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I hate Google. I mean I really hate Google.

What do you do when you meet someone? You google him. There was a time when looking into the background of every person you met was considered borderline stalking. Now, it is almost an obligation to google any and every person you meet anywhere. Yes, I am guilty as well. Within two minutes of googling someone, I can see their Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, and any article both good and bad that has been written about him. I also get to see who hates him so much that they decided to write about him on a message board to say how bad of a boyfriend he was in college.
This is the new normal.

For the recently released felon, this is a major impediment to resuming some sense of normalcy. My name is Michael Szafranski. Yes, it is spelled S Z A F R A N S K I. Yes, the Z is silent. No, I do not know why it is there. Yes, I know in Polish SZ is actually SH, but I make it silent. No, I did not think of changing it to make it easier for OTHER people to spell. This has been my life ever since I can remember. Oh, of course there of those times when I am on the phone with India giving over my information where I get to assign a word to each letter. S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra, and ending with I as in India (I used to say Indian but that apparently is taboo these days).

Surprisingly enough, Michael Szafranski is not as uncommon as one would think. Michael Szafranski from Tampa once called me demanding to be reimbursed because he paid my speeding ticket that I got in Seattle. It seems the State of Washington ignored the address on my license and sent him the bill when I forgot to pay the ticket. He paid it even though he had not been in Seattle since 1977. Hey, no one said all Michael Szafranskis were smart! Another Michael Szafranski was a colonel in the US air-force. Another one is a mildly famous skateboarder. And there is one especially unlucky Michael Szafranki who had a financial services company in Fort Lauderdale in 2009. And then there is me.
So while the name is unusual, it is not as unusual as one may think. Of course, when that name suddenly becomes attached to the most notorious financial fraud in South Florida history, that name becomes toxic.

I first became aware of my plight back in 2011 when I applied to become an AAMCO franchisee; clearly from a reputation standpoint I was finished in the money management business. They sat me down and showed me some articles that were about me. Obviously I had seen these articles when they came out.  Keep in mind that they paid an external company to do this. I simply told them that these were merely allegations and that I had no idea how this would turn out. Well this was enough for them. The fact that I was able to pay the franchise fee was also a mitigating factor. As I continued along my eight year odyssey I simply dealt with those sorts of situations. I figured that when I was finally cleared of all charges, it would not matter. Even if I did go to prison, when it was over, it would not matter. Yes, as was normally the case, I was delusional.

Well now here I am post release, and simply trying to move on. Yet, that damn google just will not let me. Two weeks ago a received a call from someone with whom I was trying to establish a business relationship. We had been in regular contact for about two weeks. He calls me on a Friday and says "Are you Michael Szafranski who was involved in that Rothstein thing?" Of course, I said yes. He then tells me that that must have been incredible and "How will you ever come back from that?" So as I stood there on my driveway with my middle finger at the phone, I basically told him that I am fortunate to have supportive friends and family and I someone does not want to do business with me well then frankly they can go to hell. Of course  he realized that I was not caught off guard by this question and told me that since my name is just so unusual he felt need to google me. I countered with "Don't you think that if I was trying to hide this, I would simply just change my name on my email? Clearly, I am not trying to hide anything!" I am not sure if this person was astute enough to realize that I was telling him to go to hell but I ended the call by saying that I have more pressing matters to focus on than people who have nothing better to do google people they have never met.

Today, literally an hour ago something similar happened. Without getting too much into detail I was working as an intermediary to put something together. Suddenly, yesterday, everyone one one side stopped calling me back. Then today I got a call from the side that I am still talking to that the side that won't call me back called them directly. They looked into my background and decided they would rather deal with the other side directly instead of with me as the intermediary. While I was assured by the one side who has no issue with me that I would not suffer in any way because of it, it was nevertheless demoralizing. What is even more galling is that they would not confront me directly.

So how do I now deal with this? How does any ex felon deal with this. Should I change my name just for "professional reasons"? Well the problem with that is that when the truth does come out, and it will, it looks as though I was trying to hide my past. This does not exactly reflect well on someone who has spent time behind bars. Do I change it legally? It may take longer, but again, it will likely come out at some point? Do I invest in one of the reputation repair companies that specialize in somehow moving the negative articles to page 2 of the google search? Let's get real, that will never work for me. Or do I silently take a screw you approach? You don't want to be in business with me?Well that's your loss. Do I make the decision to hold my head up high, not hide from anything, with the knowledge that what goes around does come around? With that I am showing people that I hide from nothing! No, it is all out there. You like it? Great. If you don't well that's on you. But at least I have the chutzpa to actually be true to who I am which is more than I can say for the people who sit at home googling everyone they meet.


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