I’ll admit it. I’m trying to get blackballed by the annoying phone scammers who call several times a day. It’s probably a fruitless mission, but I have to try something.
So when a guy rang last week and said, “I’m calling about a problem with your house” I went with it.
“My house!? What is it? Pleeeease help me!!!” I said.
“Yes!” the now-enthusiastic phone pest went on, thinking he had a sucker on the hook, “I can help you. You need a home warranty….”
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! HELP ME SAVE MY HOUSE!” I screamed into the phone.
Click. He hung up.
Later that day when I received a call from a guy trying to sell me a trip, I whispered into the phone, “Please don’t hang up. I’m trapped in the trunk of a car and I don’t know where they’re taking me. I need you to stay with me and help get the authorities….” Click. He hung up.
Those were a couple of my more inventive methods of trying to annoy the annoyers. Often I just get lazy and yell profanities into the phone.
We’re all dealing with it these days. One of the perks of turning off your landline and being one of those cool people without an actual “home phone” used to be no telemarketing on the cell phones. But that’s all changed dramatically. A study released a couple of months ago by a firm called First Orion, expects about 45 percent of the calls to U.S. cell phones next year to be connected to some kind of scam. That’s insane. In 2017, that number was less than 4 percent. So get your acting skills honed and your air horns ready, the calls are coming.
The most annoying and insidious development in phone scamming is the amount of “spoofing” happening now. That’s when these companies manage to use a fake local number to call you so it looks like it’s generated nearby. A lot of these will come with the same area code and three-number prefix as your own phone number. So you pick it up thinking it’s someone you might know and suddenly it’s Lisa and she has important information about trouble with your bank account and you shouldn’t hang up.
One thing I’ve noticed lately is how quickly these scammers will bail on a call the second they sense that you’re onto them. It takes just a little bit of anger in the voice or a slightly snarky response and they’ll hang up. I’m sure all they’re looking for is someone who sounds confused — an easy mark.
I will confess right now that at one point in my troubled youth I actually was one of those people on the other end of the phone — for a day and a half. Desperate for money while living near Ft. Meyers, Florida during the summer after my junior year of college, I answered an ad looking for sales people. A flashy guy with a pressed shirt, French cuffs, lots of gold and a ponytail was running the show when I got there. Yes, he looked exactly like the movie version of a scumbag who would run a phone bank.
He filled me in on the basic deal — I was selling vitamins. Roughly $300 worth of vitamins. In the ‘80s that was a lot of money for vitamins, especially considering the Flintstones were still in heavy rerun rotation and had pretty much cornered the market for about $3 a bottle. So the idea of selling $300 worth of vitamins over the phone was daunting. But there was a sweetener — if you bought the vitamins you also got a vacation.
Vitamins and vacations! It made perfect sense. The only catch in that deal was that there were four possible vacation spots — one in Europe and three in crappy time-shares in boring places near land fills in the Carolinas. Guess which one everyone wanted.
My boss impressed upon me that we were not to lie to the customers and tell them they would definitely get the European vacation, because it was kind of a lottery or something and they’d “most likely” just get one of the others. But the customer was certainly encouraged to express a preference.
I went to work calling people, and this was in the days before caller ID ruined things completely for sleazy sales people and prank phone callers. Even so it wasn’t easy because even if people were slightly interested, the second I told them they couldn’t automatically get the European vacation, they hung up.
My co-worker, Tiki, by comparison did very well. He was a closer. He also blatantly lied over and over to get that credit card number. The boss seemed to like Tiki a lot. I finished my first day skunked with nary a vitamin sold.
I made up my mind the next morning to get serious because although we were paid minimum wage, the real money was in bonuses for each vitamin package sold. Sometime in the mid-morning I got a young woman on the phone who was into vitamins but mostly she really wanted to take her boyfriend to Europe and thought $300 was an amazing price. She waffled a lot though because even the $300 was a big stretch for her financially. Eventually she decided if she could definitely get the European trip she’d buy it.
I told her she could definitely get the trip she wanted, and she handed over her info and hung up all excited. Immediately I felt sick about it, so I trashed her info, told the boss I had a dental appointment and went and found a job at K-Mart. I never even got my 10 hours worth of minimum wage from Mr. Ponytail.
So I have some empathy for the poor saps on the other end of the phone tasked with dialing would-be suckers over and over, but just a tiny little bit. Mostly I’d like them to stay on the line long enough to interest them in an exciting offer I have in the exciting business of standing in traffic delivering newspapers.
The scammers are out of control and there has to be some way to stop them short of running over our cell phones. Both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission are trying to address the situation and have slapped some really huge fines on perpetrators. Authorities urge everyone who is annoyed by these calls to place their numbers in the FTC’s “Do Not Call List.” But really, people violating the law by spoofing probably aren’t going to honor the DNC list.
I suggest we all just try to roll with these constant intrusions and become the most annoying “customers” these clowns have ever called. Take a minute to play along with them and ask totally dumb questions about the weather or if they think Trump’s hair is really that color. Fake heart attacks in the middle of giving them your information. Waste their time.
Hopefully, with some creativity, we can all eventually end up on the scammers’ do not call list. It’s worth a try.
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