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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Cell Phonies

       Last week, to my deep distress, my cell phone disappeared from my purse. I don’t know whether it somehow fell out, or if someone on the very crowded street purposely brushed against me and slipped a hand into my purse. All I know was that it was gone – and it became obvious that whoever found it was planning on keeping it because it was shut off in the middle of the second ring when I called from a friend’s phone. Also, an honest person would have called one of my speed dial numbers or the last call I made (it’s on the dialed numbers menu) and would have said that he found the phone, etc.

 

         And that was the source of my distress. Not that I had lost the phone (since it was easily replaceable for a rather small sum, and with the same phone number), but because a stranger had access to the phone numbers of family members and close friends.

 

         That had me quite worried – more than my normal everyday “worry” that is the sad but all too common legacy of the children of Holocaust survivors. Many of us, sensitive to our parents’ moods, couldn’t help but absorb and integrate the fears, suspicions and worst-case scenarios that our parents presented – pretty much on a daily basis – as they tried to get through each day. That, along with a rather creative imagination and the fact that there are evil people in this world has left its mark. Thus, I worry.

 

         Ironically, it was my fear of personal information possibly falling into unsavory hands that stopped me from having an all-out panic attack – because while my family and friends’ phone numbers were available on the phone, their names were not. I always use initials or clues when entering a contact name.

 

         I mentioned this to some colleagues, and while some shook their heads and told me I worry too much – that people keeping lost phones are just interested in the actual cell phone, and not the dozens of strange phone numbers it contains – one validated my extreme caution. She told me that her pre-teen children do not have “home” listed on their cell phones, but rather the name of their street, which sounds like a regular name. Nor does she have “Mom” or “Grandma” as contact names.

 

         And she is right. As unlikely as it is for someone who finds a cell phone to do more than toss the SIM card and keep the actual phone for his own use, there is still the possibility that a malicious predator or some kids looking for some fun can call “Mom” and say that their child (the owner of this phone) was hurt at this and that place, and they should come right away. At best, it could be a nasty prank; at worst, the mom/grandmother/sister, etc. could come running to an out-of-the-way place to their great peril. I recommend that people have “pareve” names on their speed dials or even in the contacts menu. A name I suggest to use for children with cell phones is “Mat,” short for Mummy and Tatti.

 

         The first thing an adult or child who has lost a cell phone should do is call family members and friends who they call frequently. They should alert them that their phone is lost, and if someone calls to say that the owner of the phone “was in an accident and to come right away,” they should realize it is a prank or a dangerous lure. I admit that this is very unlikely to happen – but it can happen. Hence the worrying! Remember, winning a million dollar lottery is also very unlikely. But it does happen to someone.

 

         At any rate, I would recommend that if anyone ever gets a call from a stranger to meet them somewhere, they should notify the police and explain that it may or may not be a legitimate call. If someone calls to return a lost phone, ask the person to leave it at a library or coffee shop, or somewhere in public. I personally would not give out my home address even if they say they will bring it to me.

 

         Likewise if they gave me an address where I could pick it up, I would go with someone and wait outside. Never enter a stranger’s home no matter how honest or personable he/she appears.While chances are the person is what they seem to be, take nothing for granted.

 

         Years ago near Toronto, several teenage girls were abducted and brutally murdered by a serial killer and his girlfriend. The abductors were very good-looking and nicely dressed, and would pull over to girls walking alone and ask for directions. The girls, no doubt seeing what looked like a nice, middle-class, young married couple, saw nothing wrong with approaching the car. A seemingly common, benign act – giving strangers directions – is committed by so many of us all too often; but in this tragic case the ordinary became extraordinarily horrific.

 

         I now have a new cell phone, but I made the decision to be extra cautious and not save certain phone numbers – even with initials or clues. Instead I have memorized them, and delete them when they come in as incoming calls. The fact is that these days you can type in a phone number on the Internet and get an address. That scares me.

 

         If, for example, your child’s yeshiva’s phone number is in your speed dial menu and a pervert or Jew-hater finds your lost phone, he may be able – based on obtainable information – to cause mayhem via prank calls to the school. The situation could become even worse if there are family names listed in the phone.

 

         As I said, it is highly improbable that the above scenarios would happen when losing a cell phone, which, like misplacing umbrellas, is a common occurrence. But, like winning the lottery, it is not impossible. For this worrier, better to use up a few brain cells and sleep at night than use the cells that ring – and wonder the whole night through.

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