I was debating the other day whether to shell out 26 bucks for a new book, but then I checked my email and discovered that my financial worries are over, and probably for the rest of my life.
I was, as you can imagine, greatly relieved by this most unexpected news.
According to the message in my inbox I have had the great fortune to be selected to receive a donation of $2.8 million, which should easily cover my book needs for the forseeable future.
It will also help with the mortgage and my other decidedly modest monetary obligations.
The sender of the message, I learned, had won $40 million in the “American lottery” and was donating part of it to five people and charities in memory of his wife, who died from cancer.
Which is quite generous, you have to admit.
The message didn’t say how many of these five lucky recipients are people and how many are charities, so I can’t say precisely how fortunate I actually was.
I’d like to believe I’m the only person selected and that the four others are charities, but I understand how unlikely that is.
Even to be one of five is bucking the odds, after all.
Lest I carry on this charade for more paragraphs than is reasonable, I recognized this email for the scam it so obviously is.
I no more believed that I had to come into an unanticipated windfall than I believed, as another email the same day assured me, that I have been “pre-approved for a $215,500 unsecured business line of credit at 3.91%.”
Even though the latter missive was allegedly penned by a “vice president of portfolio management” and promised that “you can have funding as soon as today!”
That exclamation point almost gets me every time, temporarily stunning my instinctive distrust with the sheer excitement that only that particular punctuation mark can convey.
This sort of email, and its audible cousin that clogs our cellphones, is of course a defining characteristic of our age.
This strikes me as something of a tradeoff.
In exchange for the ability to plumb all the world’s information, instantly and from almost anyplace, we are subjected to a barrage of slimy, if generally transparent, scams as predictable in their regularity as afternoon rainshowers in the tropics.
I’ll concede that my complacency in this matter stems from not having ever been the victim of one of these schemes.
I’m sure I would be more inclined to anger than to amused aloofness had I ever opened a bill and learned, much to my surprise, that I had recently taken a month-long cruise or put a down payment on a Ferrari which was quite clearly not parked in my garage.
(Actually I don’t own a garage. I am certain, however, that if a Ferrari were parked in my driveway I could hardly miss it. If nothing else I’d have less space for the much more mainstream vehicles I actually do own.)
Obviously these pitches wouldn’t be ubiquitous if they didn’t work. Not that they need to work very often — the immense volume of potential victims, in an era when almost everyone has a cellphone or an email account and most of us have both, ensures that even a minuscule percentage of “success” can be lucrative to the cretins involved.
It happens that on the same day I was alerted to the $2.8 million donation and offered the sort of credit line my income falls far short of justifying, I also received two legitimate emails related to this topic.
One is from Congressman Greg Walden, touting the House’s passage of a bill Walden sponsored, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.
The other is from the IRS, and it suggests ways to avoid a variety of online scams.
The press release from Walden’s office refers to robocalls as a “menace.”
“Today Congress once again took steps to hang up on these callers,” the release reads. “When you receive a call, you should be able to trust that there is a reason for that call — especially when it is from a familiar area code.”
Of course Walden is correct.
But I don’t share his confidence in the efficacy of the legislation.
The press release contends that “Congress listened to the American people and voted to end these pesky calls.”
“End” seems to me more than a bit of an exaggeration.
The problem, again, is volume.
Walden’s press release highlights the scale of the task, noting that last year 47.8 billion robocalls were placed nationwide.
Of those, an estimated 14.1 million were made in the 541 area code.
This number actually seems to me low, since I’m pretty sure my cellphone alone received 14 million such calls.
Regardless, I think it’s all but impossible that the federal government can prevent 47.8 billion of anything from happening.
The purveyors of robocalls have proved a formidable foe, and I’ve seen nothing that convinces me the scammers aren’t capable of feinting whenever the feds jab.
Perhaps you recall the Do Not Call List, a term as misleading as anything the government has yet conceived.
The feds’ record in such matters leaves me to conclude that they’ll purify our communications system about the same time I get $2.8 million from an email.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.