I think our intern prank-called us

A reader writes:

I’ve found myself in an odd situation and would love some thoughts on what to do. I work in fundraising at a nonprofit and today, following a donor event, I got back to my desk and saw that I had five missed calls from the same number. The first four had no messages, but the fifth one had a message from a (supposed) elderly woman I didn’t know stating that she and her husband wanted to make a gift of $7 million. Immediately my spidey-senses pinged, as people don’t just make six-figure donations out of nowhere (in all my years in this line of work, the only surprise million dollar gift I ever saw was an estate bequest).

I played the voicemail back for my team, essentially saying “This is someone trolling us, right?” We couldn’t quite make out the name given and a search of the phone number didn’t do much. Finally I decided to call back to see if I could figure out what was going on. I spoke with the woman, who reiterated their interest in a multi-million dollar gift to name a theater. I told her that if she wanted to talk about naming opportunities, I’d have to forward her to my boss. She got quiet, then said “Never mind.” When I confirmed she no longer wanted to make a gift, she said she had been told I could handle this for her. I confirmed that while I process gifts, anything involving naming rights had to go through my boss. She said she would call my boss later as now wasn’t a good time. I asked if she wanted my boss’s phone number. She said no and hung up.

As my team and I were discussing what was, at this point, obviously a prank, my phone rang and the screen showed the name of a high school intern who just started with our team this week. However, when I picked up there was a man on the other end claiming I had been speaking with his wife and apologized for her, saying, “She’s a bit tipsy this afternoon.” He then said he did want to speak to my boss about a gift, so I transferred the call. Our intern’s name also appeared on my boss’s phone screen, and when she answered he had hung up.

At this point, we were all thoroughly flummoxed. We confirmed that the number for the original call (and the one I called when returning the voicemail) is the one given to us by the intern (he had already gone for the day when this happened). Obviously we’re going to talk to him about this and figure out what’s going on, but I’m not sure what the best course of action is.

On the one hand, we don’t know if this is something he was in on. I could easily see this being a friend or sibling stealing his phone to make a prank call (and while I haven’t interacted with him much, he struck me as a pretty shy and sweet guy). On the other hand, even if he had nothing to do with this, I’m not sure what we can say to him other than letting him know it happened. Don’t let someone take your phone? Be careful who you’re friends with? Watch how much info you’re giving out about us? And if he admits this was a prank by him, does it warrant cutting his internship early? I get high schoolers aren’t known for their maturity, but it does feel annoying if he’s squandering an opportunity he’s being given here.

In my youth, I was an expert prank caller — and not to brag, but I was once awarded a trophy made of clay for Top Prank Caller by my nieces after passing along my skills to them — but even I knew that you don’t prank call your job with false promises about money, particularly when you are a high school intern.

That said, “she’s a bit tipsy this afternoon” did make me laugh out loud, so kudos to this young group of hooligans. I can vividly imagine the mirth this must have produced on their side after they hung up.

Anyway. Your intern. The chances he wasn’t involved in this are low. Not non-existent, but low. Lots of high schoolers who appear shy and sweet at their jobs are quite different when they’re with their friends. (I was another example of that; my high school jobs all thought I was an angel. I was not.)

But the first step is to talk to him. Tell him you got a prank call from his phone number and ask if there’s anything he wants to tell you. He’s likely to be embarrassed (which is good; this is how we learn things), and there’s a good chance he’ll confess. Whether he admits his involvement or blames it on his friends, explain that you know it was meant as a joke but organizations take fundraising really seriously — it’s the only way your work can happen — and that wasting people’s time chasing donations that don’t actually exist is really disrespectful to his colleagues and to the work you’re all there to do.

He probably hasn’t thought of it like that, because he’s in high school and they don’t know much about the world. This is a good way for him to start learning.

I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to fire him over it (although you should hear him out and see how he responds first). It’s reasonable to decide he showed a level of immaturity that’s not compatible with the work you need done. But I also think internships — especially at that young of an age — are about learning, and there’s a big opportunity for growth here if you do keep him on. Sometimes mortification at being called on one’s behavior is a perfectly suitable consequence, and you don’t need to mete out anything more than that.

