Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Crime And Pestilence

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Nov. 19, 2015] ©2015 

It's not often that I get an email from a friend that begins: I am sending this email for two reasons: (1) to advise people to pay attention while pumping gas, and (2) to check your kids for lice. Intrigued, I  just had to read further.

I’ve written before about San Diego’s most prominent plagues: rats, mold, and termites. In fact, on Halloween a few weeks ago, a young princess came to our door and solemnly advised, “I wouldn’t leave your door open like that. We have a really big rat problem at our house!” Amen, sweetheart. So do we!

But somehow, I’ve managed never to cover their companion perils: lice, roaches, and fleas. Or, as happened to my friend, people stealing your purse out of your car while you’re pumping gas. I plan to rectify those omissions now.

It would be an understatement to say that my friend was having a bad week. After a note came home with her fourth grader about a lice epidemic in his class, she noticed her head was itching. But then, say the word “lice” and people automatically start scratching their heads. See? You’re doing it right now. But since she was a frequent volunteer in the classroom, she decided to stop in at the local Hair Fairies place and have them check her head since her husband made it clear that even under the “for worse” category, this was not covered in the marital vows.

Hair Fairies is a chain of salons that deal exclusively with head lice, and let me tell you, I would have killed to have had them here when my kids’ classrooms got hit with it. When I was growing up in suburban New York, we never had head lice yet it’s a chronic problem in schools here. I can only assume it’s because there’s no frost and, like, fleas, the little buggers can proliferate all year round.

When the La Jolla Hair Fairies first opened up, I could only wonder what the restaurant adjacent to them felt about having the local lice eradication emporium next door. But hey, it’s not Roach Fairies, although I would have been glad in the day to have had them here too. We had been lucky enough to avoid them until some nearby housekeeping-challenged renters were evicted unleashing a cockroach diaspora onto the neighbors.

Anyway, my friend learned that she had only a mild infestation of head lice – “3 babies and some eggs” – but that’s like being a little bit pregnant. Ironically, her husband, kids, and the nanny were all cleared but she obviously had had “hair-to-hair contact with an adult female.” (Louse, not person.) Those close-contact reading circles can be really hazardous.

The teacher, in full pediculosis offensive, had instructed the kids not to wear hats to school and even not to hug. Girls were to wear their hair in pony tails until further notice. The word “nit picking” was employed true to its actual origins.

So, already having a bad lice week, she stopped one evening at the gas station at the intersection of 805 and Balboa to fuel up her high-end SUV, chatting on her cell phone while she pumped gas as her purse sat on the seat with the passenger door unlocked. Some “sliders” (named for the way the thieves slide in below the eye level of the door) opened the passenger door of her SUV and took her purse including house keys, car keys (blade and ignition sensor), two ATM cards, driver’s license, check book, etc.

Worse, since they now had the automatic ignition sensor in her purse, she had no way to start the car to get home.

Not only did she have to get eight house doors re-keyed, the fancy computer-programed ignition sensor was $496 to replace. Even so, for the first night, since the thieves had both the ignition sensor AND her address from her driver’s license, they could have stolen her SUV right out of her driveway. I confess my crappy 2005 Corolla with its low-tech keys was looking better and better. (And in my case, I would have hoped they’d steal it.)

I invited her over for a medicinal glass of wine. She vowed never ever to pump gas and talk on her cell phone again. She was still trying to decide which was worse: a class vermin epidemic or replacing everything in her purse plus re-keying her house and car. She was trying to juggle locksmith appointments with follow-ups at Hair Fairies to make sure her son’s classmates hadn’t unleashed anymore adult females on her. (That could be the weirdest sentence I ever wrote.)

A few days later I received an email: “Heading for bed as I am supposed to chaperone a field trip tomorrow to the USS Midway with the lice-infested kids.”
Now there’s an optimist.



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Grandma Scam

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 5, 2015] ©2015 

The voice on the other end of the phone couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.  “Hi grandma!” said a late teen-early 20-ish voice.

