Coffee heat rising

Just Hang Up!

Seems like every day we hear about some new telephone or Internet scam — and, in the “one born every day” department, some poor soul falls for a convincing patter. Check out this story: A crook claiming to be from Apple cons a woman into forking over almost two grand from her bank account, claiming that someone had been trying to hack her phone.

She falls for his tale, follows his instructions — even after she questions his authenticity — and loses $1,980.98. Then, incredibly, her bank refuses to refund the stolen money on the grounds that she willingly paid it to him!

So, one wonders: might her homeowner’s insurance cover the lost funds, since this is a theft not altogether unlike a burglary or a stick-up?

The answer is probably not, unless you’ve already arranged for it. Most standard homeowner’s policies  offer no coverage for cybercrime, and many insurers do not cover it at all. However it is possible to buy such coverage: if you feel you or someone in your home may be vulnerable to a fast-talking hustler, talk to your insurance agent or broker about buying coverage when it’s time to renew your policy.

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself from phone hustlers is simply not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You can install automated assistance in this endeavor: for cell phones, check out this spectacularly delightful call blocking app. If you still use a landline — as some of us do to accommodate a home-based business — an in-line call-blocking device is many times more effective than the phone company’s half-baked efforts.

I use the CPR Call Blocker, which blocks most of the dozen or more nuisance calls that hit my phone number, every day. The hustlers spoof nearby area codes, hoping to trick you into thinking a number is coming from a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a local business. I’ve set the device to intercept numbers from the local area codes where I never do business and where none of my friends live. If for some reason I have to do business with someone in one of those areas, I tell them my phone doesn’t work and they need to email me — this works just fine. A number of such devices are on the market, and some landline phone sets come with built-in call blockers. Check the reviews on Amazon by way of making a choice.

Failing an electronic firewall, though, there’s a much simpler and infinitely better strategy: HANG UP.

The victim of the scam in question today believed the crook when he introduced himself as an Apple representative. Despite her initial skepticism, he fast-talked her into buying his story.

The obvious response to this? Hang up.

In this case, our victim’s next steps would have been pretty intuitive:

  1. Hang up on the caller. If you think it may be a genuine call, say something like Oh dear! The dog is peeing on the carpet! or Eeek! The baby just fell in the pool! Can I call you back? Then get the phone number the caller says will reach him or her.
  2. Call the bank. Tell a customer service rep what the caller claimed and ask a) is it likely to be true; and b) one way or the other, what can done to prevent hacking? Follow the customer service rep’s advice.
  3. Email a description of the call to, a service available to her as an Apple computer user. This won’t help you personally, but it will alert the company to the specific scam.

Even those of us who are pretty wary and wise to phone hustles can fall for a convincing pitch, especially if the caller knows something about you. The best defense is to avoid hustlers altogether — or at least, as well as one can — through the use of an effective call blocker. Second best is never to answer a call from a number you don’t recognize. And never, ever divulge financial or private information over the phone. Period.

The Small Joys of Life in the Desert

Mwa ha ha! Just pressed “BLOCK” on a spoofed robocall number…the first nuisance call that’s gotten through in days. Literally, the nuisance call rate has dropped from a dozen a day (or more) to one a day (or less). woo-HOOO!

Out the door with Ruby the Corgi at a few minutes after 5:00 this morning. Gorgeous morning…and there was nobody out there!

Yes: just a few minutes earlier than usual, the hordes of dog-walkers haven’t stumbled out their doors. Nary once were we lunged at by massive, just-vaguely-under-control guard dogs — the cost of living on the margin of a high-crime “neighbor”hood. On our entire mile-and-a-half route, we ran into just one other dog person: the guy who has the herd of corgis! So of course we had to hang out for a minute or two and chat, he and his dogs being eminently civilized. 😀

Believe it or not, yesterday — June 2nd — was the first day of serious swimming here at the Funny Farm. First time I was able to get into the pool, stay in it, and actually swim around for awhile. The water is still cool, but not so crisp as to raise goose-bumps.

Normally, summer begins around the first week of May. The snowbirds leave town in April, so scared are they of temps in the 90s. NG usually heads for her Denver digs early in April, while IMHO it’s still passing balmy here. So this whole extra month of sweater weather at doggy-walk time and — best of all — no air-conditioning(!!!!!) at any time has been quite the little Godsend. Last month my power bill was $134, some sort of all-time record low for this time of year.

So that’s pretty surprising.

The chard seeds I planted in the pots where their predecessors lived for a good four years, through frost and scorcher, have already sprouted. So, before long I’ll have fresh greens to go with the various dinner menus, rather than frozen spinach.

