one number listed, I found no directory of departments at all. So I dialed the only number I had, and spoke with someone who directed me to the Audio/Visual Department since that seemed to have the potential for the initiation of the letter. The young female that answered in that department tried to help, but was unable to access my library account. Both she and I found that strange, and she said that she'd have her supervisor call me.

Sure enough, a few hours later I got a call from this supervisor. I could tell by the tone of his voice that I wasn't going to make any headway in resolving this issue. I asked for an explanation of the very cryptic letter, and he unloaded a bombshell. He told me that the three DVDs were covered in dog feces. The coldness and contempt in his voice was something that I thought would be reserved for sex offenders and terrorists, but apparently library patrons that smear dog feces on library material have the same level of loathing in the mind of this supervisor. After collecting my composure I asked if there was anyone else that might shed just a little more light on my crime. He gave me the number of the Tesson Ferry Branch Manager since apparently the "discarding" was done there.

After explaining my reason for calling, the branch manager's tone was even worse than the previous call. Although she had not seen the "soiled" DVDs, she was certainly aware of them. She flatly accused me of being the only one that could possibly have done the deed since only library employees have access to the things returned via the depository slots. She also unequivocally stated that the three DVDs, and nothing else in the return bin, had been "soiled".

Since the call couldn't be going any worse, I decided to ask if I may see the "soiled" DVDs? Silly me, I had already known that they had been "discarded". So I decided to try and recap the entire farce for her:

I asked the Branch Manager to consider the situation from my point of view. I KNEW that the DVDs were returned in perfect working order. I was not convinced that the "dog feces" story even had any validity to it. Since she hadn't seen the evidence even she couldn't confirm that it actually happened. Then I tried to persuade her with an analogy. I said that having done what I was accused of was tantamount to throwing a brick through the front window at the Library, having firmly affixed my driver's license to the brick before the throw. If I was to enjoy smearing dog feces on DVDs, would I not attempt to smear someone else's DVDs, as opposed to the ones checked out in my name.

Still not sounding convinced, I decided to go the next step and accuse a Library employee of doing the deed (if, of course, the deed actually occurred). Perhaps a employee that has always wanted to own that particular Jerry Lewis movie, but couldn't afford it. The other two movies were nothing more than innocent by-standers, to throw off the Library police as to motive.

That train of thought caused me to wonder what deep-seated psychological problem this Library employee had with dogs. As a matter of fact, how was one to know that it was "dog feces". Did they have it analyzed to rule out cats, or gazelles, or even rhinos?

Anyway, apparently something triggered her sense of fairness, and started to show some compassion. She actually conceded that she needed to look into the situation further. She promised to get back to me.

It didn't take long for her to get back to me. There was a notable change in her tone. She started off by stating that the $54.96 penalty was being waived. There was a notable difference in her story. Now it appeared that maybe someone returning something after my wife had dropped the DVDs into the return had accidently dropped their return on the ground, onto dog feces on the sidewalk, and that the guilty feces had somehow magically then contaminated only my three DVDs. I thanked her profusely, and then asked "What now?". I explained that, although thankful that she had come to her senses, I was not about to let this simply pass. I wanted to know who had perpetrated this farce. I explained that I was not going to simply forget about what had taken place, and that I wanted an explanation. She apologized, and said goodbye.

I'm not satified.

Has anyone else been a victim of this scam?

By the way, in my research I've discovered that there is a St. Louis firm that can help out the next time the Library runs into this so-called problem.

UPDATE July 10, 2007:
Since posting this warning I've had a number of interesting e-Mails (no, nothing from SLCL). One Library patron told me of a similar thing happening to her. She got a bill for a book she had returned. She explained that the Library catalog only listed one copy, and that she found that one copy on the shelf. They still demanded the money in spite of the fact that their one and only book was indeed in their possession.

Another sent this account: "There must be really interesting things going on with our St. Louis County Library system. My husband used to take out a lot of their CDs to make his own audio tapes. He asked me one day to return a set of classical music CDs as well as some others when I went to check out some books for myself. I left the CDs on the Check-in counter because the clerks were busy, and went off to browse. A couple of weeks later we got an overdue notice for just the classical set, not the others I returned at the same time. It said that if we couldn't return them, we would owe the Library $75. I called and explained that they were in error -- the CDs were in the Library. They said they would run a trace on them, but that I probably just "thought" I re-turned them and still had them at home. I felt insulted, but was sure they'd show up when they checked the system. We received another notice saying that the CDs couldn't be found, and that if my husband wanted to use his Library card again, we had to fork over the money. We declined, and my husband stopped using the Library."

Makes you wonder how many times they've worked this scam successfully on people that just give in and pay.

Repeated attempts to get a reasonable explanation of this scam have failed, and I have filed a formal complaint with the Missouri Attorney General.