{ 450 comments… read them below }

  1. MB*

    I know this is the exact opposite purpose of the comment section for this site but the chaos agent in my is screaming “prank him back”

    1. Ruby Soho*

      I would actually do this! Nothing traumatizing, just something to get him going for a couple of minutes. Then we’d have a chat about how you shouldn’t prank your employer, or leave your phone where your friends can get it (depending on what actually happened).

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I might pretend to call from a top university in his area, dangling a significant scholarship in exchange for an interview. I wouldn’t let it get so far as conducting the actual interview – that would be a bit too far IMO – but get him really excited for a financial windfall and then show him first-hand how much it sucks to have that yanked away.

        But I’m a petty betty, so… nicer folks than me should handle the prank.

        1. quercus*

          Not that I’m recommending this except as a fantasy, but I’d ask the intern to follow up on a potential big donation call that just came. Stress how important this is, and that the organization is really counting on him to show he can do this, and it will be the peak of his internship, be the foundation of the recommendation that will come out of the internship, etc. Depending on how he reacts, I might tell him to make sure to have a staffer sit in on the call with him.

            1. Inkognyto*

              “Please call thus number with our staffer on the line and get more information”

              Just asking someone to call themselves when you know the phone is in their pocket would be amazing.

          1. LostCommenter*

            This was my idea too. I wouldn’t even have a staffer sit in with him, let him stew in the soup of his own making. But make him responsible for getting the donation.

            in the best case, it was his parents who wanted to donate and there’s an actual donation coming out of this. In the worst case he will feel how it feels to follow up on a big donation and put in the effort while knowing it was a prank and the disappointment you will bestow on him when he fails will teach him the lesson that it’s not as funny as he originally thought.

    2. PayUp!*

      I am 99% sure this was a Simpsons episode back in the day. They pranked “PBS” and then all the characters legit came after them.

      Hmmm, I think I will be in a meeting for the next hour or so…definitely not searching for that and watching it and laughing like a 12-year-old…………

      1. Q*

        Early on Bart would prank Moe like that too. “I need Amanda Hugnkis” and Moe didn’t realize until the whole bar was laughing!

        1. Jill Swinburne*

          Until Bart asked for Hugh Jass and someone claimed the call, so he shamefacedly levelled with the man and bailed, to which Hugh commented to himself ‘what a pleasant young man’. I love The Simpsons’ Golden Age.

    3. Malarkey01*

      Give him a new assignment- planning the party for the $7 million donation. Explain that you don’t have the name yet but are just waiting for the phone company to give you the name on number xxx-xxx-xxxx (his #). Explain how you plan to go to their house with a novelty check and balloons as a thank you, have him look into those big yard signs.

        1. Ms. Elaneous*

          Malarkey and Cabbage —

          for the win!

          I bet the kid would NEVER FORGET this lesson.

      1. KitKat*

        Oh my god… OP obviously don’t do this. But, if you do, please please please write back in and include every detail.

    4. Chickadee*

      I have many fond memories of an early internship and the pranks the maintenance crew would pull. Their biggest success was convincing us that the new housing came with an outhouse – they were besides themselves with laughter when word got back I asked my boss if the house had any plumbing. Nobody could outdo my boss though; she was very quiet and professional so you never saw it coming.

      1. Cats Ate My Croissant*

        A friend of mine years back was a pub chef and notorious for sending the teenage waitstaff out on prank errands. Some highlights included:
        – the deli for unpasteurised goat lard
        – the fishmonger for two dozen trollops
        – the hardware store for six feet of pink fallopian tubing

        1. AggroTurkey*

          Crying with laughter- this sounds like an incredible person to work for. (Unless you happen to know the difference between trollops and scallops, lol).

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          left-handed smoke-shifters in Scouts

          My late husband’s head chef once sent him to the boss for an IUD. ….The owners were his parents. Much embarrassment all around, including the prankster who had expected his FATHER to be managing the restaurant that evening and it was his MOTHER. oops.

    5. Nonanon*

      Call him into your office. You are concerned this obviously false call came from his number. There are a number of scammers out there, and their scams are becoming more creative by the day; you are concerned your intern has fallen victim to these scams. And now that they have his information and are impersonating him, ANYONE AT THE COMPANY CAN BE NEXT!!!!! You’ve contacted IT, and they agree, they have to escalate to the highest authority possible in order to protect not only the company, but also possibly NATIONAL SECURITY. Would your intern mind making a statement to the CIA? They’ve let you know they’ll arrive shortly.

