My phone rang. It was an unknown number. I answered it anyway. You never know if that call is going to be a publisher or an agent ready to discuss a new book deal, or someone who had borrowed money in the past calling with an apology and a check. I answered the call eagerly.
A female electronic voice answered on the other end.
“I know you hate receiving these kinds of calls, but are you depressed, down and out today? Would you like prayer right now?”
If you know I hate receiving these types of calls, why then would you autodial my number and force me to be the recipient of such calls? I went back to watching ‘Vikings’ and daydreaming about that elusive book deal. And then it struck me: I had been receiving several of these spammy calls quiet frequently in the past few weeks. This had never happened before. Had my number somehow made its way into some weird version of SalesForce without my knowledge? If so, how had it happened?
Believe it or not, dear Readers under 25, there was a time when everyone with a phone number was ‘listed’. Oh yes! If you knew how to read in alphabetical order, you had immediate access to anyone’s name, address and phone number. All of that information was stored in a papyrus holy grail. It was called the White Pages. I remember the glee I felt when I got my first landline phone. A copy of the White Pages showed up at my uncle’s house a few weeks later. With trembling fingers, I thumbed towards the center of the book to search for it.
Gyekye, Malaka. 123 Whatever Street I lived on, Columbus OH 43216
What bliss. It was comforting to know that anyone who needed to find me could do so, simply by looking up my name in the White Pages. When the process went digital on Google, it made the experience even better! Remember when you could plug any phone number into Google and it would give you both the name and address of its owner? How convenient was that?
My, how things have changed 20 years later. The idea that anyone can find locate you geographically with little more than 10 numeric figures does not inspire comfort. It’s scary. It’s scary because like we always do, human beings screwed up a good thing by abusing access to information. The early 2000’s saw telemarketers disturbing families at dinner and door-to-door solicitors terrorizing stay at home moms and off-duty truck drivers during the day. We made sure there was legislation to protect people from being “found” when they didn’t want to be. But you can’t always safeguard yourself from that event, nor lock yourself away from humanity completely, can you? I learned this the hard way.
Yesterday, I got a call from an unknown number. It was from Jamaica. I had just gotten off the phone with a friend vacationing in the Virgin Islands not 30 minutes before, so I assumed she was calling me back and some weird routing defect had directed her call through Jamaica.
“Hello?” I said warmly.
“Hello!” a jovial male voice said in response. This was not my friend. Ah well.
“How are you?” I asked politely.
“Very well, thank you for asking,” the man said exuberantly. “My name is Mr. Whatever from Jamaica, and I’m calling from Publishers Clearing house. I am calling to tell you that you are the winner of today’s weekly drawing of $2.3 million dollars AND a pearl white Mercedes Benz.”
I snort laugh in response. Then I settled into my sheets to get more comfortable.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes! You are today’s winner! We will be showing up at your house today at 3:30 to present you with $2.3 million dollars AND a pearl white Mercedes.”
“So tell me, how are feeling, knowing that you are today’s winner?”
I grunted. “Well, I guess I’m a little confused, seeing as how I’ve never entered a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.”
Fortunately he had an answer to my query… a glowing orb in the form of an explanation that would demystify any confusion I might be feeling.
“Well ma’am, we took your information from places where you shop – grocery and clothing stores – entered your information into the drawing database you are today’s lucky winner! So again, tell me how you are feeling knowing that you have $2.3 million and a pearl white Mercedes?”
“I don’t know,” I cackled. “I guess I could tell you for sure when I see a check.”
“Yes…but ma’am…you are today’s winner,” Mr. Whatever from Jamaica said. “How are you feeling?”
Ah ah. What was this preoccupation with my feelings? I grew suspicious. (Oddly, I had no reason to doubt him before.)
“Are you for real? Did my sister put you up to this?”
Mr. Whatever from Jamaica grew solemn. “Ma’am, I would not call you to joke or lie to you. You are today’s winner. How do you feel, knowing you’ve won?”
“Okay! Fine. I’ll be here at 3:30. If you’re for real, tell me: What’s my address?”
Herh! He hung up on me. Oh my God! Oh no! I had just blown my chance at collecting a $2.3 million check! I quickly dialed the number back, forgetting I had disabled international calling on my phone in 2010. Crap.
But this guy paa…who did he think he was dealing with? If I was a Johnny or Janet Just Come, he would have had my address, email, birthday, bank account number and last 4 digits of my social within minutes. But I have been in America too long o! I’m unswindle-able. That, coupled with being raised by a Master Swindler mother, has left me near impervious to the swindle game. No please, you can’t get me.
But for ALL my confidence in my Swindle Repellent abilities I slipped up somewhere along the line and I know exactly when and where it happened.
On a visit to my local health and nutrition store, I went to pick up some liquid B-12. I decided I wanted a different brand and did an exchange on the same visit. A middle-aged, pudgy white woman decorated in moonstones and 50 different piercings asked me to write my name and phone number on the top of the receipt. It was an odd request, but I did it anyway. Maybe this was some return procedure. Whatever. I even joked with her.
“Don’t go selling my number now,” I smiled.
She looked at me like a deer who had found itself ensnared in a bramble patch and said, “What? Oh no! This is going straight to the corporate office!”
2 weeks later, I started getting these weird calls. Humph.
The point of this whole story is this: Be on your guard. Don’t give anybody anything. If you have brown eyes, tell the enquirer that your eyes are blue. You can’t trust nobody out here these days…not even the old lady selling peppermint oil and pure honey sticks.
Are you a swindler? Do you have 419 tricks up your sleeve? Why don’t you confess your sins and your crimes here? We may judge you…but it won’t be anything less than you deserve.
Oh! And if you get a call from 876-505-4314, they probably don’t have a check for you. Just a friendly word of cautionary advise.