Gary the phone scammer, and other idiots

Sometimes it isn’t customers or coworkers making my job harder or damaging my calm. Sometimes it’s phone scammers.

The one I’m thinking of right now would identify himself as “Gary,” an employee of corporate tech support (he called himself “technical support” once, but he stumbled over the word “technical” and didn’t attempt it again). Then he’d try to dazzle me with a lot of buzzwords and technobabble, like “error 10 virus” or “the wireless system has been crossthreaded.”

The solution, he said, was for him to “guide [me] through a manual update of the registers,” and I wasn’t expected to question how pulling prepaid cards off the display rack and giving him their codes over the phone would resolve the “error 10 virus” or whatever.

He was persistent – I got about half a dozen phone calls from him over a period of several months. Aside from trying out different bits of technobabble and using the name “Gregory” once, he never changed his script. (If you’ve ever been deeply impressed by a clever criminal, whether historical or fictional, then you’ll be even more deeply underwhelmed by the likes of Gary, whose scam seems to be calling the same stores over and over until he lucks out and finds someone dumb enough to fall for his bullshit.)

I was occasionally abrupt in my response, because fuck Gary, and eventually I developed a deep and abiding disrespect for him, because persistence is only sometimes a virtue, he was an obvious dolt, and also fuck Gary. So, after considering a few ways to turn him into a source of amusement – like convincing him that tech support’s company-wide secret code word was “giraffe” or telling him that, while “manually updating the register,” I’d found an installed copy of VLC and a MP4 of Tombstone and could he call back in a couple hours – I decided to waste some of his time. One time, I led him along all the way to…

“Now I need you to go to the prepaid card rack, you know where that is, right?”


“OK, let’s start with the eBay cards. Pull them off the rack for me.”

Slight pause. “Mm-hmm.”

“Now, how many eBay cards do you have?”


And then he hung up and hasn’t called again.


Gary isn’t the only one, but they mostly resemble each other, and not just because a weirdly high number of them have Southern accents.

Some of the others identified themselves as the “marketing manager,” “district supervisor manager,” or “customer service and fraud prevention division of the Treasury Department” (my eyes can only roll back so far). And some of them have used different buzzwords and technobabble:

  • “urgent”
  • “customer complaints”
  • “I need complete compliance by 8 AM”
  • “federal C-O-V-I-D 19 Act, to prevent something like the crash in the 40s”

Several of them have asked me to find a piece of paper and write down some meaningless numbers and code words, to make it all seem a little more official.

One wasn’t directly interested in prepaid cards but was fishing for the names of local managers to make future attempts more plausible – that shows some actual intelligence.

Mostly, though, they have the brains of a damp sock.


My record for stringing one these idiots along is about 10 minutes. This one identified himself as “Laurel Mason, marketing manager” and attempted a female voice which reminded me strongly of The Phil Hendrie Show. He then asked me to write down a 7-digit “ID” and a list of code words and reassured me that he was calling from a “secure work line” with a phone number that actually belongs to this company (though the corporate vice-president probably doesn’t cold-call stores at midnight).

“Laurel’s” pretext was that he’d “received a Code 2112, which is too many customer complaints.” To test my competence and resolve the situation, he wanted to walk me through a prepaid card transaction, the goal of which was to keep the total between $150 and $350 “so [he] can void it out afterward.”

After getting to the go-to-the-prepaid-card-rack part of his script (and after putting him on hold three times so I could tend to customers), I dropped the other shoe:

“Do you think I’ve wasted enough of your time yet, you soulless grifter?”

“Oh, man.” Sudden lack of Phil Hendrie voice.

“Yeah, I knew what you were from minute one.”

“You suck.”

I hung up on him, and I think he tried again later that night, or at least someone called an hour later and hung up when he heard my voice.


A discerning reader might have detected the scorn I feel for Gary, Laurel, and their entire subspecies. That’s because their phone calls aren’t just annoying interruptions and insulting to my intelligence, they’re predatory. Management’s response when a retail worker falls for one of these scams is summary termination, and the scammers seem at least vaguely familiar with the retail industry, so I assume they know that.

To put it more plainly: “Laurel” called last week and tried to get me to lose my job now – has the unemployment rate officially hit 20% yet? – so he could get $350 in prepaid cards, which would have been even less after he resold them to cover his tracks.

That’s the con artist’s equivalent of shooting a buffalo for its tongue. And I’m the buffalo.


In case that wasn’t irritating enough already, the existence of phone scammers gives some managers the continual heebie jeebies.

The one I’m thinking of right now is middle manager Angie Breckenridge, who periodically panics and sends out a memo telling all her subordinate managers to warn us wage slaves that phone scammers exist. More often than not, there’s a form we all have to sign, saying for the record that we know about phone scammers and promise to never ever fall for them.

It’s the same form every time. I signed one when I was hired, and I’ve signed enough copies of it since then to wallpaper the back office. If Angie keeps freaking out after wasting that much paper, then obviously the form isn’t working.

They’ve tried other forms of defense, like the secret code word I mentioned above, but they’re similarly ineffective. It didn’t help that I didn’t know about the code word for the first year or so I was here, and that Angie put out another memo a few months later telling us all to stop relying on code words (maybe a scammer guessed one).

What they haven’t tried, and probably never will, is thoroughly training their new hires:

  • “Here are a few lines of bullshit that phone scammers have tried lately, so you’ll recognize them.”
  • “These are the names and titles of the middle managers in this store’s chain of command, so if someone calls claiming to be Joe Shmoe, ‘district supervisor manager,’ you’ll know they’re lying.”
  • “This is how the registers’ update system works. No, you don’t have to do it manually. Not ever.”

The idea of competent employees seems like an alien concept to them, or maybe it’s a possibility that they’d rather suppress than encourage. That, though, is a rant for another day.

Categories: PiecesTags: , , ,


  1. Featured image by Regös Környei, from Unsplash.


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