But speaking of large, threatening dogs populating the local byways, one is always reminded (if by nothing else, by the constant roar of helicopters overhead) that we are gentrifying a neighborhood bounded on two sides by high-crime areas. The corner of Gangbanger’s Way and Conduit of Blight, about a half-mile from the Funny Farm, regularly scores the highest arrest rates in the city. A perfectly acceptable and invitingly shoppable Sprouts resides .8 miles from my house, door to door. I could easily walk down there to shop, adding some exercise and saving, over time, a whole lotta gasoline. But…noooo way! It simply is not safe to walk on Conduit of Blight. Even if you were carrying heat, it wouldn’t be safe.

This means that even to go down to the corner market, I have to travel in a locked car, putting two layers of steel between myself and my…uhm…neighbors. It also means that as a practical matter, I shop at the corner market a whole lot less than anyone should have to. Today, for example, I need to restock because I’ll be spending most of the day tomorrow volunteering at the church and getting stitches pulled out of my gums. To do that, I will get in my car and drive to the AJ’s at Central and Camelback, a 10-mile round trip rather than a 1.6-mile stroll.

I find that deeply annoying.

It happens because the City has neither the will nor the resources to keep vagrancy and crime under control. Things like this happen, for example…all. the. freakin’. time. The sh!thead who set this fire, which incinerated a dozen apartment-house renters’ cars, lived in the apartment’s parking lot, where he was sleeping in his van. Residents complained repeatedly about the guy, but were (they claim) ignored. The apartment building, which once was a fairly nice place, is now owned by the City of Phoenix and is, shall we say, not recommended by Google reviewers who have had the misfortune of living there. It is smack in the middle of one of the most hotly gentrifying districts in the city.

As we scribble, the itinerant perp is under indictment for murdering his father. Why exactly he’s free to wander around and set fire to parking garages remains unclear. Well, no, it doesn’t. We know the reason: the City of Phoenix and State of Arizona do not give one thin damn about the safety of law-abiding, tax-paying residents and so neither entity does a thing to preserve said residents’ safety and property.

The presence of wandering sh!theads and the prevalence of crime petty and major come under the heading of “life in the big city.”

Which brings us to the question of why on earth do I stay in this place?

This morning, with that perennial concern in mind, I was looking at real estate in Fountain Hills, a middle-class suburban redoubt on the far side of Scottsdale. For what I can net on this house, I could buy a more or less comparable place over there. Quite a few such shacks are on the market just now.

Problem is, though…I don’t want to live in Fountain Hills.


a) It’s too damn far away from where I go and what I do.
b) The houses are cheaply built, even the ones that cost somewhat more than an arm and a leg. Views are gorgeous, but the architecture is junque.
c) Apparently there’s no gas service out there. So every house has ultra-expensive electric air-conditioning, and no house has a gas stove.
d) Scottsdale (where you’d have to shop for just about everything) is just not this Walmart Girl’s style.

If I’m going to move away from all my friends, from my son, and from everything I do here, I might as well live in Prescott.

But…I don’t want to live in Prescott.

a) It snows in Prescott. I like my swimming pool and I ain’t leavin’ it behind.
b) I know no one in Prescott and have no desire to build new networks of friends and business acquaintances.
c) If it costs an arm & a leg to air-condition a shack in Phoenix, you do not even want to know how much it costs to heat a place up there!

I could afford to live on the far west side of Phoenix, in one of the Sun Cities. These have exceptionally low crime rates and are, shall we say, quiet. As in the quiet of the mortuary.

But…I don’t want to live in Phoenix’s crowded, tacky, Southern-California-style suburbs.

a) That area has everything you could possibly want now…but it is just mobbed. Awful, crowded, hectic streets and shopping centers everywhere you go outside of the mausoleum-like Sun Cities.
b) I’ve lived in Sun City and am not doing that again, either.
c) Like Fountain Hills, the far west side (on the California side of the slums that spread outward from Maryvale, the kernel of west-side blight in this city) is too damn far away from where I go and what I do.

Beyond the SoCal ticky-tacky (by an hour’s drive or so) is Wickenburg, the West’s Most Western Tourist Trap. Now…I could stand to live in this place. Absolutely. And I could afford it. Except…

a) Out there in the borderlands of the boondocks, that gorgeous yard is going to attract rattlesnakes and coyotes. Ruby the Corgi couldn’t be allowed to walk around out there unattended. Not and live long, anyway.
b) If Fountain Hills and Sun City are too far away, Wickenburg is on the far side of the galaxy.
c) I cannot live without a Costco.

It’s hard to imagine how I could find a place comparable to this one, which has everything I like in a dwelling and few things (other than the resident drug-popping transients) I don’t like, in an area that is safer, centrally located, and reasonably affordable.

So, as they say, il faut cultiver notre jardin.