What’s next? ‘Hi, this is a scam! Grab your wallet so we can cheat you!’
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My iPhone rings. An 800 number, calling me. Which might as well flash a red “SCAM!”
But I am a curious sort.
“Dear citizen …” an ominous robotic voice begins. “Due to a certain suspicious activity, we are forced to suspend your Social Security number to immediate effect. Due to this your benefits will be cancelled …”
I’ve received this call 14 times over the last two weeks of January.
“In order to connect with a Social Security administration officer, press one now,” it continues. “In case we do not hear from you, your Social will be blocked permanently. Press one now, and you will automatically be connected with a concerned department official.”
I admire that “concerned” — a nice touch. Who doesn’t want to believe there is a soul in the government who cares? Once I broke down and pressed “1,” though the person I then connected with sounded, to me, not so much concerned as confused. A harried drone in a Third World basement boiler room. They immediately asked for my Social Security number. “You’re the one who called me,” I said, hanging up.
“Social Security numbers do not get suspended,” the Federal Trade Commission points out on its web page devoted to this scam. “Ever.”
Are there people who don’t know this? Apparently so. Which raises the question: Why base your scam on something a halfway savvy person knows to be false?
For exactly that reason. Because scammers want to weed out those with discernment. Fraud isn’t about duping everybody. It’s about identifying the most credulous, the choicest marks, and going after them. It’s a manpower issue. What scamster wants to laboriously lead a would-be mark along, only to have him balk at buying $3,000 in Apple gift cards to pay off a delinquent tax bill? Falling for the obvious initial gambit means you are more likely to keep giving, information and even cash.
Scams fall into two categories: fear and greed. The Social Security number is a fear scam. The terrifying and mysterious government is about to drop kick you into oblivion. There are similar scams involving the IRS, which will never call you demanding payment. Or Com-Ed, calling to say your power is about to be cut.
Greed scams are those with imaginary U.S. soldiers trying to find a confederate to accept a suitcase of cash found in Iraq. Qualms like why an American officer would have so limited a command of English are pushed aside at the prospect of “$35 MILLION ($35,000,000.00 USD)” or whatever worm is wriggling on the hook. These are the scams that offer free Caribbean trips or other prizes.
Not only does the fear and/or greed already in the victims-to-be make them party to their own defrauding, but inspires an unspoken complicity that blunts their ability to realize they’ve been had. The resilience of the cheated is plain if we look at political polls: those who supported Donald Trump, a certified con man who has paid out tens of millions of dollars in damages to his victims in the business world, for the most part support him still. His con is based on fear (the essential Wall) and greed (lost jobs coming back).
People wonder when Trump supporters will wise up, and the answer is: Never. The cheated become invested in the fraud. They have given their trust, their money, or votes, or both. They have a dog in this race, and are actively rooting for the person who cheated them. Law enforcement investigators are familiar with the granddads who won’t believe it, even after the bank account is drained and the authorities brought in. The victims are indignant — at those telling them they’ve been had. They can’t believe it, literally.
I have heard from many Trump supporters. They are aghast and outraged. They paint my carefully measured arguments as vein-pulsing-rage, or wonder why anybody would be so obsessed as to consider the words of the president of the United States.
Their responses range across everything except letting doubt crease their foreheads. And I do sympathize with them—empathy, the Dems’ glory and undoing. Because it’s hard to accept that you’ve been a fool. That you gave Timmy’s college fund to some con man pretending to be a Navy Seal. You let fear, or greed, or both, overwhelm you. If it’s any comfort, there’s a lot of that going around.