It definitely wasn’t one of my grandsons, the oldest of whom is seven.
“I’m sorry,” I said politely. “But I think you have the wrong number.” I was about to hang up when he said,

“I knew you wouldn’t recognize my voice.  I’m sick. In fact that’s why I’m calling.”  He coughs for effect.
And in a flash I knew: grandma scam! While it would have been tempting to just hang up, this suddenly seemed a lot more interesting than paying the property tax bill on-line which I’d been doing at the time. 

“So which grandson are you?” I say, deciding to play along. 
“Geesh, grandma, you don’t know?”

“Timmy?” I say.
“Yes, Timmy,” he replies. “Here’s the problem. I went to Mexico for the weekend with some friends and got really sick. And now they won’t let me out of the hospital if I don’t pay the bill in cash. Mom and Dad didn’t know I was going and they would just kill me.  (Pause.) You’ve always been my favorite grandma.”

Woo-hoo! This script was right out of the AARP Senior Scam Playbook. Now I was intrigued.
“So how much do you need?” I said.

“$2,000,” says my fake grandson Timmy. “I know it’s a lot of money but I promise I’ll pay you back.”  Another pause, and a voice of contrition. “I’ve learned my lesson.” 
“Are you sure they won’t take your medical insurance?” I inquire.

Timmy starts to sound a tad annoyed. “I already asked. Cash or nothing.”  He decides to up the ante. “My friends are leaving this afternoon to drive back so if I can’t get out, they’ll leave me behind.”  Upping the ante some more: “I’ve heard they put people in jail who can’t pay their bills down here.”  Escalating to Defcon3:  “I’m really scared.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie, “I say in best faux-caring grandma voice. “Just tell me how I get the money to you”

If one could hear a happy dance across optical fiber, this would have been it. “Can you wire it to me via Western Union?” he gushes, that rasp in his voice temporarily gone.  “Just go to WesternUnion.com. It’s really easy.  Have you got something to write with?” (Pause.)  “You really are the best grandma ever.”
Oops! The property tax line is about to time me out. Don’t want to have to start all over again.  As much fun as this has been, it’s time to wrap up TimmyGate.

“You know, Timmy,” I say, “You’ve never been my favorite grandson. In fact, I’ve never really liked you at all.”  And I hung up.
Burning questions consumed me for the rest of the day after this phone call.  The first being: how does anyone actually fall for this scam?  There were dozens of specific questions I could have asked him that would have exposed him as a fake. I’ve read that the truly artful grandma scammers have done a little research, sometimes found out the names of the actual grandchildren, maybe even their birthdays, or their parents’ names. Maybe the family pet.

But this little dweeb hadn’t even bothered and was hoping to deflect questions with aspersions on grandma’s love for him. Get HER to come up with the right grandchild name. I have to say that as a grandma scammer, he wasn’t very good. My one shot at grandma scamdom and I get an amateur.
On-line research on the subject later in the day suggested that the reason the grandma scam works is that grandparents are desperate to hear from their deadbeat grandkids, regardless of the excuse.  Saying “I love you” is the closer.

That people still fall for the much-publicized Nigerian scam is even more baffling. Have they been living under a rock? (Or have the brains of one?) A wealthy Nigerian prince/businessman sends total strangers an email (I’ve received dozens) and wants to give them ten million all for the minor inconvenience of letting the prince/businessman use your U.S. bank account to transfer some of his funds out of his war torn country.
But my other burning question about “Timmy” was: how did he get my number?  Is AARP selling us out?  Is there a list of grandmas you can buy on the internet at grammy-scam.com? Or do they just cold call until they get a woman who sounds old?  (I DO NOT SOUND OLD.) 

I would have loved to have asked him before I hung up, “So Timmy, I’ll actually wire you $50 if you tell me how you got my number.”  But he would never have told me. And I would never have sent the $50 anyway.