The Patriot Act “Burned My Onions” in Tok

First, the thing about burning onions: This is what the Head Start teachers taught my 3 year old to say when she is irritated. She loves to say “You’re burning my onions, Mom” with a big exasperated sigh.

Second, I am a patriotic American, I’m sure I am. And I know why the Patriot Act is in place, of course. But when I’m put through a stupid, ongoing rigamaroll in the name of the Patriot Act, well, it burns my onions.

The situation that has been going on for over a week now:

I’m trying to get overdraft protection for my personal checking account with Key Bank. I already have a business checking account with them, a business credit card, a commercial loan, a personal savings and personal checking. I’m told I’m considered a “preferred customer” for having multiple accounts with them.

So the hitch is not a financial one. The hitch is that I live in Tok, Alaska and we do not have numbers on our houses.

My friend Betsy of Small Biz Survival saw my tweet on Twitter complaining about yet another call from Key Bank looking for further proof of residence and that I am who I say I am. I had already sent them scans of my drivers license (which has my PO Box as the address) and my social security card to prove I’m a U.S. citizen and a bill from Alaska Power & Telephone which shows my PO Box as my address – but with some puzzling letters or an abbreviation above the PO Box and under my name.

“The underwriters want to know what that means,” said the kind woman at Key Bank who was getting an earful from me for putting me through the ringer for a small overdraft account. “This is because of the Patriot Act,” she said as way of explanation for the hoops they’ve had me jumping through.

I called AP&T while still on the phone with Key Bank to learn that the abbreviation stood for the code they used to identify the house where the service for power and telephone was rendered because we do not have house numbers in Tok.

Turns out, it was AP&T’s own abbreviation that stood for Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Rental. Yes, I guess I forgot to mention that my husband works for US Fish and Wildlife which is part of the Department of Interior for the United States Government. My husband is a U.S. federal government employee. We are living in government housing. And THEY don’t even have numbers on their houses here.

Betsy had some advice:

Of course, I knew all about address tricks for when you don’t have a number on your house and blogged about it here.

I have no idea if I’ll get the overdraft protection or not. Because I live in Tok Alaska where they don’t have numbers on houses. This is not just Rural America – this is more like Frontier America. These places still exist and they are part of the U. S. of A. It is a shame that the Patriot Act causes such as hassle for real Americans in real communities in the actual United States. I’d hate to see what would happen if I had a more ethnic-sounding name or a strong accent on top of living in rural parts.

I shudder to think.

How has the Patriot Act worked for — or against — you? Just curious.

UPDATE  13 April 2010

Today Key Bank underwriters said that the power bill and social security card and driver’s license was NOT good enough. Still rejecting me as a U.S. citizen with a verifiable USA residence. I now need to locate and send one of the following.

Mind you: No matter how you slice or dice it, we still have no PHYSICAL ADDRESSES for our houses in Tok, Alaska. I’ve even given them miles from the Alaska Highway which some people use (.4 miles) and the fake address (using post office box number as a pretend house number – this was advice given to me by the USPS i.e. United States Postal Service i.e. US GOVT. Take THAT Patriot Act.)

1. Social Security award letter containing social security number

2. Utility Bill associated with physical property location (i.e., gas, water, electric, sewer, water, cable and phone line)-bill, invoice or statement may not have date older than 60 days old.

3. U.S. license (may or may not contact social security number

4. Social Security administration signed letter

5. IRS tax reporting W-2 or 1099

6. U.S. state ID card (may or may not contact social security number

7. Native American tribal ID card

8. Voter Registration Card (valid registration card must have correct physical address and name)

9. Real estate tax bill-not older than one year

10. Real estate rental or lease agreement

11. Insurance coverage or statement (commonly required in real property and commercial equipment/inventory lending)

12. Real property deed

13. Student ID, letter/invoice from school admissions or grades/transcripts from school records (these should not be older than 90 days)

14. Current letter from employer regarding 24/7 moving and/or remote work assignments (used to verify long haul truck drivers, commercial fishing boat, cruise boat and freighter hands, field scientists and researches)

15. Letters from long-term heath care providers such as nursing/retirement homes


16 April 2010

Finally sent them the 8 page lease agreement with USF&W, part of the United States government, of course. That document did not have an address other than the abbreviation for Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, the word “Rental” and a number with 7 zeros in front of it. That was it. The underwriters could have balked at the total lack of address, however, I think they saw the seal of the U.S. government and realized the error of their ways. Whew.

