Sit back and relax while I spin you a saga of scheming, sleuthing and possible skullduggery. (You can skip to the end if you just want the final conclusion.)
It started a few weeks ago with what seemed like a typical annoying telemarketing call. There was a delay of 4 or 5 seconds before the voice came on: “May I speak to Jessica Jones?”
I explained that there was no such person. The next day, another call for Jessica Jones. And the next day. And the next. At first I assumed it was the same company, based out of Utah, because I had started asking where they were calling from. After a heated discussion with a guy who firmly insisted that he had not called before, he escalated me to a supervisor who fervently promised to remove my name from their list.
Alas, I had also been lazy about registering my cell phone two years ago for the federal Do Not Call list, but, as it happens, that wouldn’t have saved me. These were calls specifically authorized by “Jessica Jones” so the Do Not Call rules wouldn’t apply. (I’m going to refer to JJ without quotes from here on simply for typing convenience. I’m not convinced there is such a person, nor that JJ is even a woman, but let’s play along with her for a while.)
The calls kept coming, at least once a day, sometimes twice, usually when I was taking a nap or on the phone with a client. I asked T-Mobile about blocking the numbers but they couldn’t, thank you very much.
About two weeks into this fiasco, I ran across a newswire story indicating that the FTC had just busted a “Multi-Million Dollar Work-From-Home Business Coaching Scheme”…in Utah, where most of my nuisance calls were coming from. It seems that this ring of companies with numerous DBAs and AKAs was guilty of “a massive scam that bilked consumers out of millions for useless work-at-home kits” ─ and was being shut down. I thought it was my folks, but none of my company names matched the convicted companies.
My response to the daily calls ranged from quiet exasperation to one bout of actually shouting nasty words at the caller. I’m not proud of this, but after two or three weeks of daily calls for the elusive Jessica Jones, I was getting pretty darn tired of it.
I started initiating polite discussions where I’d purport to be taking a message for Jessica and then eventually reveal that there is no JJ and that I was simply trying to locate her so I could ask her to use someone else’s number for whatever her scam is.
What I couldn’t figure out was how she…he…it gains anything of value by giving a fake number.
See, the companies ─ all work-from-home operations selling online marketing packages or web services ─ really needed to get in touch with Jessica Jones. She had initiated the contact with them, not the other way around.
For a while I figured she had simply been careless in typing her phone number on whatever registration form the website needed. But after 20 or 30 calls, I realized she couldn’t have made the same typing error that many times.
According to some of the reps, she had actually paid out money, up to a few hundred bucks, for whatever marketing kits they were promoting. Yet the companies had no way of sending her anything or contacting her…except by my phone number.
The companies were all involved in some sort of putatively legitimate enterprise having to do with home-based online marketing. And none of them had reached out to Jessica; she was the one contacting them.
Here’s a list of the companies whose names I was able to gather:
- Titan Trade
- Design Metrics
- 6-Figure Tool Kit
- Empower Investment Group
- Extreme Network Training
- Nortec Strategies
- Page Cash Flow
I decided to consult the all-powerful Oz, Google that is, to see if I could figure out which of millions of Jessica Joneses was the culprit ─ bearing in mind that, with a generic-sounding name like that, she could simply have made it up as part of her scheme.
One telemarketer seemed to have pay dirt for me: an email address, email@example.com, and a street name, Jomax Rd. I was familiar with Jomax, being a well-known albeit rural street in north Scottsdale. “Stubby.com” didn’t sound so promising.
I tried Googling Jessica Jones in Phoenix. There are a couple hundred, but of course no one gives their address. I tried sending out an email. No response. I tried LinkedIn and Facebook. Too many names and not enough detail. I could’ve paid the fees that online directories charge to find someone but I didn’t want to actually pay out money.
I got the idea that she might have just been mistaken in the phone number she was giving out by one digit. The beauty of investigating this is that I only had 9 wrong numbers to dial. Maybe I’d get lucky and find the real Jessica Jones had simply mis-typed her number. I had actually run across such a scenario several years ago with both a hospital and a private business owner.
I soon came to realize that using my phone number was not a simple typing error. No one gives out a mis-typed phone number 30. 40, 50 times and then doesn’t realize that she’s not getting any call backs.
I started researching the Internet more intensely. A minor victory: I found several marketing domains registered by a “Jessica Jones” with GoDaddy for various online business ventures. Since GoDaddy is a Phoenix-area company, I decided I was closing in. Eventually, I determined that “jomax” was simply the DNS (domain) server, “jomax.net.” Dead end.
The legion of telemarketers and I were in the same boat. We all wanted to find Jessica.
