6 Tiny Paperwork Screw-Ups That Ruined Random People's Lives
At some point in your life, you will probably get sucked into the kind of bureaucratic nightmare that will convince you that the government is playing a giant prank on you. Maybe a mix-up on your taxes will force you to spend 12 hours on the phone with eight different agents who make you retell the entire story each time, or you'll get angry notices for parking tickets on a car you don't own. In a world of databases and understaffed offices, we're all just an errant check mark away.
But if/when it happens, you at least can take solace in the fact that your situation isn't as bad as ...
The Canadian Government Shreds a Couple's Tax Records, Hits Them With a Million-Dollar Tax Bill
Irvin Leroux and his wife, Jill Moore, were good Canadian citizens. For many years they ran a prosperous RV park in British Columbia and, at tax time, they dutifully divvied up their hard-earned profits and made the required sacrifice to the god of the big-ass red maple leaf. But that's when they found that good citizenship amounts to jack dancing shit when a random employee at the tax bureau can't tell the difference between his "to file" stack and his "to shred" stack.
"I can't make heads or tails of this bureaucratic nightmare."
That's right: when it came time for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit Leroux's business back in 1996, Leroux handed over all of his receipts and other records ... at which point someone at the CRA office promptly fed all of said records to the shredder.
Hilarious mistake, right? Well, it would be if the CRA didn't then turn right around and tell Leroux that, since he had no records of his business expenses (because, um, they'd all been shredded), he owed right around a million bucks in back taxes (a million of those cute widdle Canadian bucks, but still).
"Our treasury is run by Parker Brothers."
Leroux, of course, took the case to court. But -- as anyone who's ever fought one can testify -- court battles happen in some sort of reverse bullet time, and when the Business Development Bank of Canada got wind of Leroux's tax snafu in 2001 and demanded immediate repayment of a business loan he'd taken out, Leroux's finances toppled like freaking dominoes. He had to sell off his business, his home ... basically, everything he'd worked for his entire life.
Finally, in 2005, the CRA gave up the legal battle and reluctantly hit the switch to reset Leroux's tax bill to zero -- even though, by that time, he'd established that they actually owed him a $24,000 refund. And as for his house, his business, and everything else he had to give up? The assistant commissioner of the CRA summarized their position as such: "I believe we have been very fair and have in all respects provided the appropriate respect for his position and appropriate redress [by canceling the debt]. No compensation will be paid."
"And he'll owe us 50 bucks to replace this mike I'm about to drop."
Holy shit in a basket of poutine. Looks like we can add "tax fuck-ups" to "hockey" and "insisting that ham is bacon" on the list of things at which Canadians are particularly ruthless.
A Woman's Marriage and Career Is Ruined by a Typo on Her Birth Certificate
A decade ago, Kim Walmsley's life was barreling down the expressway to Happytown. She and her husband had recently followed their life's dream all the way from their home in Liverpool to the venom-rich coast of Australia to establish a lucrative magazine business. But when the time came to renew her passport, she discovered that she couldn't because, according to the official records back in the U.K., Mrs. Walmsley was really a Mister.
"Sweet. Can I have that extra 20 percent in back pay I should have been earning?"
See, even though her original birth certificate and her clearly functioning ovaries (she and her husband have five children) shouted loud and clear that she's of the female persuasion, when she was born, a registrar down at the General Registry Office mistakenly ticked the "donged" box instead of the "dongless" one. Walmsley had actually discovered the error when applying for her visa in 2003, when she got a good chuckle out of it and assumed that someone at the records office would break out one of those jumbo pink erasers and correct the obvious mistake. But after living in Australia for a year, she was told that they would do no such thing.
That meant her new life in Australia was officially over: she had no choice but to close the doors of her newly successful business, pack up shop, and return to England. Not only that, but since two dongs in one marriage was legally one too many until very recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared her 23-year marriage invalid. That's right: with one tiny typo, Walmsley, a devout Christian, discovered that she had spent more than half of her life living in sin.
"Forgive me, father, for I have sinned ... technically ... kind of ... I guess."
Over a quarter-million U.S. dollars in legal fees later, she's still fighting it. Why couldn't the mistake simply be corrected? Well, the General Registry Office readily admitted that it was an error, but they said that it was impossible to change the record, because apparently England still chisels all of their legal documents onto stone tablets.
