Bambuí The other day I opened up my phone to check for messages. (When did communication become such a chore? …have to check emails, texts, phone calls, voice mail…with half the messages having nothing to do with anything I want anything to do with…but, of course, you never know…) 

Can you remember finding a hand-written letter in the mailbox…and trembling with anticipation as you opened it? Up until a couple years ago we had a rotary phone hanging on our kitchen wall. I remember the time a young visitor spied it there. “What is that thing?” “A phone.” “How does it work?” 

Two days ago I received a voice mail from an unidentified man, firm and confident, speaking unblemished American. (At least, in my anxiety, I don’t remember any identification.) “We have been trying to make contact with you for some time. This will be our last attempt to reach you before taking legal action. You are being sought by the F.B.I. for fraudulent use of the Social Security Program. In addition, you are being charged with money laundering. You must contact us without delay. In order to do so, push “2” on your phone’s touch screen.”

This was all a bit unsettling. “Haven’t I just been following Social Security’s rules? And then I wonder, “I’ve been laundering money? Seems like if I were laundering money I would have to be aware of it. Besides, I don’t know how to launder money (other than occasionally leaving cash in pockets that end up in the washing machine. The money does come out cleaner. But it’s definitely not malicious destruction of government property.) If I were laundering money wouldn’t I have something nicer than a 2012 Jetta in my garage. Wait a minute; I don’t have a garage!”

And then I think, “Is the Social Security Administration or the F.B.I. really going to let me know I’m a criminal by voicemail? Wouldn’t they be at the house, knocking down the front door?  Maybe a warrant? I’ve lived in the same house for 28 years. I can’t be that hard to find.”

So I didn’t push that “2”. I decided it was a scam. I hope I’m right.  

I wonder how many people actually fall into that trap. Given that the spiel began with a reference to Social Security, I’m going to take a wild guess that the targets are old people and/or those with disabilities. (What kind of shits target the old and the disabled?)

Well, come to think of it, our State Legislators are equal to the charge. Well, maybe their target is a little different. (Can an action be theft if it has specifically been made legal? This question should be the subject of universally mandatory Ethics 101. Here’s the answer—so remember it for the test: Yes. In fact, I recommend that all legislative bodies be placed under the jurisdiction of ethics committees, whose sole function is to make sure pending legislation is, in fact, without respect to actual law, not theft.)

State lotteries pay out 40 cents on the dollar. Then, winners of more than $600 are subject to a 45% windfall tax. The States don’t allow private casinos to shear their customers that close to the skin. Neither do casinos shear their customers at the same levels. Lotteries cost citizens $70 billion this past year; casinos, $56 billion. 

Lotteries are taxes on the stupid…and the poor. Those who play lose. The advertisements seem to state the obvious: “You can’t win if you don’t play”. They don’t state the not so obvious: the more you play the more you will lose; the more you play the more likely you are to be a loser. People justify playing the lotteries by limiting their outlay of funds. “I play once a week for $5…and I’m well ahead overall.” People lie. First to themselves and then to everyone else.

Nearly all the states are running lotteries in 2019. Roughly half the adults in the U.S. play the lottery. This means that 100 million Americans throw away $350 each year. Okay, that’s not quite $7 per week. You can spend that on a fancy latte. But looking at it differently, if that $350 was invested each year and earned a paltry 5%, after 20 years there would be a nest egg of nearly $12,000 (for each of those 100 million people). A good government would encourage its citizens to invest money in this way. (In fact, if the money were invested in an I.R.A. it would grow even faster, as it would be pre-tax dollars.) But our governments are not good. They lie to the people and convince them to behave foolishly. Pennsylvania, as an example, uses a cute little ground hog (Gus) to peddle its lottery tickets. I’m not sure of the logic of ground hogs and money management, but Gus is very cute. If cute Gus says it’s a good idea to throw your money away, it must be a good idea. Our governments are like the shits who try to scam the elderly. They should all be turned out of office.

A phone invasion can be every bit as threatening as a home invasion. While no one can shoot you from the other end of a phone (so far), the losses from a home invasion usually amount to a few hundred dollars worth of electronics and jewelry. A phone invasion, on the other hand, can result in the loss of critical identity information valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It can take years to resolve the mess caused by someone who has stolen your identity. 

Instead of stealing from the people, our governments should be ratcheting up the efforts to catch scammers, whether at home or abroad. It’s not right that people, sitting at home, minding their own business, should be so easily accessed and accosted.