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COLUMN: Calling back my 'nephew,' the phone scammer

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So who was this guy, my “nephew,” who somehow got my number and called me Friday morning?

I often don’t answer my phone from numbers I don’t know, but that occasionally results in missed important calls from people who really did want or need to speak with me, so I answered.

I said “hello,” and there was a delay, which should have been a warning. But it sounded like when someone calls on a cellphone and there’s a lag between “hellos.”

So, I said “hello” again.

Then, my “nephew” spoke and said “hello.”

I said, “Who’s this?”

That’s when, after a pause, he said, “your nephew,” and I immediately knew it was a scammer.

I also immediately got angry and my last two-word comment before hanging up begins with a F and ends with an U.

Heat of the moment response. Forgive me.

But then curiosity got the best of me.

Who was this guy?

I have his Washington, D.C., number. Why not call back and play reporter?

I was met with some elevator music, then a recorded message that my call was very important and to stay on the line so I could be transferred to the next available agent.

More music.

Then, “Thank you for calling the Medicare Enrollment Center. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

That’s when I started relaying my story of the “nephew” who just called from this number and I was “wondering what that’s all about.”

“Well, this is the Medicare Enrollment Center, sir,” he said, with laughter and talking in the background that didn’t sound like a legitimate office.

“Well, why would someone reach out to me saying they’re my nephew, from this phone number. Do you have any idea?”

“No sir, this is the Medicare Enrollment Center.”

“Interesting,” I responded. “Yeah, I’m a newspaper reporter and it sounds really odd to me that would be the case, that this is the Medicare Enrollment Center. I can’t imagine you guys call people like that?”

“Will you be 65 in January, sir?” he responded.

“Not even close,” I said.

“All right, you have a good rest of your day,” he said.

“Yeah, you have a good rest of your day too, because I’m actually going to write about it.”

I reached out to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and had an email exchange with spokesman Daniel Trucil, who took my info, but I have yet to hear back from him as of Monday morning.

If you Google “Medicare Enrollment Center scam,” however, you’ll get a slew of results, including that Medicare almost never calls people to enroll them.

I have parents who are almost 80 and almost 81. I got to thinking how they’d react if their “nephew” or the “Medicare Enrollment Center” called.

Then I talked to my mom, and she said it already has happened. “Nephews” and “grandsons” had called her on at least three occasions seeking to scam her, she said.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Russ Lail said scams like this are prevalent, including several where people pose as relatives, like nephews or grandsons needing bail money in Mexico.

Another involved a person who was asked to put cash in an envelope to send it to an address that turned out to be an abandoned house. He said most come from overseas — or at least another state — and often there’s little they can do to remedy it.

He said people are always welcome to report scam attempts, but most often people don’t unless they actually followed through and lost money.

Basically, he said people need to “verify everything” and “don’t give out anything.”

“Most of the agencies that are allegedly calling you are not the type that would reach out by phone. They’d send a legitimate letter,” he said

It irked me to get that call on Friday and irked me more that scammers tried to get my mom. Life is hard enough without worrying about these predatory vultures looking for easy prey.

“It’s a heartless thing,” Lail said. “So many people have lost money they really need for their golden years.”

Dave Blow is a freelance journalist and professor of Media and Communication at Castleton University. He may be reached at davent67@gmail.com.

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