      …listen I might have had to do my mandatory IT training and they might have highly dramatic actors and technically fine but dramaturgically lacking scripts.

    6. Annie*

      Just call him and tell him he’s fired. Hang up.

      Then 10 minutes later call him and say, “I’m joking!! But pranking is not acceptable in business.”

      Basically, act like Michael Scott.

  2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “But the first step is to talk to him. Tell him you got a prank call from his phone number and ask if there’s anything he wants to tell you.”
    Classic AAM advice. Ask question. Wait for answer. Let him talk. I think the real issue is whether he steps up or not. That’s when you will know how to proceed. “No idea what you are talking about. That wasn’t my number or my parents.”
    v “omg, this go so out of hand. I’m sorry.”
    and yeah, you do have “my wife was tipsy,” if he wants to explain dragging his parents’ names into this.

    1. ferrina*

      Honestly? Ask, let him speak, and listen. Then fire him.
      This is a high school student. This won’t jeopardize his livelihood or his career. But it teaches a very, very valuable lesson that he will never forget. And there is absolutely no excuse that makes this seem like anything but really bad judgement. Which is fine and he’ll grow out of it, but the best way to learn is from natural consequences.

      1. Czhorat*

        Eh. I’d be OK giving him a second – and last – chance if he shows contrition. Peer pressure can make the best of us do crazy things.

      2. Nea*

        My fear with this scenario is that the valuable lesson he’ll learn is “don’t get caught,” not “don’t be foolish.”

        1. ferrina*

          That’s always the risk with any time you call someone out on bad behavior. IME, they learn:
          1. Don’t do this behavior
          2. Don’t get caught doing this behavior
          3. The world is against you and none of this is your fault.
          if you forgive them, there’s the added options of:
          4. If you are sympathetic enough, everything gets forgiven
          5. The world is a complex place, and you just got lucky to get a second chance.

          1. Czhorat*

            I’d at least give the kid the *chance* that he learns either 1 or 5.

            Firing him isn’t likely to change the outcome; the harshness over a first offence might make him think you’re unreasonable and lead him to option 3.

      3. Leenie*

        For me, it turned out that there was more room for error and people are more forgiving than I thought. When I was young, I had a lot of anxiety over doing anything wrong, and was a rather desperate rule follower. So I probably could have used an earlier lesson that you can eff up and manage to move on. One of the things I’m careful to impress upon the people who report to me is that it’s ok to make a mistake, just own up to it and we can work to figure out how to address it. And, I know, this wasn’t a mistake so much as an error in judgment. But I’d expect high school kids might have major lapses in judgment from time to time.

        Anyway, my point is that I’m always a bit skeptical that the highest, most needed lesson for most young people is how brutal the real working world is. If I didn’t see understanding and genuine contrition, I’d go the *fire him* path. But I’d give him a genuine opportunity to redeem himself first.

      4. Lavender*

        It’s true that this internship isn’t likely to have any lasting impact on his future professional reputation…but the flip side of that is that the stakes are currently low enough that there’s not likely to be any harm in giving him a second chance. (Definitely fire him if it happens again after a firm warning, though.)

        1. BethRA*

          How low the stakes are for giving him another chance depends on what kind of access he’s going to have to donor contacts and other types of information.

          Pranking your internship supervisor? Dumb, but mostly just wastes someone’s time. Prank a donor or Board member, though? That’s another story.

          1. goddessoftransitory*


            I have a severe allergy to pranks due to my job being answering phones and taking orders. You can always tell when Christmas/Spring Break/Summer vacation starts because of the upswing in dipshit middle schoolers who think calling and ordering “fifteen DICKS BURGERS!” is the height of hilarity.

            They seem and usually are harmless, but it’s really irritating after the third one and sometimes a whole gang decide to phone bomb us all afternoon, and it gets old, quick. The most satisfactory revenge is when we can call back around five or six pm, when parents are usually arriving home, and sweetly inform them that their little angels were tying up our phone lines/did they truly want fifteen anchovy pies delivered? Hearing “BRADEN, GET IN HERE!” as they hang up is so, so sweet.

            But yes, I often wondered who else these little darlings were phoning up. Their own parents’ employers? Teachers? Deciding swatting sounded like a fun thing to try?

