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May I Ask Who’s Calling?

June 19, 2018

My friend Allen Appel writes a monthly column for his “adult active community” newspaper in a tongue in cheek humorous manner. I frequently laugh out loud when reading them. This column is particularly on point so am including it here. A previous column is posted at


After surviving a barrage of annoying phone calls I went online and had my number added to the National Do Not Call Registry. This makes it illegal for telemarketers other than charities, political groups, debt collectors and survey takers to call me. If I receive an unwanted call from a telemarketer I’m supposed to report it to the Federal Trade Commission. I did that for a while but it had no effect; the FTC is a tiger when it comes to imposing restrictions but a pussycat when in comes to enforcing them.

There’s one call I used to receive daily. It was a robocall where the voice of a female whose name changed periodically claimed to be calling for the Service Center, wherever and whatever that was. If I’d like to reduce the interest rate on my credit cards, she said, I should press 1. In an early version I had the option of pressing 4 to have my number removed from their automatic-call list, which I always did. It was as effective as having my number included in the National Do Not Call Registry.

Over time this call evolved. The voice developed a British accent and claimed that actions taken by the Federal Reserve would result in doubled credit-card interest rates, but I could reduce mine to zero. The option to press 4 had been eliminated, so I could no longer cling to the hope that they’d stop calling me. I usually hung up but, occasionally, I’d press 1 when I felt vengeful and wanted to see if I could annoy them as much as they annoyed me. Most often I got an electronic voice that told me I was somewhere between number 6 and number 16 in the queue to talk to a representative. The urge for revenge wasn’t strong enough to keep me on hold listening to bad music that long, so I hung up.

On one occasion I did get connected immediately. The representative began by asking me which credit cards I had. Instead of answering her question I posed my own. “What’s the name of your company?” I asked. She hung up. I guess my security clearance wasn’t high enough to be trusted with top secret information.

Why, you may ask, do I bother answering these calls? Don’t I have caller ID? Can’t I see that these calls all originate from the same numbers?

No, I can’t because, apparently, they don’t. These scammers employ a technique known as spoofing. The ID and number that display on my phone are bogus. Each day it appears that the call is coming from someone else, somewhere else.

Callers that eschew spoofing hide behind nom-de-phones such as “Out of Area,” “Unavailable,” “Private Caller” and “Unknown Caller.” When I let my answering machine take these calls and invite them to leave messages they decline.

Occasionally, however, when I’m feeling feisty, I’ll pick up the phone, ready to give someone an earful, If it isn’t a recording it is almost always someone with an accent so thick it clogs my ears.

On one particular call the voice said, “This is the Service Center.” The voice wasn’t female and the accent wasn’t British so I surmised it was a different Service Center than the one promising lower credit card rates.

“Which service center?” I asked. There was a brief pause, then he responded, “Microsoft.” Fat chance. “You have a problem on your computer,” he said. “What kind of problem am I having?” I asked, as innocently as I could. “It’s a virus,” he said. “It got into your on-line banking and could steal all your money.” “I don’t understand how that’s possible,” I said. “I have Norton anti-virus software. It blocks viruses from getting into my computer.” “This is a new virus,” he said. “Norton doesn’t have a fix for it yet. Do you want me to get rid of it for you?” “Sure,” I said, “Go right ahead.” “Key this in,” he said, dictating an instruction, “and then click on the Download button.” I knew that if I did it would be like inviting a fox into the chicken coop. “Why is all that necessary?” I asked. “That lets us get control of your computer so we can find the virus and remove it.” “If I don’t do that you can’t find the virus?” I asked. “That’s right,” he said. “Then how,” I asked, “can you tell that I have one?” While he hemmed and hawed I hung up.

Another time I got a call where a local number displayed on the Caller ID. The guy said he was calling from the medical office. I asked which medical office. He thought a moment and said “Medicare.” That made no sense but I didn’t challenge him; I wanted to see where he was going with this. He told me that records showed I had pain in my lower back and upper legs. That was news to me. He must have gotten my number from our active adult community’s Resident Directory and assumed that active people over 55 all experience pain in their lower back and upper legs. This guy was giving me a pain in the area between my lower back and upper legs. I told him I wasn’t in any pain. He insisted that, according to Medicare, I was. Now my curiosity was aroused and I wanted to keep him on the line long enough to figure out what his scam was. My wife, however, had picked up the extension when the phone rang and listened in on the conversation. She has no patience with scammers and threatened to call the police. That put an end to the call and I never found out how he intended to defraud me.

Sometime later my phone rang and the Caller ID indicated that the call was from Indiana. “May I speak to Wilma,” he said. Now they were targeting my wife. The voice and accent were familiar. It was either Medicare Man or his clone. “Who is this?” I asked. “Sam, at the orthopedic office,” he replied. I couldn’t imagine my wife taking a trip from New Jersey to Indiana to see an orthopedist without even asking me to drive her to the airport. I was suddenly inspired by a Dr. Seuss story with which I used to amuse my kids and, improvising a bit, said:

“I do not like you, Mr. Sam,
You cannot fool me with your scam.”

He hung up.

Sometimes I wish Alexander Graham Bell had stayed in Scotland.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 19, 2018 10:41 am

    Low tech solution we use: We just let it go to the answering machine after 5 rings. Not jumping up to answer the phone at the first ring is very liberating. 95 times out of 100 they don’t leave a message, or hang up before it gets to ring #5. My sons who live in Chicago and Seattle will leave a message long enough for my wife or I to pick up the phone and answer.

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