Christmas, for some a season of peace and good will, is for others an opportunity to rob and steal.
In Saturday's Washington Post, staff writer Chip Brown told us of a ruse used by burglars. A man who says he works at a nearby post office telephones the victim and tells him that a package for him has arrived in damaged condition. Will he please come by and inspect it right away?
The victim rushes off to find out what is in the package. As soon as he leaves his house, the burglar who phoned him breaks into the house and helps himself to as many valuables as he can carry.
The United States Postal Service has been trying to alert people to the fact that it delivers damaged packages and rarely calls addressees, so a phone call asking an addressee to come inspect a damaged package is almost always a ruse.
One who receives a call of this kind without prior mental preparation is likely to be victimized by it. A few moments spent in formulating a prudent course of action beforehand can save us thousands of dollars.
Now that I have had a chance to think it through, the following seems to me to be the best way to proceed:
If there is the slightest doubt in my mind about a call, I should try to verify it. If the caller has supplied me with a phone number, I should ignore it and look up the authentic number. I should call that number and ask for the name supplied to me. If it turns out that there really is a person with that name in the post office or bank or other agency supposedly involved in the matter, and if that person verifies in this second conversation what was said in the first, my suspicions would be allayed. However, if the phone call I make does not authenticate the phone call I received, my next call should probably be to the police. They could advise me what to do next.
To give them a chance to catch the burglar red-handed, the police might want me to leave my house and pretend I fell for the ruse. I would consider it my duty to cooperate, but I must confess I'd be a bit apprehensive about doing it.
The police are sometimes very busy. There are always fewer cops than robbers, yet emergency help is sometimes needed for people who are at that very moment being threatened with serious harm -- e.g.: a "woman screaming for help" call.
If somebody's life is in danger and a dispatcher has nobody nearby to send to the aid of the victim except detectives involved in a burglary stake-out, I would not criticize him for directing officers watching my house to abandon that assignment and go at once to the scene of the emergency.
The consequence, of course, would be that the burglar would be free to help himself to any of my possessions that appealed to him.
He would be disappointed with the slim pickings, and I would be disappointed to lose whatever he took, but we would both have to accept our setbacks philosophically. The world is filled with disappointments for cops, robbers, and all the rest of us. POSTSCRIPT
Caution should also be exercised in responding to phone calls from strangers who ask for our credit card numbers or our checking account numbers.
There is a vast difference between entrusting this information to a person you call and entrusting it to a stranger who has called you.
When you call a vendor of goods or services, you can be reasonably sure that the person who answers the phone will be the vendor or his authorized employee. When a stranger calls you, you can be sure of nothing.
I give no information to strangers who think they have a right to ask personal questions because they are "making a survey." OUR TOWN
District officials say the error rate in their published list of tax delinquencies is "only about 1 percent."
Yet when our reporters questioned some of the well-known people on the list, "many" insisted they had paid their taxes on time and that the District government was mistaken.
Apparently there is no end to this city's record-keeping problems. Once again, the chaotic state of our records is being blamed on attempts to computerize them, which is like blaming the patient's illness on the medicine prescribed for him. It may be time to begin asking who prescribed the medicine and who filled the prescription.