Sunday, August 1, 2010


Perhaps you have heard of the scam when someone calls up and says, “Grandma? Hi, it’s your grandson. Hey, I’m in a bit of trouble and was hoping you could wire me some money.”

Grandma is not going to turn down such a heartfelt entreaty. Grandpa might, but that’s why the caller never asks for Grandpa. He’s a grouch, and barely says hello when the grandkids come for a visit, which they do with decreasing frequency because they are so busy with their friends and their jobs and their electronic doohickeys. Grandma, though, always has a smile and a welcome hug, and without question will hustle down to Western Union at the merest hint of trouble, ready and willing to empty her bank account.

Unless she asks a few questions. Where are you? What happened? Enough questions that the caller mysteriously hangs up. The grandma who survives this scam is one with the proper amount of skepticism.

Those who prey on the older generations used to do it door to door, convincing them to agree to unneeded roof repairs or signing for unsavory home equity loans or purchasing Fuller brushes even though the bathroom cabinet was clogged with plenty already. I used to think such victims ought to be a little wiser, and perhaps bore a bit of the blame.

Then I grew old and became wary of all the smooth-talking youngsters at car dealerships and blood donation centers and bank teller windows. Each one meaning to cheat me out of what was rightfully mine. The scams were no longer so unbelievable.

And then one of these scalawags called my mom.

I thought the Grandma Scam almost sounded too foolish to exist. Who would waste their time doing this as a job? Who would fall for it? My mom proved that it actually did exist.

At the time my son was traveling out of state. We don’t know how the caller knew my mom was a grandmother (hey, AARP . . . are you selling your membership lists to Canadian con artists?) but there was no chance that this particular teenaged boy was out of the country on his own and needed thousands of dollars sent immediately.

One or two questions and the rip-off fell apart. Simply asking, “What do you want?” prompted the guy to hang up, likely to call the next number on his list.

My mom is a scam ninja, ready to karate chop any swindler who tries to take advantage of her. She isn’t going to fall for such malarkey, and for that I am thankful. (I’m also thankful I was able to determine that it actually wasn’t my son calling and trying to pad his woefully thin bank account.) My mom will not suffer fools . . . well, none other than me. She has to put up with me, though, because I’m her little boy! And I’ve got a birth certificate to prove it.

I don’t know what kind of jackass considers such dishonest work a good career move. Mom reports that there was the telltale pause of the telemarketing call when she first said, “Hello,” when you know someone is just working their way down a list of phone numbers.

And they wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work. Like new salesmen are taught, you’ve got to be told “no” seven times before you walk away. The circulars in your mailbox are sent to tens of thousands of citizens in the hope that a tiny percentage will actually shop because of them.

As long as one grandma somewhere in this country will wire five thousand dollars to some phony grandkid, they’ll keep calling. Even the less offensive phone calls, the ones that aren’t out-and-out scams, are kept alive by a few people who won’t just hang up.

As long as a few people are willing to participate in opinion polls on politics, television, or the economic condition of the country, they’ll keep calling. As long as kind but misguided citizens purchase candy and magazine subscriptions from strangers on their front porch in an effort to supposedly help keep kids out of gangs, they’ll continue to knock.

As long as even a few folks contribute to police benevolent societies and Save the [enter favorite animal here], they’ll keep calling.

Some of you are taking the time to respond to those callers on the telephone even though their sole purpose is to separate you from your money. You try to say “no, thank you” but you eventually give in. I can only assume this because I keep getting the same damned calls. I’d like it to stop, but I can’t do it without your help.

Instead of saying “no, thanks” and not hanging up, please say, “get a real job.” And hang up.

I guarantee if it is actually your grandson, he will call back, and he will forgive you.

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