The FBI Mistakenly Puts a Wheelchair-Bound Student on the No-Fly List, Refuses to Take Her Off
You probably remember 2004 as the year Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's right breast to the world at the Super Bowl. Rahinah Ibrahim, on the other hand, remembers it as the year Uncle Sam exposed her nonexistent terrorist plots to the world at the San Francisco International Airport.
"Ma'am, are you aware that you're traveling with a name that doesn't sound American?"
Ibrahim, at the time a Malaysian citizen pursuing a doctorate in architectural design at Stanford University, became the unwitting victim of circumstance when an FBI agent with the '80s MTV VJ-esque name of Kevin Kelley accidentally checked the "yep, she's totally a terrorist" box while investigating San Francisco-area Muslims, because sometimes profiling is OK (says Uncle Sam). Ibrahim found out about the mistake the hard way about a year later, when security personnel at San Francisco International Airport ripped her from her wheelchair (she'd just had a hysterectomy), handcuffed her, and held her for hours without access to her pain medication before unceremoniously shipping her back to Malaysia to stare longingly at her soon-to-be-revoked student visa.
"Can I at least count this as a Racial Studies course credit?"
Ibrahim unsurprisingly went to court, and what followed was a seven-goddamned-year battle to clear her name and a corresponding cover-up by the government, during which officials reasoned that A) they didn't have to release details regarding the no-fly list because of state secrets privilege, and B) WHAT ABOUT ACTUAL TERRORISTS? See, clearing Ibrahim's (or, for that matter, any other innocent person's) name might require revealing the names of everyone else on the no-fly list, which could embolden terrorists who discovered they weren't on it to act. Why? Because it's a scary scenario that must be prevented at all costs, so how about you just shut your stinking logic-hole, huh?
"Don't use your rationale on me, bub. That's what they do in Iran."
U.S. District Judge William Alsup was unimpressed with the government's contrived excuses and made his displeasure known by way of making Ibrahim the first and only person to date to successfully get her name scrubbed from the no-fly list. Not that it did her even the teensiest shit-bit of good: despite winning her case, Ibrahim has still been unable to grace U.S. airspace with her presence.
And while we're on the subject ...
Police Brand an Innocent Man a Child Predator ... Twice
Have you ever done a search on your local sex offender registry website to see if your suspicions about your creepy neighbor at the end of the hall are justified or if you're really just a judgmental asshole? Well, imagine you did such a search and saw your own face pop up. And not as a result of some simple misunderstanding due to a wardrobe malfunction in a murky nightclub, either -- we're talking a full-fledged "CHILD RAPIST" emblazoned under your gaping mug in a bold, red font. Well, Stephen Parkin, a 56-year-old grandfather from Durham, England, doesn't have to imagine what that's like.
He was legally required to replace his "World's Greatest Grandpa" mug.
Back in 2009, Parkin was applying to foster a child (because that's the kind of guy Parkin is), when a Criminal Records Bureau search tagged him as the attempted rapist of a teen girl. Needless to say, Parkin quickly went from "free to raise someone else's child" to being barred from seeing his own biological grandchildren without supervision. And that was only the beginning of a multi-year fight to clear his name while enduring the unending stares of people treating him like a walking shit stain. Eventually, though, he did get his name cleared, complete with a public apology from the police and an assurance that it would never, ever happen again.
And that's the end of Parkin's story. Except, of course, it isn't, because less than two years later the exact same thing happened again.
They gave him a "Frequently mistaken for a child predator" loyalty card. The sixth time is free!
As Chief Constable Mike Barton explained, "Every day tens of thousands of pieces of information are handled by my staff and, although it very rarely happens, regrettably, mistakes can be made." And apparently the exact same mistake can be made twice, kind of like how they say lightning never strikes the same place twice but that's total bullshit. The Durham police apologized (again) and issued some undisclosed compensation (again), which luckily includes regular counseling for the emotional trauma of being publicly branded a child rapist (again).
Oh, shit, we think we're starting to see a pattern here ...
