|‘Old’ the Phone, Another Scammer Is Calling As soon as I turned 70, offers rolled in for wheelchairs, cruises and cremation plans. |
March 4, 2019 6:09 p.m. ET
Photo: The Wall Street Journal
In T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” there is a sarcastic line: “Let me disclose the gifts reserved for old age.” The “gifts” Eliot mentions include “the cold friction of expiring sense” and “the rending pain of re-enactment / Of all that you have done, and been.” Eliot died before the advent of modern computer technology, so he did not experience another “gift” of old age: constant phone calls from mostly illegitimate businesses trying to sell you something.
After I turned 70 several years ago, these folks began calling me approximately eight times a day. I usually don’t pick up, but recently the caller ID has begun showing the name of a person or a well-known company. The other day I yelled to my wife: “Do you know someone named Daniel Lewis?” These are dishonest gimmicks meant to trick me into answering.
These callers—let’s call them scammers—mess up my day in two ways. First, when the phone rings I’m jarred out of whatever I’m thinking or doing—and, foolishly, rush to look at the caller ID. Then a few hours later I check for a voicemail and my day is disrupted a second time. If there is one, I listen to it. Why? Because a real person might have called while I was out, genuinely trying to get a hold of me and not just my wallet.
Roughly half the time the scammer leaves a message. Most are pitches for a medical device—braces for back pain, a wheelchair, a medical alert system. The soothing voice—always female—will often lie: “I am glad we met to discuss this.” Or: “You have already paid for this, so just press 1 on your phone.”
This is the dark side of capitalism—people trying to make money by taking advantage of someone old enough to suffer from cognitive decline. I’ve never fallen for one, but these con artists are still in business, so I can only assume that some people believe their schemes.
Phone calls from scammers are not the only gifts of old age. Every day I get brochures from cruise lines and fliers from retirement communities. At least twice a week I get offers from banks for reverse mortgages or from real estate agents to buy our house. All these are legitimate, I think, but they’re often annoying because they come in plain unmarked envelopes that are hand-addressed, so I think it’s a personal letter. Sometimes they are odd sales pitches too.
Last week I got an unusual flier. It said: “Free Lunch and Informational Seminar on the Benefits of Preplanning Your Cremation.” The lunch was at a local Italian restaurant. The thought of eating pasta and discussing cremation did not appeal to me. I also wondered why I need to preplan, as opposed to plan, my cremation.
I didn’t go. but I was curious about one of the topics that would be addressed at the lunch: “Travel & Relocation Protection Plan.” Does this mean that I can ensure that my ashes are scattered in a place that I am especially fond of? I was daydreaming about where I would like my ashes to end up when the phone rang again. I checked the caller ID. It said it was from a town in Texas that I had never heard of. I didn’t pick up.
Mr. Miller’s latest book is “Walking New York: Reflections of American Writers From Walt Whitman to Teju Cole.”