If Only We Could Believe What They Offer on the Phone

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This morning during my writing time, my phone rang. San Diego, it said on Caller ID. Those calls with city names are usually the car warranty scam, a credit card scam, or the Medicare scam. 

After a while, I noticed there was a voicemail waiting for me. The phone rang again. San Diego. I decided to get it over with to stop the interruptions. 

The young voice said, “Good afternoon!” It was 10:30 a.m. I said, “It is not afternoon.” Which means, I know you’re not in San Diego because it’s 10:30 a.m. there, too. 

Oh, she said. She proceeded on a long introductory speech that was so fast I couldn’t understand many of the words. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hear, even though I hadn’t put my hearing aids in yet. The voice was piercing, almost unbearably loud. 

She raved about my books. She knew all the titles and who the publishers were. She knew my sales statistics. She wanted to help me sell more of these wonderful books. She wanted to offer them at the Tucson Festival of Books and the LA Times Festival of Books, both coming up soon. She wanted to know if I had ever been to those festivals. Tucson yes, LA no. She wanted to know what I had been doing to promote my books.

I kept telling her I was busy and didn’t have time for this long conversation. I told her I wasn’t going to any book festivals in the near future. I wouldn’t have to attend in person, she said. They would take care of it for me. But I would have to decide immediately because the registration deadline is very soon.   

If my books are going to a festival, I want to go, too. I want to talk to readers, and I hope readers want to talk to me.  But that’s not the point. Her voice was hurting my ear, and I had work to do. Finally I was able to understand the name of her company. ReadersMagnet. As she kept talking, I looked them up online. A site for writers warned that this was a scam. They want hundreds of dollars to plop your book in a booth. Don’t do it. 

The ReadersMagnet website insisted, “This is not a scam!” They help authors. I clicked the link to their Facebook page. Lots of posts about book festivals. Their profile says they have published hundreds of books in the last two years. Hundreds? How good could those books be when most publishers, aside from the Big 5, put out a handful, maybe a dozen in a year?

Oh, now she was talking about how my book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both would appeal to parents. No, no, no. My book is for people who do NOT have children.They are not parents. 

Before they sue me for libel, I can see that ReadersMagnet does publish books, and it does promote them. But when you haven’t approached them first and they push you to commit to spending money with them, it seems a little off.

I gently hung up. Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. San Diego. I did not answer. 

This is not the first time I have gotten calls from people raving about my books and wanting to help me sell them. It’s so frustrating. Every author wants that phone call where an editor or publisher wants to publish your masterpiece and make you rich and famous. It’s the stuff we dream about. That companies exploit these dreams to make money is just wrong.

I wasn’t going to publish a blog post today, but I needed to rant about this. My phone rarely rings, but when Caller ID shows no name or just the name of a city, I’m either not going to answer it or I’m going to be rude, depending on my mood.  

 Writer friends, have you experienced this? Writers and readers, have you heard of ReadersMagnet? How do you know the difference between a scam and someone who really wants to help you? 

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Really? An Award for Me? Not Really

Caller ID showed a number from Bend, Oregon. I don’t know anyone who lives in Bend. But I was doing a puzzle instead of working, so I answered.

I could barely hear the woman over the background noise. She called me Sue and said something about an award. An award? Hallelujah. I’ve already received 11 rejections this year. About time someone recognized my genius.

I told her I was having trouble hearing her. Could she shut off the noise? “I wish,” she said. But she adjusted her microphone and got louder. Her name was Carol. She sounded friendly, with a heavy New York accent.

She was calling from Marquis Who’s Who. They were giving me an “Albert Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award” for my work. Carol asked dozens of questions, verifying my accomplishments, my book titles, and my work all the way back to the Milpitas Post in the 1970s. I told her about my husband dying, and she sympathized.

She said she was gathering information so their biographers could write up my story. It would appear on their website and in their books. That sounded nice, but I had to ask. Is there a cost for any of this? She hadn’t mentioned money or bank accounts, but I was beginning to wonder.

She hesitated, talked around it. I asked again. She admitted that there were fees for all of it, $200 for this, $400 for that. Even the certificate wasn’t free. But of course I would want to share this great news with my family and friends. Of course it would put my name right at the top of the online search engines.

Hold on, hold on, I said, interrupting her. I’m not paying a cent for this thing I didn’t ask for. Saying she would email me information because I would surely change my mind, she said goodbye.

Grrr.

I want awards for my work. I want them bad, but not bogus ones.

It was just one of many fake offers I have gotten these days. People call to offer me free vacations, solutions to my financial problems, and better health insurance. One woman keeps calling to offer me a low-cost brace to help with my chronic pain. What pain in what part of my body, I want to ask. And of course, there are those lovely spam emails that offer me millions of dollars.

The thing is, despite Carol fooling me for a while, I can usually tell the difference between real offers and phony ones. Most of the time I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number. But not everyone can tell phony from real. My father, age 96, takes every call seriously. He can’t understand why the robo-callers don’t respond when he asks questions. When he gets one of those calls about credit cards, he makes himself crazy checking his records and calling his banks to make sure there isn’t a problem. If a caller says, “This is in response to your inquiry,” he thinks he might have made such an inquiry even though he hasn’t.

Once, after getting one of those “your grandson is in trouble in Mexico” calls, he went to the bank to transfer money. Luckily, the people there stopped him. I’m sure he’s not the only one who falls for this stuff.

The callers, both live and computerized, count on fooling some of the people. That’s how they make their money.

I feel for Carol. Clearly she was working in a call center. That’s why it was so noisy in the background. She sounded like an older woman, a nice person. Get out of this scum job, I wanted to tell her, but maybe she saw no other choice.

I wish there were no scam calls, no robo-calls. I wish it was as easy as the callers say to get out of debt, obtain good health insurance, win free vacations, and receive awards. I wish we didn’t always have to be on guard.

Experts say the simple act of answering the phone will show that someone is attached to your number and cause the scammers to keep calling. They also warn that they can take your words out of context to make it look as if you agreed to something. If you do answer, don’t say yes, okay, all right, or sure. It’s sad that we have to be suspicious, but if you don’t know the number, let the phone ring. If the call is legit, they’ll leave a message. If I call, my name will show up on the screen and I won’t ask you to buy anything.

Marquis Who’s Who is real. The printed directories go back to the 1800s, but now you have to pay to even look at the online listings. If anyone wants to look me up and shoot me a copy of my listing, I would love to see it, but I am not giving them my money.

Clearly I’m not the only fool who would love to receive a lifetime achievement award. Check out these posts about the award I allegedly won.

Are you plagued with scam calls, too? Have you or your loved ones ever fallen for one? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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