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  1. I work for an airline, and I know of a story where a mom and her daughter were on a flight, fell asleep, and woke up to find their electronics gone. They told a flight attendant, and when they landed a police officer met the flight and detained the man seated in front of them at the arrival gate. He demanded his bag to be searched, of course the man refused. Officer says, “Well, you are in an airport and because of the Patriot Act I can search you for any reason”. So he did, and found the stolen electronics, and the man was placed under arrest. I like this story quite a bit actually.

    • Well next time my electronics are stolen on a flight, I’ll be thankful for the Patriot Act. Right now, it is, well, you know, burning my onions. BTW, I lost my wallet on a flight and it was finally returned to me – from the safe at the baggage claim for the airline – and was missing my personal credit card, atm card and driver’s license. That burned my onions, too. (hi matt!)

  2. Bill

     /  April 13, 2010

    Sounds like you need a new bank! Try


  3. maryruth

     /  April 13, 2010

    I love your blog. I hope to move to Tok soon. I live in a small mountain valley in Idaho at the present time. We have the same problem many times when we need delivery of items. We have PO Box for mail. When we write our address, we get that it does not exist – according to the government. Once, when we were ordering a video phone, we ended up having to have it sent to a friend. We aren’t even “Frontier America”.

    I am sure the Patriot Act is supposed to serve its purpose, but I know it causes many good old Americans plenty of trouble. The people who want to cause trouble are too crafty to be trapped by the act.

  4. Sounds like a problem with KeyBank. Did you call the local branch? They should know better. When I worked at FNBA we were able accept specific directions to the home instead of a “physical address” with numbers. Something along the lines of, “down the road from the general store, about a 1/4 mile, one-story cabin with green roof” was good enough. I’ve never been a fan of KeyBank.

  5. Update: Just got off the phone with a guy at the Key Bank branch in Anchorage who will work to help me get it through the underwriters’ heads that no matter how you slice it, I do not have a home address ie. physical address AND yes, I am a U.S. Citizen AND a preferred Key Bank customer. Fingers crossed.

  6. When I lived in Nenana, AK I was told to make up an address in order to get around a similar problem. This was after I was told that I “must have a physical address,” but “maybe I just didn’t realize it.” Not the case at all.

    This kind of thing is really irritating, but surprisingly common in Alaska.

  7. Julie in Alaska

     /  April 18, 2010

    This is a bit off topic, but hear about the low returns of AK census forms? I think it’s no plot on Alaskans part. It’s just that the forms can’t be mailed to PO boxes! Okay, that’s a lot of us outside the major cities and towns. Hence, no forms being mailed out, filled out and returned yet. Seems shortsided, considering the cost of sending a census worker to our homes…

  8. Anonymous Tokite

     /  April 24, 2010

    Just to let you know that those statistics only refer to the few cities in Alaska where people actually get the Census forms in the mail. In rural Alaska, every household is visited individually in person by a census taker, called an “enumerator”. Therefore, I’m proud to report that in Tok we have had a 99.9% return rate!

  9. Jen

     /  February 20, 2011

    My son, who just turned 18 and is disabled opened his first account with TCF bank in Denver Colorado (S. Broadway and Evans branch). because of the patriot act they are insisting i get a letter from social security verifying his identity. His current social security card AND his colorado state ID AND his current passport are not enough. I told them i cannot take a day off from work to take him to get this as I started a new job 2 weeks ago. They told me his account is on hold until I do. AND he’s on SSI…so obviously they think he is who he is. He opened his account with this months SSI check. Nothing else is acceptable to them other than the letter according to the TCF branh office staff. I am going to change banks next Saturday in reponse.

  1. Trying to Get a Package in Tok | Living in Tok Alaska: Social Media Capital of the World

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