          2. Lavender*

            Sure, but he didn’t prank a donor or board member, and I don’t think it would be fair to fire him on the grounds that he potentially could.

            1. BethRA*

              No, he didn’t, and yes the very idea seems ridiculous.

              But the idea of pranking your internship supervisor should have also seemed ridiculous, and yet here we are. If I’m in OP’s shoes, I now have good reason to doubt whether I can trust them with potentially sensitive information.

      5. Artemesia*

        Often with young people the advise is ‘oh they are young’ give them another chance. But I’d argue that the stakes are very low here and so dramatic action is a useful lesson AND doesn’t cause long term damage. I remember after an intern was dismissed from the semester placement and couldn’t graduate on time, dealing with the lawyer father who insisted it was too draconian (it wasn’t — I won’t reiterate the behavior here, but it was heinous and jeopardized our entire program in a foreign city where creating strong internships is a challenge) and unfair and yadda yadda. I finally told him ‘if he had done this while employed as a lawyer, he would have been disbarred — it is that serious. Now all he does is lose a semester and not get to march in May, but he can get his diploma in August after he repeats this in the summer. That is a small consequence compared to doing this as an adult on the professional job,’

        Be reasonably strict when the stakes are low so they don’t behave badly when they are high.

        1. Rainy*

          Yup. Being able to make choices and then experiencing the consequences of those choices when the stakes are low is how most of us develop the good judgement that will help us make better choices when the stakes are high. The parents whose entire goal when their children are younger is preventing them from experiencing any consequences are really just ensuring that when the stakes are high, their adult children will believe that consequences are things that happen to other people.

        2. Introvert Teacher*

          yes i wholeheartedly agree with this — if the behavior is bad enough that you would fire an employee, then you need to fire the intern.

        3. mygreendoor*

          I agree with being stricter here. I, too, made a stupid, immature mistake at my high-school job (sent what I thought was a hilarious email to the entire department and confused a few bank vice-presidents in the process). I got a serious talking to by one of the VPs and learned right quick that having co-workers who are friend-lee is NOT the same as my co-workers being my friends. That was a lesson I only needed to learn once.

      6. Thank someone I no longer work there*

        My sister had to fire a 16 year old for too many “no call, no show” days. Retail…His dad came in a few days later to buy something. She told him they all felt badly but…He told her 16 is when you should learn that lesson, not when you’re 25 and scrambling to cover rent.

      7. Amy*

        On the other hand, this is a high school student. Bad judgment is part and parcel of hiring high schoolers–their sense of professionalism is in its infancy. If he seems to understand this isn’t OK and is contrite, then firing him feels like an overreaction to me. The embarrassment of being called on it and asked to explain, plus understanding that true anonymity is hard to pull off these days, is probably going to be enough to put him on the right track.

        1. ferrina*

          Bad judgment is part and parcel of hiring high schoolers

          Not exactly. Most high schoolers would never even think of pranking their workplace. I worked at a non-profit in high school and was friendly with our donor management director, and I would never have dreamed of doing this! It’s pretty basic not to prank your workplace! It’s not a matter of professionalism- there’s a big difference between “accidentally volunteer for something you don’t know how to do” or “not know you are supposed to call out when you are sick” or “not understand/think about FB privacy settings” and “decide to prank call your workplace”. This isn’t a casual whoopsie- this is something that you know is bad by the time you are 10. As the great philosopher Alfred Yankovic once said, “Don’t go making phony calls.”

          That said, if this wasn’t an internship or there was higher stakes, I’d say give him another chance. But if this is a casual internship, the stakes are low. The only repercussion to the intern losing his position is that he’s embarrassed and maybe gets a lower grade if this is for a class (which he would deserve, because he didn’t take the assignment seriously). I would fire him because I don’t need the drama and there are plenty of interns out there who I won’t need to worry about pranking me.

          1. Yorick*

            And if it was the intern’s prank, he didn’t just ask “is your refrigerator running?” He wasted his boss’s time by pretending to want to make a donation. This is particularly bad judgment even for a high schooler.

        2. Random Dice*

          Their brains are literally still not done developing. Humans have fully baked brains at around age 25. People with ADHD, add a year or two.

