It appears we are a wealthy and gullible nation. And those bent on exploiting our gullibility in order to get sizable chunks of that wealth are still doing a land-office business despite our rising rancor and some global law enforcement.
Having been around a little and come up in the analog world we have seen some world-class swindlers at work, effectively selling all kinds of worthless goods and services to people they convince need them. We are reminded of the San Francisco man who paid $500 for a then state-of-the-art plasma television that turned out to be nothing more than an overly taped box with two bricks inside.
That kind of deft con, once relegated to street corners or your seedier bars, has of course moved onto the internet and our phone lines, with all sorts of fast-talking callers interrupting our dinners to tell us we need to support law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, wounded war veterans or – our current fave – Dave the Gutter Guy (more on him later).
There’s the “Your Nephew Is In Jail” Con; the “I’m With The IRS And You Need To Pay Me” Con; variations of the old “Bait And Switch,” the “Lotto Scam,” and that old standby: “The Nigerian Prince.”
The wary among us recognize these cons for what they are and most of us hang up – or spend a little time torturing a former motorized rickshaw driver trying to convince us he’s an IRS agent with vague promises of a wire transfer – before we hang up.
It has gotten to be a kind of sport for some, dueling nightly with persistent callers armed with AARP phone numbers and some personal information determined to separate us from our money. Others, unfortunately, fall for it. And pay. And pay some more. And that is what keeps these people in business.
There have been some successes. International police have cracked down on boiler room phone operations scattered across Third World countries (and some here at home) who, for the cost of some phone equipment and lists of potential suckers purchased off the Dark Web, seem intent on badgering us into submission until we pay them something.
Robo-Callers like Dave the Gutter Guy call three, four, as much as six times a night – asking us to “Press 1” for additional information (doing so takes us to another “sales professional” usually hawking some other kind of useless service, sales offer, or scam.)
And while, yes, it can be fun pretending to be your hard-of-hearing but well-funded and IRS-fearing parent to bounce some hardworking boiler room scammer from one Western Union office to another in Mumbai or Florida or the Dominican Republic – after a while you realize there are more of them than there are of you and you just want it to end.
Right now, despite arrests and some successful prosecutions on the world scene, they are winning – separating one in every 10 American adults from at least $430 last year for a grand total of about $9.5 billion overall. That’s an increase of 56 percent from 2015.
Scammers are also getting more creative, using caller IDs that appear to be legitimate, such as showing the victim’s bank as the caller, in a scam tactic called “social engineering.” Another common scam: Callers posing as heating or electric companies – like Dave the Gutter Guy. That type of scam spiked 109 percent between 2015 and 2016 – with most of those calls coming to our house, apparently.
Residents of the 24/680, many of them elderly and unsuspecting, have sent tens of thousands of dollars to untraceable locations around the globe in kind-hearted efforts to get “Little Jimmy” out of jail in the Philippines or to help people “hurt by the hurricane in Puerto Rico.” And, of course, that money is gone forever once it has been sent.
So, some words of wisdom to our neighbors – don’t be a sucker. And if you happen to know where Dave the Gutter Guy lives, do give us a call. We’d like to have a chat with him.