The Caller ID read "Toll Free Calle" – I think it safe to assume the last word was supposed to be ‘Caller’ – but no other identification was provided.
Most lawyers have staff to screen calls. Even many solos still have assistants who talk to potential clients, mollify existing clients, set up depositions and hang up on sales calls. But I have largely abandoned hope of ever hiring staff, all because employees have this all-too-reasonable desire to be paid on a regular basis. I am forced to listen to my own messages.
This automated message must have begun before my voice mail greeting had ended because the recording picked up in mid-word: "...vice provider about all your service options. A delayed response may result in an increased service rate or involuntary transfer of your business service plan. Please press 1 now to be connected. Please disregard this message if your business has already consulted an AT&T Solution Provider and applied a business service solution. If not, please press 1 now or call [not the number displayed on the caller ID – not even the same area code] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a service representative."
Now, I ask you... would you press 1? Would you call the number? Why?
This had clumsy, East-European-or-maybe-Nigerian-drain-your-bank-account scam written all over it, right?
Well, maybe not.
I ignored a number of these calls over a period of time -- and then my April office phone bill more than doubled.
Apparently, these really were calls from AT&T. Or at least some of them.
Mr. Cheerful always wants to know if I want to pay my bill. The first 17 or 18 menu options that he offers all have to do with paying the bill. I will admit that I have exhibited a certain lack of patience on occasion when waiting for these often redundant and always unhelpful options to end. It is just possible, I must concede, that I have, on more than one occasion, attempted to interrupt the machine's recitation by stabbing zero, zero, zero on the telephone keypad and roaring, "I WANT TO SPEAK WITH A HUMAN BEING! NOW!"
In later, more reflective, moments, I have been forced to consider the possibility that, when screaming and stabbing at the keypad, no sane human being would want to speak with me.
At some point, Mr. Cheerful changed tack. My button-pushing and howling have had no effect whatsoever on the cheery affect of Mr. Cheerful. "In a few short words," he gushed, "tell me about why you are calling. For example, you can say, 'I want to pay my bill,' or 'I really want to pay my bill.'"
Granted, my response was probably not as specific as the designers of the system expected. But it was heartfelt nonetheless. "AT&T is a bloated, corrupt monopoly that was justifiably destroyed by the Federal Courts," I said, "only to be allowed to reassemble, through the criminal negligence of our elected representatives and government regulators, like the mythical Hydra, into a monster more terrible than before."
There was a noticeable pause. When Mr. Microchips spoke again, a note of concern has, for the first time, infected his cheerful tone. "I'm sorry, I didn't get that." But Mr. Cheerful rallied immediately, back on script, "In a few short words," he repeated, "tell me about why you are calling. For example, you can say, 'I want to pay my bill,' or 'I really want to pay my bill.'"
I was in fact calling about my bill and I unloaded on Mr. Cheerful once more. "I am not paying my bill! I am not paying this outrageous amount!"
It is all too easy for me to spare you the agony of how I got from this point to a very wary call-taker. I simply can't recall how I made it. The red mist swam before my eyes. I thundered. I shrieked. I may have sobbed. A few non-vital blood vessels burst, I'm sure, along the way.
The bottom line was that my "service plan" had indeed expired and I was being billed a la carte prices instead of the bundled price I had heretofore endured. The AT&T call-taker made an effort to sound sympathetic: "We don't want to change the pricing every year or so," he said, "but we are required by regulations to do this." This would be comforting, I suppose, or at least give me the opportunity to deflect my ire from AT&T to the government regulators were I not pretty well convinced that AT&T pretty much dictates those few regulations it will tolerate from a compliant government.
When one has no choice at all, one can only try and be gracious and take the punishment meted out: I would be forced to pay this ridiculously high April bill but, as a reward for calling, I could look forward to a new bundle of varied prices that somehow added up to only just a little bit more than I'd been paying previously. I knew I was supposed to be grateful for such condescension from my corporate betters. But I still had one more appeal to reason left: You know, I said, if you really wanted customers to re-configure their plans every year or two you could include a notice in the bill. The bill is the one communication from AT&T that I know is genuine. The anonymous phone calls or junk mass-mailings might or might not be for real, I explained.
Alternatively, I suggested, there's an AT&T store in the Loop. I can pay my bill there. Why can't I sign up for any required new rates there?
The AT&T call-taker waited me out, patiently, I thought. But he was dismissive. "We can't do that," he said, or, "That's not the way we do things."
And, indeed, why should AT&T change? AT&T cadged an extra $200+ from me in April -- multiply that over how many hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of similarly-situated small businesses and you begin to see the enormous profitability of the scheme -- and, as long as I insist on a landline for my office phone, I have nowhere else to go.
I am actively rethinking this whole need-for-a-landline thing.
Meanwhile, for the time being, I believe I can once again use my office phone as a tool in my legal practice, secure that I am back in the good graces of AT&T.
Or am I?
A week or so after the events herein recounted, around the time I reluctantly wrote that enormous check, I received a call from an unidentified toll free number. As before, the prerecorded message began before my voice mail greeting asked for a message: "...vice provider about all your service options. A delayed response may result in an increased service rate or involuntary transfer of your business service plan. Please press 1 now to be connected. Please disregard this message if your business has already consulted an AT&T Solution Provider and applied a business service solution. If not, please press 1 now or call [not the number displayed on the caller ID – not even the same area code] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a service representative." Yes, it was the exact same message I had previously disregarded to my subsequent (and expensive) regret. But, surely, it was just a case of AT&T being such a bloated monstrosity that this computer hadn't yet gotten the memo from the other computer that I had recently signed on for another hitch, right?
Then, a week or two ago, there was still another call from an unidentified toll-free number. Like we were taught about Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in high school, AT&T apparently likes to start its voice mails in medias res: "... AT&T business telephone service. Action is required to complete your pending service migration. AT&T recently replaced your business DSL service or installed new high-speed Uverse service at your business location as Phase One of our digital service migration. If your business utilizes two business lines or less, please press 1 now to schedule the voice segment of the service migration. AT&T will now complete Phase Two of your service migration by increasing your Internet speed up to 45 megabytes and/or add Uverse business voice service for less than your previous service cost. As an existing AT&T customer using Uverse, your business qualifies for up to a $100 Visa gift card for this service upgrade. This service will be less than your previous service cost. Please press 1 now to speak to an AT&T business solution provider about all your service upgrade options. Please press 1 now. Please disregard this message if your business has already provided an AT&T business solution provider and upgraded your Uverse service. If not, please call [a different toll-free number than the one allegedly calling] between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to speak to a representative."
But I don't have Uverse. Well, I do, but for my suite as a whole, not for my individual business. And I have three lines. Does this even apply to me?
I promise you, Perry Mason never had to answer these kinds of questions. I've never seen the show, so I can't be sure, but I doubt that even Better Call Saul has had to bother with this stuff. But, as was said in E.T., so it may also be said here: This is reality, Greg.
Norwood Park remembers -- Memorial Day 2015 - The rain held off just long enough for the annual Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade today. Herewith some photos of the occasion. ...
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