          1. Pam*

            I’m ADHD, and would LOVE to get a pass for all the bad judgement calls I made up through age 27. Where do I sign up for that?

          2. Allonge*

            So, this may have truth in it, but ‘not fully developed’ does not mean ‘incapable of making reasoned choices’. He is likely old enough to drive, close to voting or enlisting age.

          3. Alice*

            Human brains are literally never done developing – we’re learning, changing and maturing right up until the moment we die. You wouldn’t be able to recover from a head injury otherwise!

            I know this stat is often shared with the intent of provoking kindness, but it really risks infantilising young people and that can have particularly dangerous consequences. Think of the many legislative efforts to block young trans people from getting care, or the efforts to reduce abortion access.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              … when needing an abortion can be precisely *because* you made some bad choices due to immaturity!

          4. Blame It On The Weatherman*

            One thing a developing brain will learn from is losing the privilege of an internship as a consequence of doing something so boneheaded that were he an adult employee there’s no question he’d be fired.

      8. CraigT*

        Thank you ferrina. If this sort of behavior isn’t stomped on now, it’ll get worse. You can be sure that the other interns know about this, and are watching to see how it’s handled. Making excuses for what he’s done, gives the next person carte blanche to pull another stunt. And, if the internship was through his school, they need to hear why he was termed.

      9. The Voice of Reason*

        OP should fire the intern, IF she can establish that he in fact made the call.

        It is very easy to spoof phone numbers, and I wouldn’t put it past some third party to prank the intern himself.

        1. Enai*

          Yes, this. When I was in middle school, we would use pay phones for prank calls, bevause that way nobody knew who it really was. The moderately smart prank caller spoofs their number nowadays, what with payphones being mostly extinct and also ungodly expensive now.

      10. Tai*

        100% agree! It’s not like it’s going to hurt him professionally or economically later and it will be a lesson that this is absolutely unacceptable behavior. I work in a high school, high school kids know better than this generally speaking.

      11. The Rafters*

        I don’t think I’d want to see the kid fired for this. Firing him may backfire on him in the long run and teach him not to get caught making mistakes, rather than teaching him not to prank his workplace. I would, however, lightly prank him back.

    2. LCH*

      yeah, ask him what his goal and purpose were with the call. then be quiet and wait. because that seems like a really hard question to answer and may be some punishment.

    3. Rainy*

      I had a situation recently with an intern I had to let go. They’d made a really unacceptable mistake a few months before and we had a series of meetings where I said “This is unacceptable and it absolutely cannot happen again” but because they were an intern, the official policy is that we have to give them coaching and more chances (which I agree with, for the record, this is a learning experience). When they did the same thing again the second they felt they weren’t under scrutiny (I’d gone out of town for a week), I came back and said “Tell me what happened. We talked about this before and that it absolutely cannot happen. Why did it happen again?”

      The intern lied to me–and I could easily (EASILY) confirm that it was a lie. They also lied about a professional staff member, trying to blame their mistake on my colleague.

      The internship was almost over, and if the intern had come clean with me I probably still would have ended the internship early, but I wouldn’t be as irked. The lie was a real problem, though. And I sure hope this intern doesn’t put me down as a reference on anything in the future!

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Repeated lying is unacceptable and probably reauires firing, but falsely blaming someone else should be instant dismissal with a bad reference forever.

        1. Rainy*

          Yup. Trying to throw my colleague under the bus was the last straw. It was also just so incredibly silly–I checked on the facts (luckily the thing they’d lied about was something an online system keeps records about, so I just had to check that and note that it didn’t match the story) and then asked my colleague about the substance of their conversation with my intern on [specific date] and my colleague said “I have no idea what you’re talking about, I was out that day”, and there it was.

          I don’t know if the intern expected me not to check or what. It was such a mystery to me. I’d expected the intern to be lying about the substance of the conversation with my colleague, and that’s what I was prepared to hear, but the fact that my colleague wasn’t in that day and the intern just made up a conversation that never happened…!

          I hope they’ve learned their lesson, but I fear they have not.

  3. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    If only to satisfy your own curiosity, search TikTok and see if your intern has an account where they post prank videos. This seems like it could be related to social media brainrot.

