If you have a telephone, at some point you’ve probably gotten a call that goes something like this:
The phone rings. You answer. There’s a long buzzy pause as a piece of equipment somewhere figures out that they have a person at the end of the line. Finally, there’s a voice.
Why the call? Occasionally, it’s a straightforward attempt to sell something to you. To which you can reply, “Thank you.” Or you can reply, “No, thank you.” And then you hang up. It’s easy.
But sometimes the call is more nefarious. It might be “an important call about your credit card account” or a “serious issue affecting your security” or “Your computer is at risk; you need help and I am your saviour! You must do what I say immediately, if not sooner!”
Personally, it’s not a big problem for me. Usually, the buzzy pause on the other end of the line encourages me to hang up before I even hear the opening pitch. Today, however, I stayed until an unpleasant person on the other end told me that I had an important computer security problem that needed to be investigated.
I’m pretty confident that a caller who doesn’t even know my name is not going to be helpful with my computer security.
So I hung up. He tried again, and got my answering service. I expect that he’s now moved on to more vulnerable, and thus more lucrative territory.
I perceive this as a price of living in a world populated with wonderful, helpful people who are mixed in with some scammers and evil people. We are a big diverse mixture, aren’t we? There’s good; there’s evil, and part of growing up is learning to tell the difference.
A lot of what I write suggests that life is more satisfying when people treat each other well, when they develop good relationships, and when they act in ways that are caring, supportive and trusting. I believe that to be true. And I try to act in accordance to my words. Most of the time anyway.
However, I choose to be peeved when I hear of people who take advantage of the vulnerable. Telephone scams that attempt to frighten the most defenseless among us are not ok with me.
How can these scams possibly work? Who would engage with them? I speculate that at least some of their success results from the fact that many of us have been taught to be courteous.
For some folks, courtesy includes not ever hanging up on someone. You must hear them out and engage in polite conversation.
Courtesy is a characteristic that helps to build relationships and smooth our interactions. If your friend calls you in need of a listening ear, it would be discourteous to hang up on them. If your boss calls asking you to come in for an extra shift, it would be discourteous, and also career-limiting, to hang up on him.
But if a stranger calls you and attempts to play on your fears to coerce you into doing something that’s ultimately harmful to you, you have choices. You can listen courteously. Or you can hang up. No need to be rude, shout or slam the phone. No need to feel angry. You can just calmly hang up.
Many of us are courteous, cooperative, polite and helpful. A scammer strategy can abuse those positive attributes and use them to harm you.
Whether it’s a scammer or anyone else who is abusing your courtesy, you have choices. You can hang up. You can walk away. You can exercise your personal freedom and make choices that are right for you.
Have you ever seen courtesy abused?