A COMPLEX SCAM WELL EXECUTED
My wife is not upset; she accepts idiocy with a noble indifference. I am furious however, because I have never
really learned to embrace idiocy. So, I become childish and I stomp around and I reiterate the details a
thousand times loudly while she looks at me with loving kindness, from the couch, book in hand, waiting for me
to recover my senses. The dog doesn’t take it so well. He jumps down from the chair he’s curled up in, and,
eye on me every trembling step of the way, scampers to a safe position behind the couch. This is a indicator
to me that maybe I should adjust my volume downward so that only those on our side of Kansas can hear me
clearly. But let me ask you this: How many of you know your mother's social security number?
And let me ask you this too: Can you contrive a scam which involves asking the phone company to repair your
mother’s phone? I’m a basically honest guy and I am always amazed at the creativity involved in some scams
when I hear them described. Some of them are so clever that I don’t understand how it works even after it’s
been explained to me. So, perhaps there is such a scam, I call the phone company claiming to be some poor
innocent victim’s son and ask them to fix her broken phone, and then...what?
So, you may have guessed by now that my wife’s mother’s phone was not working. We couldn’t reach her, and
since we didn’t hear from her, as was usual, we assumed she couldn’t call out. To add to the surety of the
surmise my wife’s father was calling us from France to say that he couldn’t get through to her either. So, my
wife, good and caring daughter that she is, called the phone company and told them, “You know, there seems
to be a problem with my mother’s phone, we can’t reach her and she can’t call out.”
So they say, “Who are you?”
She says, “I’m her daughter.”
They say, “How do you know her phone doesn’t work?”
She explains the basic functions that one might reasonably expect from a telephone and how her mother’s
phone doesn’t seem to be performing either of them at the moment.”
They say, “What’s the address?”
She tells them.
They say, “What name is the phone bill under?”
She tells them.
They say, “What is the account number?”
She says, “I don’t know that.”
They then say, “We’re sorry (and in a tone which reveals that they are not), but someone whose name is on
the account must call us to request repair.”
My wife explains that since the phone doesn’t work, her mother is incapable of using it to call and ask for
This seems to make a vague, distant, ephemeral kind of sense to them. They pause, they think, they say,
“Please hold…” and they go off to talk with a supervisor.
The supervisor, a man of some experience in these matters, knows how to handle the situation. He gets on
the line and asks my wife all of the same questions the other person (I’m just guessing here) asked her. Then
he says this, “What is your mother’s social security number?”
Well, if prior to hearing that I had no real understanding of why some guys climb up to the top of a steeple
somewhere and either starts gunning down people at random or, driven by a greater view of justice and its
inextricable entanglement with Eternity, simply throws himself off, I did right then.
As it happens, my wife knew a place in her father’s office where there was a list of her parents’ social security
numbers and she went and got it. She read the social security number to the phone company and, I have to
be honest here (unfortunately) and say that in a very short while, several brief hours, her mother’s phone
service was fully restored. She call us herself to say so.
But, for reasons which I suppose I’ll have to attempt to explain to God at some point, but can not even attempt
to explain to you now, THEN I hit the ceiling. What the hell kind of a goddamned idiotic world are we living in?,
was one of the questions I asked in an unrestrained bellow, while my wife looked at me blinking, and the dog
took flight. "What kind of a scam would involve sending the phone company to fix a broken phone?" I
demanded to know. Maybe you see several schemes clearly; I can’t imagine even one.
“…and you are the most vile example of humanity we have ever had the pleasure to send to Hell…” says the
Eternal Judge and glaring steadily down upon me, he slams his gavel down with a resounding CLACK.
In the crowd one woman just taking her seat whispers, “I got here late, what did he do?”
The other, while keeping a leery eye on me, says, ”He tried to have his mothers broken phone fixed, and he
didn’t even have her social security number.”
The late arrival gasps and covers her mouth with both hands, so that none of the evil that resides in me might
escape and take up residence in her.
“Good god, they didn’t fall for it did they?”
“They don’t even know if he IS the woman’s son.”
“It’s just amazing what people will try to get away with!”
[an excerpt from Henry Edward Fool's new book American Raconteur]