A Scammer Darkly

Do you receive those scam calls about consolidating student debt loan or extending your car’s warranty?

Wait, let me rephrase: HOW MANY of those scam calls do you receive daily?

Never took out student loans? Don’t own a car? Such minor details are barely a speed bump for these pros.

They will find you, and they will use that very particular set of skills they have acquired over a very long career on you.

When I was in middle school, I remember overhearing my father answer one of those calls on our landline (remember those?), pre-caller ID, so the caller’s identity was anyone’s guess. It was likely one of my friends–Nikki, Michelle, Andrew–but could have been a client calling my dad at home, or my sister phoning from her dorm room.

On this particular afternoon, it was some dude named Frank who asked if our address was 24 Spring Street (which, at the time, it was). My father, without missing a beat, replied, “Nope, this is 41 Main.”

Dad takes immense pride in his honesty and integrity, so this obvious fib struck me as odd, and amusing. He found his way of dealing with such calls, and straight-up lying was the strategy.

I have my own way, and it involves neither dishonesty nor avoidance.

Instead, I follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and LEAN IN.

This is a new approach, and it began recently when I received a text message from someone claiming to have found my lost cat.

When I saw that message, my face flushed and my ears buzzed. Could it be? The thought of a reunion with sweet Coco three weeks after she disappeared reignited a fading sense of hope.

That is, until I saw the follow up messages.

“I have sent you a 6 digit verify code..”

“If you are the real owner send me the code then I send you my location..”

Seriously?

Everything about the texts caused offense:

  • Attempts to prey on my emotions to gain access to…what, exactly? I didn’t check for any code, so I’m not sure whey they were trying to hack.
  • The underestimation of my intelligence
  • Assumption that I would acquiesce
  • The lack of proper grammar and punctuation

I thought of the New York Times story about Miriam Rodriguez, whose daughter Karen was kidnapped by members of the Zeta cartel in Mexico. Miriam relied on stakeouts, disguises, a handgun and vigilante justice to hunt down the kidnappers and try to find Karen.

I don’t purport to be anything like that badass heroine who ultimately gave her life to the cause; just that I thought of her in that moment and daydreamed for a moment of following in her footsteps.

Then, last week I received an unsolicited text about a potential job opportunity, in theory from Ingram Content Group, an actual company. He claims to have spotted my résumé on Ziprecruiter, where it is available. I hadn’t heard about jobs this way, but I’m also less tech-savvy than the average adolescent, and the initial message seemed professional and possibly legitimate.

The next one, however, piqued my suspicion. The clunky use of language is a jarring data point, and it gets my spidey senses going, even from legit recruiters.

Interview through WhatsApp? And no response when I ask for more details?

This is the third shady unsolicited text of this sort in a week. As if a year in a pandemic and constant state of low-level agitation wasn’t enough for everyone to endure, now we must battle schemers edging their way into our lives with bogus job offers in an impossible market and info about my lost cat who may in reality be dead.

For a hot minute my blood pressure spiked and a fusillade of F-bombs exploded from my mouth. The exasperated mantra, What is wrong with people?, skipped through my head on repeat.

Then, within the hour, I applied my daily yoga practice and Getting Unstuck meditations to the situation, reframed my thoughts around it, and landed on a solution that made me laugh out loud.

Nearly every day, I text the three mystery numbers a message of my own. Nothing offensive, angry, or threatening. Just questions about their day, their work, how the lost cat business is going. Things of that sort.

Just innocuous yet persistent messages like these.

So far, I haven’t received any responses, but I do hope I’m irritating them a little, or possibly softening them a bit. Either way, I’m on their radar and am now a cheerful dingleberry they can’t quite wipe away.

And that brings a wry smile to my pandemic-weary face.

When I shared this story with my father, his reaction surprised me. He laughed, hard, and then he said, wiping away amused tears, “I’m so incredibly proud of you, Astrid.”

I’m not entirely sure where the pride comes in, but I think it’s because of my reframing of the situation. He would likely be more vengeful, and for good reason, or avoidant, like when he lied about our home address.

My father has what he calls “the killer spirit”; I do not. My failure to inherit that instinct used to irk him, but over time I’ve seen that he admires my gentleness and willingness to turn around and playfully engage scammers rather than hate them or exact bloody revenge.

This light-hearted approach works for me.

Feel free to borrow this idea for the scammers in your own life. If you don’t have any, what kind of magical unicorn are you?

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