I pressed 1, then told the man on the other end of the line that I was a journalist. I told him I write about scams for The Washington Post and hoped he would email me when he got off work.
This is my practice with every scammer who calls. Most hang up long before I reach this point, but this guy stayed on the line, insisting at first that he was located in Baltimore.
“What’s the weather like in Baltimore?” I asked, trying to catch him out.
“Sir,” he said with some irritation, “it is easy to digitally answer such questions. I can find this information on the Web.”
True enough, I confessed sheepishly.
But this seemed to break the ice, and for the next 10 minutes we talked about telephone scams. The man — “My official name is ‘Sam Johnson,’ ” he said in an Indian accent — wouldn’t share specifics of whatever scam he was working, but he agreed scams were a problem. He blamed the scammed.
Too many people, he said, believe they can get money instantly, without doing anything. “That’s a bad thing,” he said. “That’s logically not true. They should work hard for that.”
He continued: “Think in a logical way. If someone says you have won a $10,000 lottery and you have to pay $1,000 to get the money, would you believe it?”
“How can we protect people?” I asked.
“Awareness is the only thing that can help in this matter,” he said. As long as people are willing to be scammed, they will be.
A few days before “Sam Johnson” called, a guy with an American accent called to offer me health insurance. I gave him my standard spiel — I’m a journalist — and he said: “I wish you would write about us. It’d be great for business.”
Then he hung up.
A week before that, I got a call from someone who said he was from Pepco and told me I had overpaid my electricity bill.
“You’re from Pepco?” I asked.
Oh yes, he said. Then he rattled off my name and my address, which was a little disconcerting. And then he hung up.
Pepco said it couldn’t be sure who called me. It may have been a scammer or it may have been a third-party energy provider. Either way, a spokeswoman said, it is concerning that the caller claimed to be from the company.
“Pepco is continuing to see an alarming upwards trend in reports from small businesses and residential customers of scam artists claiming to be a Pepco representative,” Christina Y. Harper said in an email.
I don’t know what my guy was up to, but remember: Pepco customers will receive multiple shut-off notifications, not a single phone call an hour before disconnection. And Pepco will never ask a customer with a past-due balance to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.
If you’re uneasy, hang up and call the electric company.
By the way, Nov. 20 was Utility Scam Awareness Day. How did you celebrate?
Go back to Annandale
I finally finished the first season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime. It’s your basic escapist fare, though as some of it is set in the D.C. area I was on the lookout for mistakes.
I’m not sure I believe an analyst would really ride a bicycle to CIA HQ in Langley, as John Krasinski does in the titular role (Jack Ryan, not Tom Clancy), but what really left me scratching my head was a graphic on the screen that identified an agency safe house as being in “Annandale, Maryland.”
Really? Not Annandale, Virginia?
“Annandale” does show up on Google maps in Howard County. I called a house there, and the man who answered said it’s the name of a 1980s development.
So you wouldn’t tell someone you live in “Annandale”?
“You could,” he said, “but nobody would know what you were talking about.”
For a nominal fee, I will vet Hollywood scripts for such errors.
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