I really, really love the holiday season, with all of its joys and wonders.
I enjoy the anticipation of seeing a loved one’s face when they open a gift and find something they had deeply desired but did not expect to receive due to the high cost or time-expenditure involved in obtaining it.
As a musician, I love being a part of the holiday build-up, participating in so many Christmas programs – as a musician, a director, and an educator. Providing holiday music to willing listeners who enjoy and praise your efforts is always a joy and pleasure.
I even enjoy shopping to an extent – when I am able to get out *early* in the morning around 7:30 or 8 AM before the mall’s parking lots begin to fill with the crazies who cruise up and down the lanes, looking for that one spot closest to the door when they could easily have parked their car five or six slots further down the hill and walked up, saving time *and* gas.
I love remembering Christmases past and sharing family stories with my children, now old enough to appreciate those of family members no longer with us and to enjoy hearing their own versions of those they shared in as very young children.
However, this Christmas season we had a new experience that I could just as soon done without.
The day after my previous post, my mother-in-law’s home, located nearby, was broken into and ransacked. There wasn’t really anything of monetary value in her home to steal – only sentimental and precious items that drew their value from their previous owners – all family who are no longer living.
According to DeKalb County police, the intruders are suspected as being juveniles looking for game systems, flatscreen televisions, laptops, etc. that they can easily turn around and sell for $50 or less in a couple of hours.
When the burglars couldn’t put their hands quickly on anything like that in her home, they weren’t satisfied until they had basically taken every drawer out and dumped it, pulled everything out of every closet and off every shelf in the process, leaving behind a complete and total mess all over the house.
We were advised that we would be contacted by a DP detective who would handle our case, but seeing as there wasn’t a great deal stolen and no apparent clues left behind, there’s not a great deal of hope for recovering what was lost. If we saw anything or anyone suspicious in our neighborhood, we should contact the DCPD immediately and let them know.
So, this year, we weren’t worried about whether or not we’d get all our shopping done in time or all the packages wrapped before running out of scotch tape. We didn’t really think about whether or not the UPS tracking number was messed up, saying only, “Shipper info received” for three days with no change in location *anywhere*.
Instead it was whether or not it was even safe to leave our own home unattended for a few hours to go visit other family members and share Christmas with them.
We were finally able to relax yesterday and enjoy a pleasant Christmas Day with our children and extended family, sharing a good meal and relishing the chaos of gift-giving and package-demolition that a family with nine members creates.
Then today – another reminder that there really are individuals out there whose sole intent is to take what doesn’t belong to them only because they’re too lazy to work for it like the rest of us.
We had a young couple, male and female, come to our door this afternoon, clipboard in hand, wearing name badges with an AT&T logo in the lower right-hand corner, saying that they were with AT&T, going door-to-door, checking with AT&T customers about their bills and whether or not they had received a reduction in monthly fees as had been reported. (their words)
According to them, there had been a number of complaints in our area from AT&T customers that the reduction had not come through in their bills and this couple’s job was to check on the status of our satisfaction with AT &T.
One of their first questions was whether or not we have only phone service or phone and internet service. (Shouldn’t this information already be in their system?)
When I asked if they had any identification, they both pointed to their name badges (which, coincidentally, did not have an individual picture on them – more on that later), and the young woman laughed, saying, “No, really, we’re here to help you eat up some of the leftovers from all that food you had yesterday.”
When I replied, “Well, you’re out of luck – there’s not much left”, her response was “No biggy.” (Is this really a professional reply from a professional marketing surveyor?)
At this point, my personal radar is screaming – WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
When they finally got to the point of asking about our billing, I used the convenient tool I always use when asked something by a marketing individual that I don’t want to answer:
“My husband handles all that. He’s gone to the store right now (which did happen to be true), and he’ll be back in 30 minutes.”
The young woman replied, “Well, we’ll be going down the street and looping around. We’ll be coming back by here in a little while. If we see him, we’ll stop back by.”
When I asked where they were parked, they both gestured down the street and vaguely replied “Down there.” (which I did look in that direction – no car was to be seen.)
As soon as they left, walking down the street, I ran inside and called my husband on his cell, telling him the story as quickly as I could. He had been heading for the store to pick up a prescription for our son, but immediately turned around to come back and look for these people.
My daughters and I watched as the couple continued down the street and back up the other side, literally going door to door, finding very few people at home today. (I suspect some of our neighbors were out at Stonecrest, scooping up after-Christmas bargains.)
