Jessie Raymond: Telemarketers are working overtime

You know who I’m really sick of?
Heather from Card Services. She calls a lot.
I’ve never heard Heather’s spiel because I hang up as soon as her cheerful voice pops into my ear. I know Heather’s not real, because she sounds exactly the same every time she calls, and because people who work for real credit card companies don’t typically act like you’re the best thing to happen to them all day.
Heather’s not the only phony who calls us. I’ve become an expert at identifying that split second between the time I pick up the phone and the time someone first speaks. If the silence lasts just a hair too long, I hang up; I know the next thing I hear will be a sales pitch.
We get most of these calls on our landline. Younger readers are probably thinking, “You have a landline? Wow. I didn’t know those were still a thing.” Yes, we do. And yes, they are.
But I’m not sure why we keep it. Hardly anyone talks on the phone anymore. And a landline is inconvenient; it can’t leave the house. Worst of all, it doesn’t even do the primary thing today’s phones are designed for: taking pictures.
Our landline phone rings numerous times a day, but only a small percentage of calls are from real people, and only a small percentage of those are from people who aren’t trying to hack into our bank accounts or tell us we’ve won a cruise.
For that reason, my phone manner on the landline has become rather brusque. So if you call but hesitate too long before identifying yourself, don’t be surprised if I hang up. And even if you speak immediately, don’t sound too chipper, or I’ll assume you’re a bot and end the call.
For a while I tried being direct, answering the phone with “What do you want?” This offended genuine humans but wasn’t rude enough to deter scammers. So now I tend to answer with a preemptive “Leave us alone!” or “Stop calling this number or I will report you to the authorities.” Sure, I’ve lost a few friends this way, but think of how many telemarketers and criminals I’ve avoided.
A new — and surely illegal — tactic some of these schemers have adopted is using a local name and number on the caller ID. Thinking you’re getting a real call, you pick up, only to find that it’s either a recording of a perky lady (is that you, Heather?) who pretends to be having a conversation with you but isn’t, or a man for whom English is not a first language who insists that your PC is infected with a virus, even if you own a Mac.
All of these calls are annoying, but we had a real humdinger the other night. The same number kept calling every 10 minutes. The caller ID, not unusually, showed a local number. But this was like something out of a horror movie: The number on the caller ID … was ours.
I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out who was actually calling. I knew it was either a telemarketer or — somewhat less likely but still possible — a curse that would kill me if I listened to it.
In a panic, I blocked the call using the menu on the phone. But even then, it would still ring once. Every 10 minutes.
We got twitchy.
Finally, I called our phone service provider. I spent 37 minutes on the phone with someone impersonating Latka Gravas from “Taxi” who, through a convoluted and comical misunderstanding, eventually managed not to block our number from calling itself but, instead, to disable call blocking altogether.
Luckily, while on hold for the eighth time, I found instructions online and was able to fix the problem myself in seconds.
The next day at work, I told a friend about how we had been bombarded by calls from what purported to be our own number.
She went pale.
“The calls,” she said in a dramatic whisper, “are coming from inside the house.” (She gets a little weird around Halloween.)
Still, it creeped me out. I’ve been on edge ever since.
Now any time I pull back the shower curtain or open a closet door, I brace myself. I fully expect to come face-to-face with a blank-stared but smiling young woman who says, “Hello! This is Heather from Card Services,” and then tries to sell me something.
Worst horror movie ever.

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