Do you ever get those phone calls from Asian-sounding gentlemen offering assistance because your "Windows PC" is infected? They have, they say, discovered some vulnerability through their advanced internet scanning software. These kindly strangers can help you secure your machine. Some of you with more advanced computer skills (and perhaps a Windows virtual machine) may engage these people in hours of unforgettable merriment. However most of you should just hang up the phone; in the "big-shock" department this process involves giving access to your computer software, being locked out of the machine, and then "buying" the user/password information back. In short this is a malicious money-making scam. As quick cash grabs go though, it could be worse. There is an endless supply of people and organizations that exist to capitalize on the credulity of the ignorant.
What about vendor representatives who call to inform you there are better packages that will more-effectively meet your customer needs? Sometimes this is true. Usually it is a warm call to existing customers to extract more of your hard earned resources from you, with new offerings and services you probably don't need. Sometimes a vendor representative will call you to discuss a "problem with your account". This may be for a legitimate purpose. Then again, it may not. The caller usually identifies with a first name or transaction number, and the company they purport to represent. They then feel comfortable launching into a number of personal or skill-testing questions to determine you are authorized to speak to the issue. If the caller is unknown to you, consider having them provide you with a business number to call. This doesn't guarantee you won't be defrauded, but it improves your odds.
There is the occasional call from someone who has presumably mis-dialed and has reached the wrong party. While there is sometimes a brief apology and disconnection, there are those who think it their right to question you endlessly for personal information. It is not enough to assure them they have dialed in error; you are apparently also expected to prove you are not the right person. The currency you are spending is your time.
Do you ever get phone calls from familiar-sounding people who ask you to guess who it is? I don't guess. You can tell me or you can continue absent my participation. Have you ever miraculously won vacations or contests you didn't enter? Have you been invited to a fabulous brunch or a weekend getaway if you just attend a time-share seminar?
Have you received the recent "government" calls that offer you grants for children under 14? I think we're up to five of these. This one's interesting as you are not initially provided the caller's full name, information regarding the grant, reasons behind the program, how much money there is, where it comes from, your obligations, or the jurisdictional body providing the bursary. Is this a legitimate government employee offering a legitimate government "service"? Who knows? Does attributing this service to the "government" without extrapolation make it more or less credible than a call from say, a Catholic church fund, or Uncle Willy's Wanking Emporium? Ok, but I have children under 14 and it's free money, right? Of course, the lure of getting something for nothing. There might be a grant program. You might even be eligible to receive it. You might be able to ascertain some, or all, of this information. To find out anything more you need simply to start spilling personal information to a stranger with only a real, or fictional, first name. You don't have children under 14 in your household? No problem. Simply mention that, and you're free to go, right after your information is recorded for quality assurance and the next phone call for people ages 15-24.
Why do people so willingly give any information to an unidentified stranger? Are we lonely? Is it because they're whispering directly into our ears? Are we being interrupted and seeking the easiest solution to get them on their way? Is it some sort of telephone etiquette or phonish obligation? We're leery of people who approach us in public, but we'll tell our life stories to a disembodied voice. If you're dealing with any authentic business or personal transaction, the caller (or their organization) should welcome your commitment to ensuring you fully understand the nature of their contact, and that they are who they purport to be. If you're not randomly spilling your guts to people you don't know, this protects friends and legitimate businesses alike.
If you look at this objectively, any unknown phone call is a bit like a fortune-teller's cold read. The caller may start with some information, they may have none. Every question you "answer" provides a piece of information not previously possessed, that can be used, or sold, by an individual or an organization. If you are called by an anonymous real estate agent asking if you own or rent, your answer is valuable to them. If you answer that short, five-page survey, do you benefit? Not likely..."they" do again. Any unsolicited, anonymous, or pseudo-anonymous telephone call, is in some way an invitation for a commercial transaction. Even your friends and relatives seldom call just to talk.
Normally here I'd put in some disclaimer saying it's up to you to decide what information you disseminate to strangers whose real motives are not known. While that's true, answering any question without benefiting, or knowing (really knowing - not being assured by the friendly voice) how the information will be used, retained, and safeguarded, is just stupid. What about those poor people who are just trying to "earn a living"? Screw them if they haven't taken the time to develop an actual skill. If more people stop freely giving information to people who use it for commercial purposes, fewer entities will consider this a viable money-making scheme.
I have sometimes heard Scott respond to incoming phone calls with phrases such as, "Identify yourself" or "None of your business". Initially I thought this behaviour was shocking or rude. Over time I have come to realize the presumptuousness, inappropriateness and invasiveness of calling people's homes with unsolicited personal or commercial offers. I now find myself marvelling at his restraint.
* If you’re lonely and want more people to reach out, signing up for the No-Call list may be for you.