Phone scam artist catches sleeper unguarded

Suddenly it’s not a story any more. It’s reality.

We all know how early morning phone calls drive me crazy, but I try to remain at least cordial when I answer. Last Tuesday I hear the early morning voice of a man from VISA offering sympathy for my husband’s death and telling me he must verify the death to keep the card active.

“Who told you about that?” I ask, surprised.

“Social Security,” he replied.

Sounded logical, although foreign to anything I ever expected.

“We’ll be sending out a self-addressed envelope, and we’ll need you to return a copy of the death certificate,” he said. “It can be a copy. And we just need to verify the number to complete this.”

“What number,” I ask. Remember it’s early morning.

“That long number.”

Which should have set off every suspicious nerve in my body. That long number, indeed. Still, it’s early. He woke me up. My brain idled in snooze mode. I got four numbers out when something popped in my head. Pretty sure it was Walt exploding in the hereafter.

“No,” I said. “I can’t give you this number.”

“Then we’ll have to cancel the card,” he said.

“You can send me papers to fill out,” I said.

“But we’ll have to cancel the card.”

Here I stood, fresh from a warm bed and barely alert, knee deep in a scam that darn near worked.

Because I had actually given out the first four of the 16 numbers, I called VISA to ask if I should cancel the card.

My canceling wasn’t an option. Since Walt was the primary card holder, they had to close that account on his death. Didn’t matter that I’d been using it all along.

I hate all the questions that must be answered when applying for a credit card, but that’s what had to be done. She wanted to know where I worked.

“I’m retired, but I still write a column for the newspaper,” I said.

“Who’s your employer?”

“I don’t have one. I write a column freelance.”

“What’s your employer’s address?”

I try to be nice, really I do. But this woman wouldn’t listen. She kept talking to the end of our application process, then said, “Congratulations, you now have a $2,000 line of credit.”

“What!” The explosion rattled my phone.

A $2,000 line of credit. The card they forced down was a platinum plus card with a credit line high enough to act rich.

“We have to see what your credit history is,” she said.

“You’ve got my credit history,” I said. “I pay every month in full and never late.”

“We’ll have to see.”

How can she see when I’ve virtually pulled out both her eyeballs and tied them together inside her nose?

I can’t even think what kind of problems I would have had if I’d given the phone guy the full “long” number. That guy just made the idea of scams too real.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at