THE BLOG
02/07/2014 07:11 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2014

This May Be The Most Despicable Phone Scam Out There

I was working at home and answered the phone.

"Hi Ann, it's AJ," said the friendly male voice.

"Who?" I asked. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"AJ." And then he continued with a hint of empathy in his voice, "Ann, you don't remember me, do you?"

"Afraid I don't," I responded, and began explaining how I interview dozens of people a week for work and have hundreds of email conversations every day, which means that people enter and fall off my radar regularly, so please take no offense...

But he cut my explanation short. "We spoke last September and you asked me to call you after the first of the year to set up that construction job you wanted me to do for you," said Mr. AJ, aka Affable Jerk.

It took my lightbulb but a nanosecond to turn on. "Look, we both know I don't know you, never spoke to you and since I'm on a Do Not Call list, don't you ever call this number again," I told him. I slammed the phone down and wished I had had a whistle handy to blow in his lying-ass ear.

Annoyed with myself for even giving him 20 seconds of my time and wondering how these phone solicitors ever get any work anyway by making cold calls, I shot off a fast status update to Facebook describing what had just happened. That's where a friend turned the real lightbulb on for me.

Andréa P. Roundtree wrote, in part: "We get these calls every single day. I so hate them! ... The thing is they call my 86 year old mother's phone line and I think that's the point. They are ... targeting older Americans who might not remember whether or not they spoke to them."

Bingo! That explained AJ's whole scripted dialogue in a nutshell. AJ and his ilk are hoping to catch people who are afraid they may be experiencing memory loss. This elevates the whole annoying phone call thing to an ugly predator who targets the elderly. Pond scum. Disgusting. Never mind fines or sending them to jail, I vote for a public stoning.

Doug Shadel of AARP confirmed to The Huffington Post what Roundtree surmised. As a former fraud investigator with the Washington State attorney general's office, Shadel said he has audio tapes of elderly people getting scam calls asking "where's the check?" The caller pretends that the senior committed to a cruise or to buy some service and promised to send a check. The senior, worried that this is something that they just forgot, dutifully writes a check and sends it post haste.

The self-doubt -- and fear -- when it comes to losing our memories is real, and for good reason.

"Many seniors are afraid to come forward because they don't want anyone -- especially their adult children -- to think they can no longer manage their affairs because of memory loss," Shadel said. No one wants to lose their independence and that's frequently what happens."

Other phone scams that target the elderly promise that the senior has won a sweepstakes or contest that they (didn't really) enter. For the scam call to be successful, the senior must have enough distrust of their memory and instead believe the caller.

What recourse does someone who gets this kind of call have? Not much to speak of, which is why the calls proliferate. If you call the number back, as I did, a machine tells you it is a non-working number -- meaning a computer that isn't accepting calls. I am on the Do Not Call Registry, which frankly is one of those great ideas that doesn't actually do very much.

Yep, it's all pretty despicable, agreed Shadel. But in case you hear from "AJ," just tell him to "forget" about it.