    In any case, I like Alison’s advice. This could be a very important learning experience for professional judgment.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      I think it’s a big stretch to assign blame for this to social media – kids have pulled ridiculous pranks since time immemorial. (For a hugely entertaining read, see “If At All Possible, Involve A Cow” for a discussion of college pranks past and present.)

      The existence or lack thereof of a TikTok account is immaterial; address the prank itself and see how the intern responds.

      1. New laptop who dis*

        My immediate first thought was “I bet this was a TikTok prank”! There is currently a big trend of people doing stupid TikTok pranks and a lot of this stuff is bubbling up right now.

        And unfortunately a lot of people doing them don’t seem to have a firm grasp of what’s a “prank” vs. what’s a “really terrible thing to do” (ranging from cruel to illegal), the only real consideration is “can I make this go viral?”

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          Never thought I’d be grateful for the period during those confusing teen years where my sense of “funny” vs “cruel” was calibrated in comparison to cartoon slapstick shenanigans, but now I’m just so relieved to have predated TikTok.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, given what I did messing around with a tape recorder and the second household phone (where there was only one line but two handsets, and you can guess the rest) I’m only glad that there wasn’t TikTok or YouTube or whatever to further spread the results of my misdeeds…

      2. Heart&Vine*

        I don’t know. TikTok seems to have cornered the stupid prank market with teenagers (and adults) imitating some of the worst crap imaginable in pursuit of likes. Stealing expensive equipment, falsely confessing to cheating on your SO, assaulting strangers in the aisles of a store, and smashing children’s faces into their birthday cakes are all recent “pranks” that seem to have caught on. Then (surprise!) the culprits get upset when they get fired/dumped/arrested/etc.. This literally feels like an era where “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” has come to life.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I remember SO many stupid pranks by my peers when I was a teen (which sadly greatly predated TikTok!) TikTok provides a broader audience but all of the above were staples of people from my high school. So was an infamous incident where kids broke sprinklers in the junior high gym and ruined the floor, costing thousands of dollars in the late 1980s!

          But in the end, the social media question just really isn’t relevant to the situation at hand.

        2. AGD*

          I remember some absolutely awful cruel pranks spreading in the ’90s. It’s just easier for adults to see the range now.

        3. Amy*

          I feel like these are all things that at least one of my high school classmates would have done. ‘Going viral’ wasn’t on our radar. People still did stupid things, in the name of “it’ll be funny” or “I don’t want to seem lame” or “It seemed like a good idea at the time, how was I supposed to know [predictable consequence] could happen?” or “everyone else was doing it and I didn’t know how to say no” or “you’re not my dad, you can’t tell me what to do”.

          The phrase “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” predates social media for a reason. Teenagers are kids, and kids do stupid things sometimes. It’s frustrating to watch for adults who already have a mature sense of judgment, especially when you feel like they SHOULD know better than that. But pushing boundaries and experiencing consequences for themselves is part of how they develop a sense of judgment. It’s age appropriate (and part of why hiring an intern is not the same thing as hiring even an entry-level professional–you’re signing up to be a teacher of professional norms, not just a standard boss).

  4. stacers*

    I love Alison’s advice, but I love even more the chance to reminisce on the good old days of being able to prank call without the annoyance of caller ID. I, too, was a legendary prank caller and had SO MANY funny/weird/joyful/bizarre/downright hilarious interactions. Many of them after people realized they were being pranked.

    And I also endorse the idea that lovely, responsible workers during employment are not necessarily the angels people assume them to be. Seems I have much in common with Alison!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At one point in high school, my friends and I discovered this … phone dating line? People would call and leave “personal ads” in the form of recorded messages and then could get in touch with each other? I’m not sure how it worked, but we left SO MANY fake personal ads there and found it absolutely hilarious. My friend and I still laugh over one she left that included the line “I’m heavy into yellow.”

      1. Miss Fisher*

        We had Karaoke Connections – it was bad public access tv. Someone would be taped singing karaoke with a phone number on the screen you could call to be set up with the singer on a date. They received so many prank phone calls.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I think that kind of phone dating line was a plot point in a Sweet Valley High book?! It’s definitely ringing a pastel-coloured bell.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Wasn’t it Jessica talking to some dude called Charlie, then when they were meant to meet he sent his friend, then both guys ended up falling for Amy and all Jessica ended up with was a very big phone bill?

