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Commentary: Dang robo calls and other scammers are for the birds

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William Carter, columnist

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

“Ring, ring,” rang our phone.

I eyed it, suspiciously, not wanting to pick up but knowing, deep in my soul, that I must.

Damn you, Pavlo. Damn you.

“Hello,” I say with a sigh, resigned to the beginning of the daily onslaught of unsolicited calls from telemarketers and outright thieves trying to rob me.

There are a few seconds of silence, then a mechanical click or two.

“There has been suspicious activity regarding your Social Security number,” a robot with an Eastern European accent informs me. “If you do not respond to this call, your Social Security number will be deactivated. Please press “1,” followed by your Social Security number. Failure to do so will result in a warrant for your arrest”.

“Oh, no, that’s terrible,” I reply, wearily, and then press “1” and nine random numbers.

“Thank you,” the robot says.

I hang up, feeling slightly guilty that I may now be responsible for some innocent citizen’s Social Security number being auctioned off on the dark web.  The feeling doesn’t last long, though, because the phone rings again and I answer it this time, too.

“Hello,” says a real, live lady-person when I answer. “I’m from the technical department at Microsoft, and our records indicate that you overpaid $299 on your latest repair bill, and I need your card number so we can credit your account.” 

“But I don’t have a computer,” I respond. I lied knowing full well she knows I’m lying.

“Huh? That’s not what our computer records indicate,” she says insistently, stressing the word “computer” as if invoking her fake “computer records” is akin to quoting the Bible.  

I’m pretty sure her “records” also indicate that I’m a senior citizen and, therefore, am more than likely terrified of and apt to believe anything regarding the scary and mysterious world of modern-day technology.  

So, I lie some more.

“I don’t have a credit card, and I don’t have a phone, either. So, I don’t even know how you’re calling me.”

“What?” I hear her say before I hang up, hoping she gets fired from her job of stealing money from gullible people.

I try to settle in for my afternoon nap — we seniors love our naps — knowing beyond doubt that any attempt to rest up before a late 5 p.m. supper, followed by falling asleep halfway through the 6 o’clock news before waking to go up to bed, will be thwarted by calls from a nice robot-lady named “Stacey,” who sometimes calls four or five times a day, wanting to sell me supplemental medical insurance, or from a heavily accented, scary person claiming in broken English to be from the IRS and threatening me with incarceration if I don’t send him $600 to settle a delinquent tax bill. 

It’s exhausting.

Of course, the phone rings again. And, of course, insanely, I answer.

Who knows? It might be one of my many sisters, or one of my five friends, just calling for a chat, or to check on my general health and well-being.

No, seriously, it could happen. In fact, it has a few times as late as five or six years ago.

“We’ve been urgently trying to reach you regarding the extended warranty on your vehicle!” says a breathless voice that is not recognizable to me as a friend or a relative. “If you fail to act now, you could be responsible for expensive vehicle repair bills! Do not allow your inaction to result in possible financial difficulties!”

I spit cuss words at the robot because I hate him. I hate him so much, as well as every other soulless, a-hole scam artist in the world who obviously never knew love as a child and whose conscience, along with whatever little bit of humanity they may have had, was snuffed out at an early age.

Disgusted, I gather up L.B. — our new puppy — and go outside to feed the birds (bird seed, not the puppy) before the phone can ring again.

It’s cold out, but not too much, and the sky is a cloudless blue.  

I breathe deep a few times to clear my head and begin to fill the feeders. I can hear birds piping away at me from the trees, chastising me a bit and urging me to hurry.

Finished, I sit on the back steps and watch L.B. bound around the yard. His tongue is out and his ears flop and his tail wags furiously as he futilely tries to befriend the fat squirrels, who ignore him.  

Bright red cardinals show up, and then a mob of blue jays, followed by a family of sparrows. A woodpecker claims the suet feeder as his own.

I sit for awhile, wishing I’d brought a cup of coffee with me, and marvel at the birds and the blue sky and how good it feels just to breathe in cold air.  

I think about how things could always be this simple if only I had whatever it is that it takes to just break away from all of the stresses of modern-day life, to break away from telemarketers and computers and traffic and all those other anxiety-inducing things we can’t seem to escape no matter how hard we try.

Faintly, I hear the phone ring from inside, but I ignore it and go back to my reverie.  

I notice one of the sparrows move away from the others and hop over toward me. It flutters onto the bottom step, only a foot or so away. I hold my breath. It cocks its head and studies me.

“Hi, little bird,” I murmur, not wanting to scare it away.

“Didn’t you hear the phone?” it says. “We’ve been urgently trying to reach you about the extended warranty on your vehicle.”

I give up.

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

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