Beating a bureaucracy that is trying to screw you

In a Hacker News comment thread about a lawsuit against Bank of America for lying to homeowners about their eligibility for refinancing:

I’ve dealt with similar institutions before. They have to be seen to be playing by the rules, but they use every possible lie and excuse to wriggle out of their obligations. Here’s how to beat them:

  • Understand that your relationship is entirely adversarial. Play by the rules, but be an asshole.
  • Your adversaries will mostly consider themselves decent people, who are forced into a corrupt role. Use the cognitive dissonance against them.
  • Create a cross-referenced paper trail so strong that it is impossible for them to pretend that they don’t have every document they need.
  • Hound them relentlessly on every promise and every lie.

By the time you’re done with them, they won’t care about their performance bonus. They’ll just want you to leave them alone.

For example, here’s how you send them an important package of documents:

  1. Add cross-referenced meta-data to the package so that, if anything gets “lost”, it will be immediately, undeniably obvious.
  2. Send the package by registered mail.
  3. After the package has arrived, call them to confirm that they’ve received it.
  4. They’ll probably “lose” it the first time, so go back to step 1. (Eventually they’ll catch on, and stop “losing” things so often.)
  5. When they confirm receipt, also ask them to confirm what will happen next, and when. If they don’t give a date, tell them that you’ll call them back every week for progress reports.
  6. Send them a follow-up letter in which you tell them exactly what you sent them (repeat the meta-data), when they confirmed receipt, what they said they’d do, what you said you’d do, a summary of previous correspondence, and so on.

If you catch them telling lies on the phone, you have a golden opportunity. Ask them whether they’d be willing to confirm their statement in writing. When they say, “Yes.” grab a pen and get them to agree an exact wording with you. Send them a copy of the wording, remind them that they agreed to these exact words, and ask them to sign it and send it back to you.

Of course, you won’t get your signed statement, but they’re not going to admit that they lied to you either, and the cognitive dissonance will make them deeply miserable. Hound them.