Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
News >  Column

Paul Turner: Seniors aren’t simpletons, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little phone help

Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

If you have elderly friends or relatives who live alone, it might be time to have the talk.

No, not about giving up the car keys. Though perhaps that day is coming soon.

I’m referring to the need to tell them to not answer the phone. Why? Because people are no damn good. That’s why.

For the elderly, answering the phone is an invitation to be scammed.

Sure, there’s Caller ID. But sometimes that can be confusing for persons past a certain age. And lots of times calls from crooks just list the name of a distant city.

“Who do I know in Philadelphia?”

“Nobody, Grandma. Don’t answer it.”

“Who is ‘Anonymous’ anyway?”

“Nobody you need to talk to, Grandma.”

Make sure your older friend or relative knows how to retrieve phone messages. Urge them to check for a message promptly after receiving a call. It might be legitimate. It might be important.

But it’s probably not. Chances are, it’s some human waste looking to clean out your friend or relative’s bank account. Or an alleged charity trolling for a soft touch they can put the bite on over and over.

If your friend or relative has even the slightest doubt about the intent of a message, have them ask for your help in deciphering it.

Now every once in a while, this or that governmental entity makes noises about cleaning up the unsavory side of unsolicited phone calls. But the problem only gets worse.

This practice of preying on the elderly is enough to make one hope there’s a hell.

Many senior citizens can remember a time when you could answer the phone with a reasonable expectation that the caller was not trying to sell you something or steal from you.

Those days are gone.

A lot of people are lonely, not just the elderly. But talking to strangers on the phone seems especially attractive to some of our shut-in neighbors.

The thing is, that’s just not a good idea anymore.

Older people aren’t simpletons. They know there have always been rats in our society. Still, I don’t know if all seniors can really comprehend how pervasive the presence of telephone pickpockets has become.

Hang up? Nah. Just don’t answer in the first place.


If you came across a story last week about Switzerland taking a first step toward finally discontinuing its pre-World War II practice of maintaining emergency stockpiles of coffee beans, you might have wondered.

What the …? Coffee beans?

Then you could have asked yourself a question.

Strategic reserves of what staples should the Inland Northwest have on hand? Or at least, what emergency stockpiles should you maintain at home?

If you already have the 2019 equivalent of bomb shelter provisions or other disaster preparedness supplies, you’re way ahead on this. If not, maybe it’s time to give it some thought.

Now planning for emergencies is no joke, of course. Food, water, clothing, medicines – that’s all vital. But what if, in the spirit of the Swiss stockpiling coffee, we identified a different category of strategic reserves?

Here are 10 things you might want to stockpile. (Feel free to add to this list.)

Chocolate: Just as some might consider coffee a necessity of life …

Toilet paper: I guess this is a no-brainer. But filling your shopping cart to overflowing with bulky bundles of bathroom tissue can be especially satisfying if you have a 13-year-old in tow who is desperately trying to pretend she’s not with you.

Lentils: Why not?

Phone chargers: Of course, this assumes the power supply is still with us.

Tartar sauce: No matter what happens, you’ll want something to put on your fries.

Garden gloves: When you need them, you need them.

Robert Caro’s LBJ books: You might have some time on your hands.

Old clothes: In the aftermath of, say, a zombie apocalypse, you might lose weight and be able to wear your 1990s outfits again.

Bicycles: If, for one reason or another, gasoline becomes hard to come by.

Prescription eyewear: If the 1959 Burgess Meredith “Twilight Zone” episode called “Time Enough at Last” taught us anything, it’s that you always want to have backup glasses handy.

End note

Do you ever find yourself looking at Spokane as if through a visitor’s eyes and think, “You know, this is a pretty cool little city”?

I had that thought last week. It was after dark and I was out on Spokane Falls Boulevard. I could see some people in a downtown hotel on the south side of the street, up on maybe the third or fourth floor. They were riding exercise cycles and looking out at a bustling Opera House (or whatever it’s called now).

I wished I could read their minds.

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at