By Hannah Reich Berman
My parents always told me it was wrong to hate. For that reason, I have substituted here the word dislike. Another reason for the substitution is that I have no desire to receive calls or e-mails from readers telling me that it is wrong to hate. So I will phrase it this way: I dislike scammers. A scammer is how we refer to a person who perpetrates a scam on naive and unsuspecting souls. And, sadly, I am sometimes naive and unsuspecting. I never learn!
Last year, I opened an e-mail that appeared to be from the United States Postal Service. Unfortunately, at the time, I was waiting for a package from United Parcel Service and I confused UPS with USPS. The e-mail, which I should not have opened, informed me that there was a package for me but that it could not be delivered so I would need to go to the nearest post office to pick it up. I was left to guess which post office that would be, as my home is equidistant from the Woodmere post office and the one in Cedarhurst. As I was awaiting a small package at the time, my concern was that my package was sitting in one of the two. I called a friend, who is clearly more alert than I am, and she knew immediately that the e-mail was a scam. She reminded me that my package would arrive by UPS and not USPS.
My relief, although palpable, was short-lived, because within a few days my computer began acting weird, and that gave me an entirely new worry. As it turned out, because I had opened the bogus e-mail, my computer then had a virus. It took several attempts to restore it to its pre-viral state. After that, I made two promises to myself. The first was that I would be more cautious about opening e-mails in the future and the second was that I would remain calm in the face of adversity. I have kept neither promise.
It is my habit not to answer calls unless I recognize the caller’s phone number. Fed up with calls requesting donations as well as those from people advertising one service or another, I let my answering machine take all calls. Therefore, when I received a call from an unfamiliar phone number early one morning not long ago, I did just that. I did not pick up the phone, but what I heard on the machine rooted me to the spot: “This is your final notification. You are being sued by the IRS. For further information you must call the following number immediately.” There is some truth to that expression about being so scared that one’s heart stops. I am reasonably sure that my ticker did that. But I wondered what had I done wrong.
When my husband, Arnie, was alive, he took care of paying all taxes. I eventually had to learn what to do and how to do it and, in the five years since Hubby has been gone, the only thing I could think of that I had not declared was a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure, and facial that I had received from a friend for my birthday. Something told me that was not the problem.
If I had used my noodle, I would have recognized the obvious inconsistencies. The message said this was my final notification but I had never been notified before that call. Also, had my brain been on duty, I would have realized that the IRS does not make phone calls. All notices are made by mail. Unfortunately it was one of those days when my brain was on hiatus!
Had I called any of my children, or one of my more savvy friends, any one of them would have immediately reassured me that the message was bogus. Unfortunately, the first calls I made were to others. I called my accountant at his office, on his cell, and at home. No success! I also called his wife on her cell phone, as she is a personal friend. No luck there either. In my panic, I had forgotten that they were vacationing that week. Determined to locate them, I called their daughter. She did not answer her home phone and I did not have her cell number. I was desperate to talk to my missing accountant, so the next call I made was to one of my daughters, who I knew could give me the girl’s cell number. No dice! My daughter was at the gym.
Not ready to give up, I then called a girl who is a friend of my accountant’s daughter. She would have the cell number. She did not answer her phone either. Racking my overtaxed brain, my next move was to call my accountant’s son-in-law to learn where his father-in-law was and, as he is an attorney, I also thought he might be able to offer some advice. No luck there either—his office answering machine took the call so once again I found myself leaving a message. Next, I called my financial advisor but his assistant answered and said that he was on another call and would have to get back to me. To sum it all up, after close to an hour of trying, I had not succeeded in reaching a soul. By then it was turning out to be a three-Xanax day. I had none.
After a few minutes more, and in total fear and desperation, I bit the bullet and called the number that had been provided in the message. What I heard was: This is not a working number; please hang up and place your call again. Had I forgotten to press the number 1 before the area code? I tried a second time. I dialed again and once again I heard the same message. Maybe I had copied the number wrong. But, if I had, it was too late because, after writing it down, I had deleted the message. There was nothing left to do but wait for someone—anyone—to call me back and take me out of my misery by making an intelligent suggestion.
An hour later the return calls started to come in. The first was from my daughter, who had heard the note of despair in my voice when I left my message. Midway through my tale of woe, she interrupted and assured me that the call was a scam. She had heard about it on the news. Relief such as I have not known in a long time washed over me. Five minutes later, my friend’s son-in-law returned my call. He had also heard the despair in my voice and as soon as I started to speak, he too assured me it was a scam. And so it went. I spent the first half of the morning making calls, the second half answering the return calls, and the entire day with nerves that were shot! At my age, I do not recover quickly.
If I want to be honest, in spite of what my parents taught me about hate, I do not dislike scammers—I hate them. My hope is that nobody will call to chastise me for my comment, but I don’t care who takes issue with it. And just for the record, it is now official—for someone who is reasonably intelligent, I occasionally behave like a dummy. That’s the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.