If you call me, I won’t answer. You can try to reach me on my cell or on our ancient landline. But I won’t answer.
I use my cell phone for everything from watching exercise videos to playing word games. It’s my camera and my map of the world. The thing monitors my heart and calls 911 if it suspects I am in distress. (This usually happens when I attempt high-intensity interval training.) While my phone evolved into the utility belt of my life—and it’s only one, small technological step down from a Star Trek Tricorder—I never use it as an actual phone. I’d rather clean tile grout with a cotton swab than answer a phone call on it.
This is because of scammers. If someone is calling my home or cell, it’s to scam me. You can’t convince me otherwise. If it’s an unknown number or not scheduled, it is a scam.
As evidence, I give you my clogged voice-mail inbox. It is filled with messages from unknown numbers. The voice on the other end is sometimes a friendly-sounding man asking me to help law enforcement. He begins with a casual laugh. He’s just hanging around with his friends and happened to call to ask for my money. Other times, the scammer has a pleasant female voice offering to help me with employee insurance.
Every once in a while, it is a deep, electronically disguised voice explaining I better call the IRS immediately or I’ll be arrested forthwith. This computer voice implies that the Terminator might also be sent to my front door. And, of course, my car warranty needs immediate attention, even for cars I no longer own.
But it’s all a waste of time, scammers. I’m not some innocent, midwestern kid stepping off the bus in Hollywood, hoping for stardom. Nope. I’m a grizzled, street-smart, private-eye type. I am cynical and hardened. You can’t fool me with your phone scam, bucko.
I acquired my scam radar at a young age. Credit for this goes to sea monkeys.
I am from the generation of children who saw ads for sea monkeys in the back of comic books. The illustration and ad copy guaranteed that I’d be able to grow and train a kingdom of congenial, humanoid sea creatures. What fun! It would be like playing Barbies, but they would know how to swim and be ALIVE! I paid good allowance money to order a community of sea monkeys, to be delivered via U.S. Mail. I fell hook, line, and sinker for the promise in that advertisement.
I waited six to eight weeks for my sea monkeys. While I waited, I envisioned my benevolent rule over the sea kingdom. You know where this is going, don’t you? When my sea monkeys arrived, I discovered that sea monkeys weren’t fully formed merfolk at all. They were brine shrimp. Watching brine shrimp swim around is the least fun thing a person can do. I believe an entire generation of bright-eyed kids like me discovered a lot about the world through a similar experience. The sea monkeys showed me that I was a chump.
But now I am street smart, and that extends to my attitude toward the proliferation of telephone scammers. My boomer-generation parents were not burned by sea monkeys. Periodically, I remind them that phone calls only come from no-good grifters. Sure, the pharmacy will call to let you know your pills are ready, but other than that, keep your guard up.
If my phone rings with a number I don’t recognize, I ignore it. I gave at the office.
Scammers continue to morph their methods, and it’s important to be vigilant. While researching this column, I came across the latest phone scam, which is a new spin on an old ploy. Instead of money or credit cards, the scammer asks you to fund some type of cryptocurrency. Take it from gimlet-eyed old me: No government, law enforcement, utility company, or lottery prize will ask you to fund cryptocurrency. Your nephew might, but probably not on the phone.
Let me close by offering this long, overdue, public thank-you to sea monkeys. You taught me well.