Police List an Identity-Theft Victim as the Identity Thief
While the Internet didn't create the concept of identity theft, it sure as hell made it easier to pull off. Fortunately, it also made it infinitely easier to distribute information about identity thieves to warn everyone else. Unfortunately for Raymond Lorenzo, he somehow got gashed by both sides of that double-edged sword.
Lorenzo's impostor was Peter Perro, a man who wasn't averse to twisting the dagger, so to speak, seeing as how even as he was running up Lorenzo's credit card bills and getting himself arrested for all manner of wrongdoing under Lorenzo's name, he was also banging Lorenzo's ex-wife. In theory, all this tomfoolery should have been quashed when Perro was finally brought to justice. The problem was, whoever entered Perro's crimes into the Suffolk County, New York, crime database accidentally swapped the names. So, according to the official record, Lorenzo was the perpetrator and Perro was Lorenzo's victim.
"Wait, hang on. Are you telling me they ... swapped bodies?!"
"No. What? No, just ... just change the names around."
Since they merely swapped two fields, it might seem like all that needed to be done was to re-swap them, a process you'd think could be completed in less time than it takes you to read this sentence. But, since life has a fetish for turning two-second tasks into Sisyphean clusterfucks, things descended into nightmare territory for Lorenzo. Various clerks insisted the records couldn't be changed, while at the same time Lorenzo's supposed criminal history disseminated like a nude celebrity leak. The bad data was copied, sold, and distributed for potential employers, landlords, and even school officials to sneer at for the rest of time. That resulted in a cartoon storm cloud that hovered over Lorenzo's head for the next 15 fucking years in the form of chronic unemployment, eventual bankruptcy, and depression.
It wasn't until 2006 that a lawyer finally managed to get access to Lorenzo's record in an attempt to correct it. But even then Lorenzo may never truly be in the clear, what with his erroneous record having already spread like an epidemic. And how, exactly, is one supposed to convince a landlord or a prospective boss that a guy guilty of identity fraud is telling the truth when he pins his criminal record on someone else? Yeah, good luck.
"Uh huh. And I suppose this 'Mr. Perro' is the one who isn't filling up the coffee maker when he kills a pot too."
A File Mix-Up Gets a Disabled Veteran Arrested for Another Man's Crimes (and Committed to a Mental Hospital)
In 2011, disabled army veteran Kenneth Williams spent 16 days in Fulton County jail on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Seeing as how Williams was pushing 60 and this was his first-ever arrest, we're not exactly looking at a criminal mastermind here. Little did Williams know that, by the time he was released, his criminal record had been hopelessly entangled with that of a man known only as K.W., who, while perhaps not a master criminal, was at the very least a prolific one.
Over the next three years Williams was arrested three more times on another man's drug charges -- every time the real perp failed to appear in court, Williams found himself back in the slammer -- there was just no convincing the authorities that he wasn't "K.W." The first two stints lasted only about two weeks each, but the third is when Williams' tale boards a supersonic flight to the land of Kafkaesque nightmares.
The flight serves food, but if you ask what the deal with it is no one answers.
You see, while Williams was swearing up and down that the authorities had the wrong guy, the authorities saw nothing more than a hopeless old criminal with mental problems. So, they went right ahead and had Williams committed to a mental hospital, to be forcibly pumped full of antipsychotic drugs until he was deemed competent to stand trial. His psych ward stint lasted four months, during which -- sure enough -- the man who actually committed the crimes Williams was accused of was jailed but quickly released.
Thankfully, Williams' story doesn't end with a real-life version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Eventually, a judge followed a doctor's recommendation to have Williams' fingerprints checked against those of the perpetrator, and only then did the court realize that Williams had suffered a nightmarish ordeal at the hands of the half-assed paper-pushing and quarter-assed accountability of the justice system.
The judge apologized, thanked Williams for his service to his country, then yelled, "Smoke bomb!" and booked it.
Yet, because Fate wasn't quite finished poking him in the ass with a shaft of sharpened bamboo, Williams was soon released into a world where his veteran's benefits and driver's license had been revoked due to the bogus drug charges. On the bright side, it was also a world in which he could sue the shit out of those who sent him there.
For more of the most unfortunate people ever, check out 4 People Who Just Suffered from Freakishly Bad Luck and The 7 Most Bizarrely Unlucky People Who Ever Lived.
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