Saturday, May 06, 2006

I've grown crankier as I get older, and there are a lot of things that irritate me at 55 that I would have shrugged off at 18 or 25 or 30. One of these is bad telephone etiquette, and one of the worst sorts of bad telephone etiquette is the automatic dialer that calls you up and leaves a generic message. You get lots of these at election time, and it usually means that someone wants your vote, but isn't really interested in talking to you.

Even worse than that is the automatic dialer that calls you up and leaves a message that just orders you to call a particular number. No identification, no indication of what it's about or whether it's a call you really want or need to make, just a demand to call a number. Over the past few months, our home answering machine had intercepted many instances of an identical message telling us to call a particular number. Caller ID was no help, simply reading, "Private Caller." I always did what I always do with such messages...after all, that's why the answering machine has an "Erase" button. But Agnes was a bit concerned about why this particular message kept coming in over and over, and thought we should call the number and check it out. I thought it would be a waste of time, but agreed (it usually being easier to agree with her than not).

Finally one day this past week, I happened to be home when one of these calls came in. I noted the number and called it back. Instead of a person - or even a recording - identifying who I had reached, I heard, "All of our representatives are busy assisting other customers, please hold, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH...". I was ready to hang up right then, but suddenly there was a click on the line and a man came on and said abruptly, "What number are you calling from?"

I automatically answered with my number. The man then said, "Is this Bilbo in Springfield, Virginia?" By this time, my dander was up and I said, "Yes it is. And exactly who are you?" "This is George," he replied. "And from where are you calling, George?" I asked. "This is the BLAH, BLAH, BLAH company," he replied. "Are you selling something?" I asked. "No," he replied. "We are a collection agency."

As conversation stoppers go, that's a pretty good one. Although I happen to know that every one of my accounts is up to date, there was a part of the back of my brain that immediately panicked, and I cautiously said, "And what can I do for you?"

"Does So-and-So live at this residence?" George asked. I was dumfounded, because this was a person with a very unusual name that I'd never heard of in my life. I said as much to George, then asked what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question: "What makes you think that So-and-So lives here?" "I can't provide that information," George replied.

I was now officially upset, and reminded George that he - offering no identification and calling me out of the blue from a masked phone number - was expecting me to give him information about someone, but was unwilling to provide any information to me. For me, this was important...this could indicate that someone is using my address and phone number as part of an identity theft scam. But now, having gotten what he wanted, George simply said he'd take our number out of their database, deftly deflected my other questions, and broke the connection.

Call me cranky (and many people have), but I think this was not only impolite and subtly threatening, but also left me with an serious unanswered question that still nags. I suppose George is still out there, firing off his recorded messages and trying to track down So-and-So. But who is So-and-So, and why did George think he would be found somewhere in the vicinity of my telephone number? I guess I'll never know, and George isn't telling.

But George had better not call back looking for cooperation again unless he's willing to be up front with me and answer my questions.

Have a good weekend. And if your phone rings and the Caller ID says the person on the other end is "Private Caller," ignore it. It's probably George.

More thoughts later.


1 comment:

Jakej said...

Hey Bilbo!

Thanks for the info on the nature of these demanding calls. I've been ignoring one on our home phone, which we keep only to call 911 (so the fire department can find me lying on the floor tangled in my tie unable to say anything but "uuumphhh, uuuummmppph, aaargh.") Doesn't answer the conundrum whether I should pick it up or not, of course!