It's evening, a prime time for fundraisers, pollsters and scams, and the phone rings. This isn't the phone I use for business, and none of my family or friends call at this time of day, but I still answer pleasantly—you never know when it might be a real call.
- A hesitant female voice says "Hello. Is this Miss Bear-honn?"
okay, it's not a real call, but I keep a cheerful tone
- "And who is this?"
- "This is Angel from (carefully mumbled unmemorable corporate name). We're calling to help you reduce your power bill."
ahhh; one of those calls. Yes, of course this number is on the "do not call" list, but people who are running a personal information collection scam are hardly going to worry about violating a polite little constraint like that.
It was originally the occasional automated call, the kind where you have to press 1 to speak with a person. At first I hoped they'd stop calling if I just kept hanging up; but after the first half dozen, I started pressing 1. I would immediately be asked if I had my utility bill handy. Whatever I said next—including "why?"—was never on the call script, so whoever it was would immediately hang up.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty damned sick of this and there doesn't seem to be a damned thing anyone can do to stop them. So since they've dropped the recordings and gone straight to human cold-callers, I've been trying a different approach:
- "I see. And how did you get my number?"
- (hesitantly; this is not on the call script) "From the power company."
- (with apparently genuine, friendly interest; sometimes the old acting chops come in handy) "I'm afraid that's impossible. The power company doesn't have this phone number. So how did you get my number?"
- (groping now) "From the (mumble mumble) department of my company."
- (still friendly and curious) "Really? How did they get this number?"
- (increasingly nervous) "From the power company."
- (puzzled) "But I've just explained, that's not possible. This phone number is not connected with any power company accounts." (a little less friendly) I'd really like to know how your company got this phone number."
- (fumbling for words) "I'm sorry to have disturbed you..."
- "No, no. I understand. You're in a call center, probably halfway across the world, and you were given this number." (that last bit was based on an observation of her accent; note that I've heard a number of national and US regional accents on these calls.) Would you have a supervisor that I can speak to?"
I've now allowed a bit of steel to slip into my own voice. When she replies, her voice is muffled, as if her head has turned away from the mouthpiece. Is she looking around the room in panic??
- "I'll have to call you back tomorrow, Miss..."
- (I employ the cool, "not so fast, buster" voice) "No. I would like to speak with someone right this minute. May I speak with your supervisor, please?"
- "I'm sorry to have disturbed you Miss."
And she hangs up.
Do I feel just a little bad for the timid young woman at the other end of the call? She is, presumably, only trying to make a living. Maybe she's so naive that she doesn't understand her employers are crooks. Maybe, for one miserable reason or another, she can't afford to care.
My hunch is that she is being exploited, but so are the thousands of people who fall for the con and volunteer their personal information. I'm assuming there are thousands of them, because what used to be an occasional nuisance call has now become an almost weekly occurrence. It's got to be pretty damned lucrative for the number of companies trying this con to have escalated to such an extent.
Con artists and scams are nothing new in human history, but 21st century technology has made them more virulent. That can be said of all the ways in which humans traditionally prey on one another. Seems as though the more technology we create, the less civilized we become.