However, I had by now concluded that Jessica Jones was simply a name used as part of some scheme to scam the scammers…the telemarketing info packet companies.
But what kind of scheme? What could she possibly gain by contacting 30-50 (or more) organizations and asking for information, perhaps even paying for it? (One company claimed to have her credit card info and gave me the last four digits of a Master Card.)
As the calls paraded past my eardrums each day, I started looking forward to them. Almost. When I was polite and explained my situation, many of them understood that we had a common interest in finding Jessica. After all, as far as they knew, she wanted to sign up for their services but nothing could proceed until they were able to talk to her.
Clearly, Jessica did not want to be contacted.
What was her darn scheme?
Then, a couple days ago while chatting with an affable telemarketer (who actually tried to sell me a package), he indicated that he had her address. In truth, for a while one of my theories was that the companies really didn’t have a Jessica on their list; they had simply made her up as an excuse to make random calls, much like the roof-repair guys who act like they got the wrong address for a roofing job and then say “While we’re in the neighborhood, would you like us to take a look at your roof?”
I cautiously teased the address out of him ─ an apartment complex on N. 12th St. in central Phoenix. Since it wasn’t far from a rental property I wanted to check on, I decided to pay a call. Obviously I couldn’t call ahead; I’d only be calling myself.
I actually queried my two classes of freshman composition students on what to do since we were just embarking on a module about “how to complain” which is followed up by a module on research methods.
The vote was mixed. Some said “Do nothing, let it go.” Some said “Write a complaint letter to the address.” A few said “Go ahead and knock on the door” ─ though truth be told, the female students mostly voted “Ewwww, that’s creepy.”
I took the straw poll as an affirmation that I should do what I wanted to do anyway: pay a call on Ms. Jessica.
So I girded my loins and drove to the very specific address I had gained.
I went through the outcome possibilities in my head, like a flow chart:
a) I can’t get into the apartment complex: no harm to anyone
b) I get into the complex but there’s no such apartment: no harm
c) I get into the complex, find the right door but no one answers–most likely scenario considering it was 11am on a Tuesday: no harm
d) I get into the complex, a person answers and it’s not Jessica: maybe a little creepy but no harm and, after all, I’m the one being harassed by daily phone calls with no other viable way to get in touch.
e) I get in, a person answers and it is the golden chalice of investigations, Jessica Jones herself, who explains that she’s bored or doing a research project or whatever and will be happy to concoct some other phone number.
As you may have guessed, the correct answer is “d”. A very nice middle aged woman answered the door after a minute or two, said she was not JJ, had occupied the premises for three years and also knew the previous tenant, who was not JJ. She was sympathetic to my plight and was gracious enough to take my name and phone in case an actual package from one of the telemarketing outfits arrived.
Of course she could have been devilishly clever in pretending not to be JJ but I believe her.
It fits the Jessica M.O.: if she’s going to give out fake phone number and fake email, she might as well give out a fake street address. I figured she may, from time to time, need to supply the companies with legitimate-sounding contact info, knowing as she does that she has no intention of being contacted.
Interestingly, the street address is almost ridiculously detailed and authentic down to a four-digit apartment number. If you’re going to give out a fake address, not intending to actually receive anything, why not just totally confabulate one, perhaps taking the minimal trouble to make it sound real? She could have said “Mike Hunt/1234 Erehwon Lane/Phoenix,” but she came up with a street that actually exists in a real town with an actual apartment number.
Riddle solved. Maybe
I now went back to some of my GoDaddy sources where JJ had registered a site and drilled down to a company based in the Phoenix area which happened to have a customer service number. A cordial gent, who asked that I not use his name or company, gave me the scoop, confirming my latest hypothesis.
Someone, possibly Jessica, wants to check out various online marketing schemes but the website landing pages require some kind of call back or contact info to get past their main page to a second level. Since she’s just window shopping and doesn’t really want a flurry of telemarketing calls (duh!) she cooks up a phone number to paste into the website registration form ─ much like you’d do if you were shopping for a car or insurance but didn’t want to be pestered with sales calls.
Because she has no intention of being contacted, any old legit-sounding info will do.
My source said this happens all the time. She’s probably in the Phoenix area and just made up a Phoenix-area-code phone number and chose a close-by street address when required by the registration form.
Unfortunately for hapless victims, the phone number such a person chooses goes not just to the immediate company but is captured on a form and sold to multiple companies. Eventually, it’s bundled with a bunch of other non-responsive numbers and re-sold at a discount as an “aged lead.”
So, Ms. Jones, whoever you are. Call. You know the number. I’d really just like to know what the scheme is.