Television has given us a few memorable marketing characters. There was Mr. Wiffle, the supermarket manager who, like his customers, could not resist squeezing Charmin bath tissue. There was Madge, the manicurist who allowed her customers to soak their hands in Palmolive dishwashing liquid. And some of you may remember Josephine, the female plumber who promoted use of Comet cleanser. (By the way, Jane Withers, the actress who portrayed Josephine, was born in Atlanta and got her show business start on WSB radio as “Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop.”)
I liked those characters and they became icons of their respective brands.
Today, there is a new kind of character. A disembodied voice that calls your phone and identifies themselves as “Mary from Customer Service.”
Mary, you are a fraud. You are not from customer service at any place I do business. A computer picks out a fake number that looks remarkably close to a number in your personal calling list and you feel compelled to answer it.
One of them now repeats “Hello, hello” and then tells you that they can hear you. They, in this instance, is a computer listening to your response.
Many of these calls are scams with persons trying to obtain information such as your bank account or Social Security numbers. What amazes me is as these schemes have become widely known, people continue to respond and volunteer their personal information.
There are people who pretend to be the Internal Revenue Service and demand money. Please remember that the IRS does not make demand phone calls and would not ask you to pay with some kind of blank payment card that you buy at the store.
Others portray themselves as some type of law enforcement or even a kidnapper and are holding someone you love in captivity and are seeking money for release.
I used to laugh at shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” when characters like Honest John would show up and try to get some of Jed Clampett’s money. Honest John, played by Phil Silvers tried to sell Jed half of Manhattan, including the Brooklyn Bridge. He also tried to sell him a machine that would blow all the smog out of Southern California.
Those were fun moments, because, in the end, Honest John ended up in the graybar motel.
The sad thing about today’s scams is that some people end up losing a large portion of money they worked years to save.
If it sounds too good or just a little too good, it probably is a scam. There are very few investments that are an absolute sure thing. Folks who used to make a pretty good return on bank savings now can only get a percent or two. If somebody has a real estate investment idea that they promise will make a certain amount of money, look out.
The word “con” is a slang term for confidence. A con man or woman is someone who gains your confidence and then proceeds to take advantage of you. There are some bad people out there who will do just about anything to talk you into handing over your money. Sadly, you might meet them at church, the PTA meeting or in a civic club.
Some of these folks are so dirty that no amount of Comet or Palmolive would clean them up. Shame on them.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose column publishes on Sundays.