Beware the Call From the Sheriff’s Department
by Burton S. Blumert by Burton S. Blumert
"Sgt. Preston from the Sheriff’s Department on line 4 for Blumert," my secretary trilled. I’d never heard her page me with such joy.
What could they possibly want?
It’s folk lore that your entire life flashes before you when faced with imminent death. Getting a call from the sheriff’s department isn’t quite that serious, but my brain conjured up every horrible reason why they wanted me:
Could it be that parking ticket I got in Las Vegas in 1991 that was “lost” and never paid?
No, there is a statute of limitations on old parking tickets and they must have known that I lost $800 on that trip. Anyway, Las Vegas would never use the sheriff’s department to collect a debt.
Oh Lord, now I know, it was the Gore Vidal speech I attended in San Francisco last year. The creep next to me was surely CIA and, like a dummy, I spent the entire evening establishing my anti-war credentials.
He still would never have remembered me, but "old swifty" Blumert made sure to give him a business card.
No, this is still America. They don’t drag you away because you listened to a speech and tried to sell a gold coin to a CIA agent. Not yet.
"Face it, Blumert," I said to myself. "You know damn well why they want you. It’s because of LRC and those ridiculous articles you write attacking doctors, Rudy, and almost every sacred aspect of contemporary American culture. Well, you’ve finally gone too far and now they’re coming to get you."
That’s ridiculous. Why would they want me? I’m too much trouble. I need a nap every afternoon, and at 3:00 PM there’s a chat group on line that expects to hear from the "Freedom Stud." They could never take me away from all that.
This was false bravado. I was panicked. My fingers quivered as I grasped the phone.
BLUMERT: "Sgt. Preston, I would like to serve my time in the federal prison near Palm Springs. Do you know if an inmate can have a low-carb menu? And like Martha, I’d like to start this Monday and get it over with."
SGT. PRESTON: "Gee, Mr. Blumert, as far as I know the food is better in San Quentin, but the reason I’m calling is to see if we can count on you for 4 tickets for the Sheriff’s Department Annual Square Dance. Can I stop by and pick up a $100 check right now?"
BLUMERT: "Who is this? Sgt, Preston? You sound like a child. In fact, you sound like my paper boy, Billy Preston."
SGT. PRESTON: "It’s me, Billy. I started on the phones as a lowly Officer on Thursday and I got my Sgt’s stripes yesterday when I sold 400 tickets to the Square Dance.
"It’s amazing how frightened people are when I call and how easy it is to sell them tickets. A few more sales and I’ll be up for Lieutenant.
“When can I come by to pick up a check?
BLUMERT: "Billy, I’ll take 8 tickets if you promise not to mention any of this to my wife when you deliver the paper tomorrow morning."
I grind my teeth when I take a call from a tele-marketing "slickster." I suppose they have a place in this world and I oppose any government restrictions on their activities (unless they’re outright crooks). But they sure get under my skin.
On most occasions I won’t take their calls. But sometimes I get trapped and I’ll decide to challenge them — you never win. (See Billy Preston above.) After all, they have a wealth of experience in overcoming the lame protests from their phone victims. The longer the conversation, the weaker my resolve, so I’ve devised an exit strategy.
It goes something like this: "My wife won’t let me talk to you anymore."
It almost always works. Either they have a wife like that themselves, or they feel so much sympathy that they click off, leaving me to my miseries.
In the old days setting up a "boiler room" to sell securities, collectibles, swamp land, or "worthy causes" was expensive and time consuming.
Obtaining "hard-lined" phone equipment and getting on line was a major project. The phone companies, anxious for new business, generally managed to push the order along, while remaining oblivious to the true activities of the "new customer."
Next, the "boiler-room" needed people to man the phones. Rounding up an experienced team of "tele-marketers" wasn’t easy. It often meant scouring cheap hotels and other haunts of the "specialty salesman."
They had to get the word out that "here was a new pitch to separate folks from their money." The salesmen came from all points, answering the siren’s call.
Things are different now.
Technology has altered the world of the tele-marketing scam. No "boiler room" needed, no phone banks necessary. The tele-marketing enterprise can be reduced to a series of $49 cell phones, located anywhere and changed as frequently as underwear.
The cell phone is the magic key into the land of limitless victims.
The tele-marketing salesman can be operating from Calcutta, or even from prison.
There may be legitimate tele-marketing operations, but how does the consumer know the difference? I’d like to believe that the "market" will weed out the bad apples.
Meanwhile, it’s prudent to avoid ALL tele-marketers, but if one of these phone slicksters gets you, don’t feel too stupid. It happens to the best of us.
By the way, can I interest you in some tickets to the Sheriff’s Square Dance?