As I was sewing this evening and thinking through the second chapter of the phony IRS phone call story, I realized that while some people commented on Facebook and in the comments below that they have also been targets for phone crimes and also sniffed out the predators, other folks — maybe a large number — were likely silent because they have actually been victimized by such a scam.
If that is you, I want to tell you that I am very, very sorry that happened to you. You are not alone and you are not a fool.
Well, maybe you are, and that’s your business. But if you got a call last year from the IRS — I keep typing “IRA” which is not the same — and you didn’t know that you were being lied to and therefore sent money, you were the victim of a crime and it doesn’t matter if you’re a fool or not: that stinks and I’m sorry. Folks will say oh, you should’ve double-checked the source, gotten a second opinion, etc., etc. and those people have never made any mistakes or been too innocent ever in life, ever, so you know, they can say that.
I’m kidding. I’m sorry you were robbed.
Having said that, just as it’s important for me to watch my purse on the train and not wear headphones when I’m walking in the city at night, it’s important for you/us to exercise caution when sending large sums of money to anyone: the real IRS, the fake IRS, televangelists (just no), politicians, ne’er-do-well cousins, etc. Got it?
Okay, back to the story.
I had the post-it with the scammer’s number on it. I decided to call and do it when Mom and Mark had left the house. Only Scrabble the dog would hear what I planned to say to the person on the other end of the line, which was smart; my intention was to say the foulest words ever uttered by a human being. And, like several people who shared their story, my strategy was to call and fake the person out for long enough to sucker him — it’s always a him — right back, even for a moment.
I used my computer/gmail phone line so they couldn’t trace the number.
“Hello, thank you for calling the IRS. What number are you calling from, please?”
As if the IRS would a) pick up and b) say thank you. And how could I tell that I was hearing not a busy phone center but a recording of a busy phone center playing in the background? Because it was obvious.
“Hi, oh, hi. Um…142,” I began, literally just saying random numbers while affecting a baffled, frightened, scared-lil-ol-me voice. “802-2152. I hope you can find me in the system, I’m really concerned about a call I got!”
Type, type on the other end. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t find you in the system. Can you repeat that number, please?”
“923, 823-9172?” <– psst: different numbers.
There was a pause. “I’m sorry, ma’am I —”
Now, I think it’s obvious that I enjoy words, my friends. Old ones, new ones, common ones, rare ones. You don’t know that I like blue ones because I choose not to use them here. But I like blue words juuuust fine when they’re called for. How much I like them is evidenced by what I said to the thief that day on the phone. The words I selected from my brain were so foul, so bitter and raw, I impressed myself. And I can’t even hint at how bad the words were because they were so bad, as they spewed from my mouth I wondered if “blue lightning” was blue because it struck down people who said the bluest of words. Like me. It was in the combinations that the magic really happened.
And that’s the coda to the story, actually:
My mom takes what she calls “Old Lady” yoga several times a week at the yoga studio in town. After class on Tuesdays (?) the gals go have coffee at the coffee shop nearby. Mom asked me to meet her there after class. As soon as I slammed the phone down on the counter — cordless phones don’t slam down with the same satisfaction as rotary ones do in the movies but it was still pretty good — I realized it was time to go to the coffee shop to meet the ladies.
I came in all steamed up from my call. When the ten or so women turned to me, smiling, happy to see me there in Winterset, they asked how I was and I was too flustered to say anything but, “Well, I just called back a phone scammer!”
They leaned in and cupped their hands around their mochas, pressing me to tell what happened.
“No, no, no,” I said, and I meant it. “I can’t say what I said. I mean, it’s bad. It’s so bad, I’m still ashamed of myself.”
They all — and I mean all ten or twelve of them — shook their heads and shrugged. One of these amazing, sweet, mild-mannered (?) ladies said, “Honey, I raised three boys. You can’t shock me.”
Another said, “Oh, I’ve heard it all. All of it. Come, on! What’dya say??”
They were all staring at me. I got another minute of confirmation and told them, in one breath, what I had told that person to do, where I told him to go, how, and when, and how happy I’d be when he got there. Basically.
The women all nodded. “Good for you,” one said. Another said, “Oh, I’ve heard worse.”
I took tips for next time.