I tried repeatedly to call 3-1-1 – the non-emergency number for DeKalb PD, but had no luck reaching anyone. Frustrated by this, I decided to go ahead and call 9-1-1 even though it really wasn’t an emergency situation as I think of an emergency.
The 911 operator was very helpful, taking down my information and reassuring me that they’d have someone out there soon, which, amazingly enough, happened within 5 minutes or so.
In the meantime, my husband had come back and stopped this couple, standing literally in his mother’s carport at her door, and had asked for their supervisor’s name and phone number.
He was given a single name – Bruno – and a 1-866 number that our daughters googled and found to be an ATT customer service number with the full menu of options to select from that drives *all* of us crazy.
He also asked for their names – Jamie and Rusty, which they wrote down – but couldn’t really verify this with their badges as he could not see them that well outside the van.
By the time the police arrived, “Jamie” and “Rusty” had continued on up the road and around the corner on the next side street. My husband had continued to ride around the neighborhood, keeping an eye on them, talking with AT&T on his cell, asking about ID as well, but the police somehow missed them when they left our home after speaking with me in our yard.
It became very obvious to me that not only was I unnerved by this, but our daughters and next-door neighbor as well. All of us were on edge, wondering if these people were legit or not.
My oldest daughter had called AT&T while this was all taking place and asked them if they could tell us if they knew of anyone from their company in our area going door to door.
She was advised that if the couple was legitimately representing AT&T, they would be wearing picture ID’s – not just name badges. Not only that – they would not come inside the home or ask to; they are prohibited from doing that.
Other information we found out was that any representative should have a letter of authorization as well as a number to call to verify their identity business.
When David had asked for their supervisor’s name and phone number, he was given the previously mentioned name and number written on the back of a poorly photocopied sheet of various monthly plans with an ATT logo at the bottom. No letter of authorization of any kind was shown.
In the process of riding through the neighborhood, David found a car parked on the side of the road on another side street just above our home.
As he drove by the BMW after writing down the tag number, he saw the young woman, “Jamie”, walking up the hill to the car. She waved and flagged him down, asking if he was following them around.
When he told her that he was just keeping an eye on the neighborhood, she told him that he’d better be careful – the police might pick him up because she had called them, telling them that a man was following them around. (The police later told us that no such call had been received.)
My sweet, gentle husband informed her that that was fine with him, and she might want to be careful, too, because we had called the police about them.
We still don’t know for sure if the couple was really asking for information as representatives of AT&T or on a fishing expedition of the neighborhood homes. By the time a second unit of the DeKalb PD came back by and talked with us, the car and couple was gone.
The police officer that spoke with us then said that he had been involved in a similar call recently in the area that did turn out to be a legitimate follow-up by a different media company. It also involved a couple, male and female, that, because of the physical appearance of one of them, caused questions to be raised in the minds of the homeowners who were approached at the door.
He also advised us that sharing the information with our neighbors (which we did and continue to do) is the very best thing we could do to protect ourselves and our neighborhood.
In his words, “You’re out here (in the area) all the time. We’re only here 10% of the time. You know who belongs here and who doesn’t. Stay alert and continue to watch out for anything or anyone suspicious and report them. That helps us out to protect you.”
So I’m left wondering if I panicked over nothing, or did I possibly give a potential burglar cause to stop and say, “Nah, I don’t think I’ll mess with this neighborhood. Too many busybodies.”
Was I overly sensitive to a woman who struck me as very unprofessional in her demeanor, or was she, in my husband’s words, possibly just a college student out to make a few bucks between semesters?
Was I possibly judgmental to someone who apparently has not had the benefits of education and socio-economic upbringing that I had?
I don’t know; I cringe at the thought of that kind of bigotry.
But I do know this – I’m not going to go through another Christmas, looking over my shoulder, wondering if someone’s watching our house, plotting to break in.
My New Year’s resolution that is actually *not* for New Year’s but today, December 26th, 2008 is this – I’m going to be more proactive – notifying our neighborhood watch that successfully got the speedbreakers installed on our street not to let down their guard, but to keep eyes and ears open.
We are a community of families that just happen to reside in nearby homes who need to look out for each other just as neighbors did when I was a child.
No longer can we be content to just stay in our homes, contacting only family members and immediate friends via phone, mail, and email. We have to reach out to those we recognize by sight here in our neighborhoods, even when we don’t know their names. Our family’s peace of mind may depend on it.