• Carmen Marie Fabio

Don't call me

My already frazzled mood as I was running out the door – late but still in time to hear my land-line phone ring – wasn't improved when my 'Hello?' was met with dead air before the ultimate hang-up. I stubbornly called the number on the call display back and when that rang unanswered, I had my son Google the number.

“It's for a Zellers Distribution Centre,” he said.

“They don't even exist anymore,” I said, reading online comments of a number of people expressing frustration from the same experience, some describing whoever was now using the number as, at best, inept telemarketers, and at worst, scammers.

While telephones and other means of instant communication are ubiquitous and almost universally accessible, the criminal element has kept up with changes in technology though their methods are sometimes laughably amateur.

A call from 'unknown number' a couple of years ago had the gentleman offering to sell me something or other that would save me up to 35 per cent on my electricity bill, its purchase price easily paying for itself with significant savings. Crunching the numbers he spouted, I pointed out it would actually cost me more than I was currently paying.

He blinked – I could hear it.

I told him that before he tried to scam people, he might want to make himself aware of the actual prices of electric utilities across the country. He didn't even thank me before he hung up.

Another caller with a heavy East Asian accent, named 'Mike Wilson' seemed to be expressing genuine concern that my McAfee Antivirus software had malfunctioned and if I would just grant him access to my computer, he'd make it all better.

“Where are you calling from?” I asked him. “Toronto,” he answered.

“What time is it in Toronto right now?” I asked.

There was a pause (blinking, yup) before he replied, “What kind of question is that?” as I inadvertently snorted.

I've already warned my mom about the 'Grandparent Scam' where the elderly are targets of fraudsters who phone claiming to be their grandson, saying they've been in an accident or just been arrested and in desperate need of bail money. I assured her that if my boys ever got arrested, I'd kill them long before they had a chance to ask anyone for money.

My favourite scammer was 'Alex' from Microsoft, insisting my computer was infected and that a series of keyboard strokes on my end would allow him to fix it.

Having just popped some bread in the toaster for my breakfast, I played along with his instructions, intentionally misinterpreting them.

Alex was either really gullible or really stubborn, as he patiently coached me through myriad attempts to log on as I ate my toast and peanut butter and drank my tea while turning the pages of my Montreal Gazette.

After almost half an hour knowing I had to get to the office, Alex's perseverance paid off.

“I'm getting a message on the screen,” I told him.

“What does it say?” he asked.

“Do you have a pencil? Write this down... F-U-C...”

I got as far as the first 'F' in 'Off' before he hung up on me.

If I'm going to be entirely honest, the reason I was so annoyed I never connected with the Zellers caller is that they didn't even give me a chance to mess with them.

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