          Then of course the Daniella Fromage and Magenta Galaxy fiasco where Alice took a call for one of Jessica’s alter egos and thought it was a wrong number, Jessica started giving out Lila’s number to avoid that happening again, and ended up with two dates on the same night because Lila couldn’t reach her in time.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Have you seen the wordpress site The Dairi Burger? She read and reviewed ALL the books!

          1. JustaTech*

            On expensive phone bills, in the early 80’s I had a baby sitter (mid-teens) who fell hard for the Psychic Friends hotline and used to call from our house.
            And then my parents got the phone bill (like $500).
            Turns out she didn’t only do it at our house, but at other families’ too.

            It took a *lot* of babysitting to pay out that debt, but she did it! (And the families were willing to let her work it off rather than insisting on cash.)

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        So many ridiculous memories are coming back to me. You could use 3-way calling to connect 3 different numbers on the same line and people wouldn’t necessarily know you’d done it unless you announced it. Multiple times we would call our English teacher, then while it was ringing would quickly call our history teacher on the same line (they team-taught and they clearly hated each other) and if we timed it right, they would each think the other person had called them and sometimes they had whole conversations with each other without realizing it while we listened in, usually with both sounding annoyed.

        We had way too much time on our hands and it was amazing.

          1. Star Trek Nutcase*

            In the mid 1960s, my cousin and I pranked called the operator (back when AT&T was everyone’s provider) repeatedly over 2 hours one afternoon. The phone service to their house got cut off. When my aunt got home shit hit the fan! Not just cause phone got cut off temporarily, but aunt WORKED for AT&T and had been notified by her boss of our prank. This afternoon of prank calls were our first and last.

        1. Myrin*

          This is absolutely hilarious – I’m literally sitting here in my chair laughing out loud.
          (Also, I thought you’d say they ended up falling in love, but alas, this is real life.)

            1. Unbelievable*

              Teens are silly, but you’re a middle-aged woman now, and this is still funny to you? Grow up.

              1. Ally McBeal*

                Well, if you no longer trust her judgment because she can look back with humor on the pranks she pulled as a child, maybe you should stop visiting her site. No one was hurt, they were silly pranks, you should lighten up.

              2. Believable*

                She’s not advocating doing these things today, she’s being open and honest about the past.

                Part of aging is being humble and self-aware about the missteps of youth, but nothing says you can’t still crack a smile when you remember them. I cringe when I think about many of the things I did as a teen, but it doesn’t mean I won’t acknowledge them or feel a bit of nostalgia over them!

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Exactly. I’m not going to do it today — because I did in fact grow up — and I would think an adult doing anything like that was absurd and not someone whose judgment I’d ever trust. But teenagers? I was a ridiculous teenager and it’s okay to laugh at our teenage selves.

              3. stacers*

                Of course it’s funny. It may not be wise, show good judgment, be nice, be amusing to the person on the receiving end, be a good use of time or generally a good idea in the first place. But, believe me, some of these calls were funny to us AND to the people we called.

                It was really an interesting look into human nature. And boosted my improv skills.

              4. watermelon fruitcake*

                I’m pretty sure she did. In fact, her comments here speak to the fact that goofy chaotic teenagers can grow into perfectly capable, sensible, level-headed adults with a solid understanding of social norms and expectations.

                And – importantly – still have a sense of humor.

              5. ChattyDelle*

                no one’s forcing you to be on this website. insulting the host is a choice. I guess

            2. Fluff*

              ::lifts glass::

              Here’s to remaining forever young at heart Allison. Keep the giggles coming.

          1. Dahlia*

            “We made our teachers, who are colleages and worked together daily, talk sometimes.”

            Oh, no the humanity! How did they survive this humilation!

        2. Madame Señora*

          I posted this below, my dad was a high school Math teacher so we got a lot of prank calls from his students. One time, someone broke into our house and stole the tape out of the answering machine. I’m still dying to know what was on there.

      4. Misses Boombastic*

        My best friend and I did the exact same thing in the early 00’s. We had so many terrible accents and personas on that dating service. We grew up to be relatively functional and reliable members of society, so I guess it’s just a rite of passage?

        1. Yes Anastasia*

          This is cracking me up. In the early 00s, my friends and I were busy getting up to no good in chat rooms. Pranking personal lines sounds much more wholesome.

