Columns

2007.15.07 Searching for Austin Graven

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

By RICH FOLEY
Let’s have a show of hands, please. Has anyone else gotten a phone call from Austin Graven lately? Yeah, me, too. Lots of them, in fact. The timing is uncanny.
The call always seems to come 10 to 20 minutes before I return home, no matter when that might be. If it’s on a work day, my Caller ID will show Austin called at 5:15 to 5:45. If it’s my day off, the call will be right before I return home from the post office or grocery shopping. How does he always seem to know when I’m not home?
Since the number shown with the name had a Colorado Springs, Colo., area code, I wondered if it might be one of my long-lost (actually, I’ve never even met them) relatives from Colorado. Could I be heir to some huge fortune I was totally unaware of? No such luck, as it turns out.
I searched the internet and ended up on a site for disgruntled victims of telemarketers. It turns out the number belongs not to a person named Austin Graven, but to a telemarketing firm called Graven, Austin & Drake, Inc., specializing in magazine subscription sales.
I’m actually one of their lucky clients. The website I discovered had many complaints from people claiming they were called dozens of times each week and/or hung up on when they answered their phone. Others complained of constant pitches to buy or renew magazine subscriptions. That’s where I got on the list, I’m sure. Those “free” magazine subscriptions are coming back to haunt me, via telephone.
The site even had a map showing the locations of victims. For some reason the east and west coasts were nearly devoid of complainants, but the midwest and south were full of the annoyed. You can add your location to the map and, thanks to me, Fayette is now represented by a computer-generated pushpin.
Additionally, on a related subject, there’s the case of the former owners of my phone number. I wrote a couple of years ago of the joys of being verbally abused by people calling for the family who used to have my telephone number, but apparently moved without giving their new number to anyone.
After several months of aggravation, the number of calls eventually dropped off to a trickle, then stopped completely—or so I thought. A few weeks ago, I started to be bombarded by phone messages for the family once again.
I received one from a hospital for the female in the family that went on for nearly four minutes. I learned all about her upcoming surgery, her doctor’s name, her pre-op instructions, etc. I even found out she had been at the hospital in April. Too bad she never bothered to tell anybody she changed her number years ago. Luckily for her, I phoned the contact number the caller gave and left a message informing them they had a wrong number. I hope the surgery went well.
Then there was a call from the library for the family’s child, announcing that a book she had ordered had arrived. I now know something about their reading habits, too.
Finally, there was the collection call. This was from a Fulton County business, but showed up as “unknown caller” and the number as “(777) 777-7777” on my caller ID. I’d like to know how they pulled off that little trick.
The message, however, made it quite clear who was calling and that they expected a return call to their real number to talk about “the account.” Since I had nothing to fear from the business, I returned the message, hoping I could get removed from at least one phone list. It turned out to be a very productive call.
The person answering apologized, and offered to look through her records to see if she could match up the first names I provided and my phone number to anyone on her list. Not only did she find them, she also accidentally blurted out the last name. 
She promised to take my number off her list and I hung up and headed straight to my phone book, finally armed with a last name. Sure enough, there was their current number. After three years of dealing with their ill-mannered callers, I now had an advantage.
But what to do with the information? Obviously, I’m going to give their present phone number to anyone calling for the family, but should I stop there? Maybe call them repeatedly and ask for me? They’d deserve it, but I just had an even better idea. Maybe I should give their new number to Austin Graven and say they want to buy a magazine subscription.

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