When my phone rang a couple of weeks ago I glanced at Caller ID to avoid predictable requests for my generosity. I’m too polite to turn people down without explanation, which wastes my time and theirs. Sometimes they are so persuasive, I’m sorry I answered. The screen announced a caller with a “Private number” so I answered the call. A recorded Asian voice introduced himself as “Stephen Wright,” immediately arousing my suspicion. In London some of my friends have been Asians but they have names like Jamaal, Rasik and Abdul, nary a one is called Stephen, let alone Wright. The surname could have come from his father but the odds are, with an accent that strong, Daddy wasn’t English.
Indian call centers are so widely used in England that I’m accustomed to such guys. A lot of banking and other industries outsource their telephone services to Indian call centers. It’s one of India’s fastest growing employment opportunities. One young man who had introduced himself as John Brown endearingly admitted when I nudged him during a lengthy conversation about something legitimate, that his name was really Ikram, but we enjoyed a cordial exchange and parted friends.
Stephen told me to call the number he dictated, for my own protection, with a barely intelligible explanation that I am under investigation and subject to prosecution. (I’ve lost some of my innocence in the nine years I’ve lived in America. I’d never heard of identity theft before 2005.) I couldn’t quite grasp what I’d done wrong to deserve investigation, but I’ve lived a life blameless enough for a clear conscience (at least nothing actionable), so I put the phone down calmly and ignored him.
He called twice more the next day, leaving a message each time to call him before I am prosecuted. Gradually I realized that according to Stephen the IRS is after me for unpaid taxes. I remained calm, if annoyed by his insistence, because I know full well I owe nothing to the IRS to whom I submit my tax accounts regularly as a good woman should. And they are welcome to approach me direct.
Over the next few days I started to eye the caller ID so I wouldn’t become embroiled in discussion. I almost failed to respond to my son in Ireland calling with a similar Private Number display. He is getting used to me barking “Yes?” down the phone with a gruff aggressive edge. “Hallo Mum,” is answered cheerily, “Oh, hallo darling, I thought it was someone trying to sell me something!” At least a dozen charities think I am Mrs. Moneybags waiting for an opportunity to support their cause.
I used to be less canny. One month I was asked to support Iraq Veterans in their recovery twice in one month. “That’s funny,” I thought, “I could have sworn I sent them a check but I’m getting so forgetful,” so I sent them another. I didn’t realize until I checked my bank statement that there were two separate veteran charities and I was being more generous than was good for me. I’m getting hardened to the idea that the government should be taking care of them, not me.
When approached for support by cancer charities, we all think “Thank goodness I’m spared,” and I was supportive until I discovered that members of one family were collecting money through various charities for cancer research, and pocketing over 80% of the money. At least two of these named charities had some of my hard earned cash, as well as nice houses and smart cars. So these days I limit my support because I hate to be scammed, to a couple of charities I believe are genuine. No child should be obliged to go through life with an operable cleft palate, and I used to fundraise for villages to house orphaned and abandoned children.
The next time I recognized Stephen’s telephone number I picked up the receiver, ready to give him an earful. A live American woman’s voice gave the same spiel about protecting me from the IRS’s imminent move to prosecute me. Aha, I thought, they are getting wise to skepticism in the face of an Asian accent (which is tough I know on innocent Asian immigrants, but all in a day’s work to a guy in Calcutta).
This time I said “You don’t really think I was born yesterday, do you?” and put the phone down without further discussion.
They’ve stopped calling and my son is proud of me.