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Phone fraud and Mammeloshen*

It was approximately one year ago when the fraudsters first came for me.

I remember sitting in our dining room, just beside my aquarium when the phone rang.

The caller was identified as my bank.

I thought, ‘How odd,’ and, answered.

They said they were the fraud department and had detected some irregularities with my account, they were concerned that someone had obtained my details and was spending.

In hindsight this all sounds fishy although, at the time, I went along with their request to confirm my details.

I remember experiencing a sensation similar to that which a fly must feel as it slips down the throat of a pitcher plant. Suspicion mixed with curiosity.

Suffice it to say, the conversation continued.

I remember my son, sitting on the settee across the room listening-in.

I went as far as confirming how much money I had in my personal account, they even managed to obtain my mother’s maiden name.

When they asked me to move money to another account I decided enough was enough, politely hung up and phoned the bank.

Yes, I had been diddled.

It is funny as, the last time I found myself in a similar situation, that is, doubting the veracity of someone on the other end of the line was 20 years ago when as a junior doctor working at the Northern General in Sheffield I received a call from switchboard.

‘Hello, how can I help?’

‘This is number 10.’

‘Number 10 what?’

‘Downing street.’

I laughed and hung up the phone. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued for me to call directory enquiries and phone up No. 10.

It had been them.

Tony was PM at the time.

Anyway, I managed on this occasion with the bank to get away without parting with all my cash, not that I have much.

I called the bank, they confirmed it had been fraud, I was left feeling exposed and that was that.

After the phone-call, my son informed me that to him it had been obvious I was being hoaxed. ‘Why didn’t you do or say something?’ I asked. I can’t remember his reply.

Then a couple of weeks ago I received another call.

Again it popped-up as my bank.

Again it was the fraud people.

This time I was prepared.

I fumbled with my phone trying to get it on ‘record mode’ – unfortunately, my phone doesn’t allow this. I even tried to switch record on my computer. I wanted to catch them in the act. That didn’t work either.

I again politely hung up and called my bank.

Yes, again, fraud.

This time I was a indignant.

On the first occasion I had felt invaded, compromised, stupid.

This time it was something else.

The bank confirmed that my money was safe, they had been fraudsters and nothing bad had happened.

‘But, can’t you do something?’

By now I was thinking of all the people who would likely have gone along with their deception. As humans we are all gullible although older people sometimes retain an air of respect towards authority. I could see someone, perhaps isolated after a year of Covid, talking with the man, revealing all, losing everything.

The bank advised that because I hadn’t lost anything, there was nothing they could do.

‘Couldn’t you track the call, or get the police to do an analysis? I kept him talking.’

Nothing.

In the end they passed me to a woman in a call centre in Scotland who it appeared had been trained to deal with fraught customers. Skilled in the art of calm, she confirmed there was nothing anyone could do.

Searching the net for a way to report what had happened led me down a warren of internet links and unanswered or automated phone calls.

The anonymous 21st century had turned-in on itself.

I imagined how people who had lost their money might feel. The mixture of anger, frustration and embarrassment, most of this directed inwardly.

I can’t imagine how we protect people from these predators.

Many people I know don’t answer the phone unless they know who is calling (me included) (leave a message please), others just don’t answer the phone.

These criminals have managed to limit the limited contacts some people already have. I am certain they must have taken advantage of the pandemic.

The bastards.

Last night I watched an episode of Shtisel with Annie.

shtisel

This is the Israeli drama on Netflix which follows the life of Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew living in a Jerusalem neighbourhood.

I especially enjoy the seamless shifts between Yiddish and Hebrew in the dialogue.

Anyway, last night Shulem’s mum died.

They had the shiva which is the seven days mourning where the immediate relatives sit on low chairs or the floor with torn clothing and pray and meet with family and friends.

In this episode a man turned up, black suit, peyot and so on.

He took Shulem aside and showed him a video he had recorded of his mum. In HD his mum, bright and smiling recollected the birth of her son, elements of the story of her long life.

‘I have two hours recording, time I spent with your mum.’

‘How did you manage to spend time with my mum?’ (‘Mamme’ he would say in Yiddish) ‘Can you make me a copy?’

‘For a small donation to cover my expenses. A thousand dollars.’

‘I don’t understand, how did you meet my Mamme?’

‘Well, you see, I travel round all the care homes and spend time with the folk and record.’

It became apparent that this man was a memory thief, his intentions to steal the memories and sell them to bereaved relatives, turning up as the mourning starts. A sinister memory bank.

I won’t tell you what happened next.

It is a neat idea, recording the recollections of old folk.

I’d love to have some video of my mum or dad.

Again however this is confidence tricking, manipulation, playing on uncertainty and emotion.

We are all so very vulnerable.

You walk past houses that are sealed tight with fences and high gates, with infra-red video cameras and the whole security works, yet, what is most vulnerable, us, our egos, is harder to protect, and really, the more you protect your ego, the smaller your horizons and this is another kind of robbery.

The answer?

If anyone calls you, ever, claiming to be from the bank, the insurance or whatever, if they ask you for information they should already have, hang up. You can do it politely. Just hang up. If it is the bank, the supermarket or the council you can find their number online and ring up and check.

The worst that will happen is you are stuck in a long phone-waiting queue.

That is a little win for the thieves, but better than a full frontal expose.

Take care.

pitcher

*Mammeloshen = Yiddish for ‘mother tongue’

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