People whose ancestors were Jews don’t usually feel fully comfortable complaining to governmental officials. There’s a famous picture of a Jew being forced to walk barefoot through the streets during the early years of Nazi Germany. He’s surrounded by mocking polizei. A sign has been hung from his neck, and it says something to the effect of: “I complained to the authorities, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
But this is America, right? And yesterday I wrote that I would take some action about the genuine Jesus Christ paper prayer rug scam. Remember that the thick envelope containing that sacred relic arrived in my mailbox under the no-stamp-required guise of a message from a nonprofit organization.
I neglected to mention in my previous post that I was supposed to return the prayer rug — along with my “seed” money — to Saint Matthew’s Churches. “It is a must that you get this unusual blessing Church Prayer Rug out of this house and back to us, here at the church’s chapel prayer room, in faith.” Why? So that the very same scrap of paper can be rushed to “another family that’s in need of a blessing.”
Essentially, we’re talking about a bogus chain letter here. The urgent plea for me to return the prayer rug is clearly made to encourage an immediate response. It’s a taxpayer-financed get-rich-quick scheme.
So, I made some phone calls: the post office, my U.S. senators, and the IRS.
After introducing myself, here’s how I opened each conversation.
There’s a group of con artists that have apparently been given tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization. They’re doing a mass mailing of a fraudulent chain letter asking me to send them money to a post office box. The group is posing as a church, but they’re criminals; the whole thing is clearly a scam. I object to using my hard-earned tax money to finance a crooked scheme.I emphasized "my hard-earned tax money." If I could have spoken in red, boldface, italic, capitalized, underlined type, I would have. In lieu of that, I reached into my linguistic arsenal and found my pissed-off voice. That's the one I've borrowed from Donald Duck.
The woman at the post office took my name, address, and phone number. Then she asked for the name and address of the bogus church. After she got this information entered into “the system,” she apologized for my inconvenience. I told her that I accepted her apology but that, really, she wasn’t responsible.
“I don’t believe in killing the messenger,” I joked.
She didn’t understand what I meant, so she apologized again. I’m hoping that the Feds don’t show up to arrest me for making threats over the telephone.
I’m not a fan of either political party, but I tend to lean a bit more toward the Democrats’ line of bullshit these days. So first, I called Senator Bill Nelson’s office in Washington.
A too chipper guy answered the phone, and I rattled off my introductory paragraph.
He said, “Thanks for calling. I’ll pass that information along.”
I said, “Wait a minute. I didn’t give you any information.”
He said, “Oh, OK. Give me the information.”
I asked, “Will you pass it along?”
He said, “Mmm-hmmm. Yes. Definitely.”
I said, “No you won’t.” Then I hung up.
The man who answered in Mel’s Washington office listened to my spiel and said I’d better call the senator’s local office in Florida. He gave me the number and told me to say I was phoning about “case work.”
I did so. A very charming woman listened carefully to my gripe and asked whom the letter came from. I told her and she said, “Well, obviously the IRS has given them tax-exempt status because they’re a church.”
I went into detail about the contents of the envelope. She chuckled a few times.
“Doesn’t that sound like a con to you?” I asked.
She laughed again. “I can’t really say,” she replied. “Lots of people have faith in different things. I go to church every Sunday and tithe, so I can understand when someone sends money to a church. But let me look this one up for you to see if there are any other complaints.”
I didn’t know where she was searching, but my astute Sherlock Holmes mind interpreted the tapping and I assumed it was somewhere on the Internet. I waited patiently for a few seconds. “Well,” she said, “you’re not the first person to make a charge against them.”
Then I heard the tapping again. She said, “I went to their Web site. It looks like they actually do have a church building. So it’s not just a post office box.”
“But, tell the truth. It looks kind of fishy, doesn’t it?”
She repeated: “Lots of people have faith in different things. I’ve heard of churches that sell water that’s supposed to be from the Sea of Galilee.”
“Yeah, other crooks. I mean, have you ever heard of a Christian prayer rug? Does that sound kosher to you?”
She tittered ever so slightly. “Well, I can’t say. But you might want to report this to the IRS and have them look into it.”
More tapping. “OK,” she said, “I’m at the IRS Web site and it looks like there’s a form you can fill out to complain about tax fraud.”
“Yes,” I said, “but isn’t that only if you’re trying to report a person or company who’s cheating on taxes? Like Al Capone.”
She giggled. I mentally gave her some points for recognizing my reference. “All right, I’ve got it. Here’s instructions about how to write a personal letter to them. That’s probably what you should do.”
She also gave me a phone number to call. I thanked her and told her that I was impressed with how non-commital she could be. She laughed yet again and wished me good luck.
By now I felt like just some old crank, but I decided to finish what I’d started. After dialing the number and pushing the right buttons to get to the department I wanted, I was placed on hold. The music I heard was from “The Nutcracker Suite.” I checked my calendar to make sure it’s the middle of May. We old cranks sometimes forget stuff.
An agent finally answered and identified himself by name and official number. I went through my intro.
He told me I could either write a letter and mail it, fax a note with the appropriate details, or send an email. I said an email would be great, and he gave me the address. Then I asked him if it would be worth my time and effort. He said, “Yes. Give us as much information about the organization as you can. We like to investigate these things.”
So now, having spent a few hours mostly on hold, I’ll follow through. Tomorrow. By that time, I'll have recranked my crank.
More — if I actually get a response — in the future. In the meantime, watch for my barefoot photo in your local newspaper.