Playing games with telemarketers

Carolyn J. Rose
Oregon writer
Deadly Duo Duh Blog

Almost every evening the phone rings and the screen display indicates a number I don’t recognize. Many of my friends let calls like that go to voice mail, but I’m from an age when the phone didn’t ring often, and a call might mean a shift in the status quo—bad news about an ailing family member or, on the other end of the spectrum, an invitation to a movie or a party. It’s hard to buck that history, so I pick up the receiver and utter a tentative “Hello.”

Often there’s a pause. Sometimes, I hear an electronic whisper like wind on the prairie. Then there might be a few distant clicks and finally a voice, frequently mumbling and sometimes obscured by a heavy accent.

If that voice refers to me as Mrs. Rose or Mrs. Nettleton, I know for sure this is a stranger. I use Ms. And I didn’t take my husband’s name. Friends and relatives know that.

So now I have several choices: hang up, ask the person to correct their records, listen to their spiel, or jerk their chains.

I take choice #4.

“Mrs. Rose was my mother,” I say. Or, “Mrs. Nettleton was my mother-in-law.” Then I bring out the big gun. I use the word “dead.”

This results in another long pause, sometimes followed by: “Who is this?” My reply is, “Who is this?” or “Why do you want to know?”

This usually leads to another long pause while the person at the other end searches their script for a response. Sometimes I get a rushed explanation or a mumbled apology. Often my statement is enough to make them hang up.

If I’ve driven them to disconnect, I feel a spurt of gleeful joy. That’s often followed by a wave of guilt.

The person on the other end of that call was trying to do a job—maybe a job needed to feed a family. The call to my number might have been critical to whether a quota was made and a paycheck delivered. Whether someone got a meal or got evicted.

I feel grateful that I was on the receiving end and not the one in a boiler room with hundreds of calls to be made and a strict schedule to keep.

And I’m grateful that I’m able to realize I have choices when the phone rings, that I have some wits about me and am not likely—at least not yet—to be sucked into a financial commitment or a scam.

As long as I’m able to mess with their minds, they’re less likely to be able to mess with mine.

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