The first time you get a telemarketer on your cellphone you feel like your family pet just bit you. Trust has been breached, perhaps for good.
Oh, you expected that from the wall phone, but not your smartphone. Then you consider what this means: If some sports-betting website can find your number, it's only a matter of time before SHE finds you.
Rachel, from CARD SERVICES.
You know her. She's calling to tell you that there's not a problem with your card, which instantly floods you with relief. Then the spiel: Turns out this is your final opportunity to give your Social Security number to a stranger in a boiler-room operation somewhere and sign up for a card with the low low introductory rate of 48 percent interest compounded every nanosecond.
You wonder who Rachel really is, whether a little part of her soul died as she read the text, knowing it would be used to dupe the gullible, frighten the elderly and wake babies who'd just gone down for a nap. If ever we find out who Rachel was, I think we're entitled to drive by her house at 3 a.m. and blow air horns and shout "THERE'S NOT A PROBLEM WITH YOUR CARD, EITHER."
We know not to answer the phone when Caller ID says "Card Services," which is why the fiends who run these things have a new scheme, cooked up in labs where they use child labor to test everything on animals, just to add that extra zesty touch of evil.
They're using fake humans to masquerade as real ones who actually live in the Twin Cities.
The other day I got a call from a local area code, with a name I didn't recognize. Well, could be a stranger calling to say, "I just read your column, and I'd disagree with your point if I could've discerned what it was." Or a wrong number, in which case I'd get karma points by asking which number they meant to call, then saying "no problem!" with a cheery voice, because whenever you call the wrong number you feel like you drooled on someone's sleeve.
"Hello," said a fellow. "How are you?" His delivery was stilted and distant, as if he'd been hypnotized to speak like someone whose nose was full of novocaine.
"Is this a robot?" I replied.
"I'm glad to hear it. I called to tell you about a great deal on auto ins-"
I hung up.
The Robot Who Pauses wasn't new; a few weeks before I had gotten one, and hung up as soon as I realized it was a robot whose response was triggered when I spoke. The phone rang a second later, and presuming it to be the same caller, I picked up and said "Bliggity blobbity boogity baggity," after which there was a pause — shall we say a stunned pause — and then a nice lady said she was calling from my daughter's school with some information about a PTA meeting.
What do you say then? "Sorry, I thought you were Rachel's Robot Cousin" just makes it worse.
After the last call, I looked at Caller ID again. Local number, a person's name. I plugged it into Google. Hello: I got an address for a guy in Arden Hills with a picture of his house on Google Street View.
I squinted, hoping I'd see Rachel on the front porch with horns and a tail, drowning kittens in a pail. No, just an ordinary house.
So I called the number. The real phone-company operator recording, who I like to think of as Rachel's older sister who totally disapproves of what her sibling does for a living, said "The line is busy." The way she says it makes you think she'd use the exact same inflection to say "The dog is hungry" and "The sun is exploding."
It's been busy ever since.
What can you do? Dan Hendrickson, communications director for the local Better Business Bureau, says, "Hang up, and don't do anything they tell you do." If you're on a do-not-call list — which I should note appears to be as useful as a piece of paper used as a shield against a rocket-propelled grenade — keep track of the calls, because you can sue them if you're so inclined. If you can find them.
A year ago the government asked for telemarketer solutions and offered a cash prize. Apparently "read the innumerable detailed complaints and use your authority to shut them down" is beyond their powers. The best idea: You could punch a three-digit code that automatically added 99 cents to the caller's bill. I thought it was a great idea.
Now I think of a guy in Arden Hills opening up his phone bill, noting that he owes $47,934, and thinking his daughter called the 1-900 Boy-Band Fan Club Update line every night, unaware it involved long-distance charges to Mongolia, and fell asleep without hanging up.
Spoofing real numbers: Beware. It could happen to anyone. If you get a call from me, I apologize in advance.
But if you do need auto insurance, and they quote you a great rate, well, sure. You're welcome!