      5. Completely Marshmallow*

        I used to enjoy making fake personals for our indie paper (it was free).

        The paper had sections for men seeking women, women seeking men, and “alternative lifestyles”. While we understood this was meant to be euphemism for LGBT ads , and it was very progressive at time compared to the mainstream papers which just didnt, then we always scoffed the euphemism by coming up with our own theories on what an “alternative lifestyle” personal ad was.

        So a couple of times I successfully placed an advertisement from the perspective of a being a black widow spider seeking a new mate.

      6. Petty Crocker*

        Okay, I legit guffawed at “I’m heavily into yellow.” (I fear that today, it would be taken in an entirely different direction than originally intended.)

        Ahh, I do miss the days of near complete anonymity; before caller-ID and *69 (in the US). I long for the absence of social media and I’m so glad it didn’t exist in my teens (and 20s–hnnnghhh).

        1. Eilla*

          I don’t understand what either definition of into yellow means, could someone please explain? Thanks.

          1. watermelon fruitcake*

            I suspect the original intent was just yellow, as in the color. “I’m heavy into yellow” is innocent and confounding and absurd.

            Nowadays, people would probably take it to mean something involving bodily fluids.

      7. coldsassy*

        I had a friend in elementary schooled who prank called Hooked on Phonics (remember them?) and told the person who answered that she was going through a divorce and having a hard time and just needed someone to talk to. We were 11 or 12 at the time and it still makes me laugh to think about it.

      8. GythaOgden*

        Sounds like the fake names a former boyfriend gave to a French campsite security guard one year at the Taizé Christian spiritual retreat. They snuck out of the site to go and shop in the nearby town, and when caught they gave fake names…relying on the guy being French and not registering the English puns. Ivor Biggun and [the name that makes a slur that’s not something I want to write down] were in trouble the following morning for being out after the gates were shut and having to be let in (it being a youth camp there was more supervision than there would have been if they had been adults). My former boyfriend wasn’t so puerile and gave the name Hugo Montgomery in a posh British ‘stiff upper lip’ accent. I used that name as a character in one of my steampunk fantasy novels.

        I’m amazed they got away with it to be honest.

      9. stacers*

        As a freshman in college in an era and an institution where nearly all the dorms were gender-segregated and had specific number prefixes, we’d call rooms designated for boys and say, in official voices, that we were conducting a survey. And we’d ask a few official-sounding questions. And then we’d ask ‘Who do you prefer as the host of ‘Family Feud,’ Richard Dawson or that new guy?’ If they answered that one seriously, we’d get progressively more absurd. Some played along. Some struck up conversations trying to figure out who we were. Some would hang up.
        When we’d exhausted our resources with the ones who held on, we’d play the song ‘Call Me’ into the receiver. Only once did someone hang on through the entirety of listening to that song.

    2. many bells down*

      In college my friends used to prank call home shopping channels and try to order things on the screen that weren’t the items actually being sold.

    3. Two-Faced Big-Haired Food Critic*

      Okay, I swear, I remember this. It was in 1987, or early ‘88. There were these things called “party lines”. Similar to the party lines in the 30s and 40s, where multiple households shared one phone number, except in this case, the idea was to have multiple conversations going on at once, instead of your neighbors secretly listening, And it was for teenagers only, so they could meet each other remotely: an analog form of social media. I’m not sure how it worked; either they didn’t have it where I was, or, I couldn’t afford it. At any rate, less than a year after it started IIRC, some guy got on one of those lines and said, “Party at my house! My parents are away this weekend! Come, one come all!” That turned out about as well as you as you might expect, and it made national news, and that was the end of the party lines. Does anyone else remember this?

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I remember the Simpsons episode featuring a party line! “This is not as hot a party as I had anticipated.”

      2. amithatold*

        We lived in a rural area in the South and had a party line when I was young. I was in grammar school so this was the early 70’s. It wasn’t for teens, it was for several houses on the street to share a single phone line because the phone company didn’t have capacity otherwise. If someone was already using the line and you picked up the phone, you could indeed eavesdrop on the conversation (though my mother would have had something to say had she caught me doing that). You were also at the mercy of your neighbors. Got a long-winded granny down the street? Better hope you don’t need to make a call any time soon–the only permissible time to interrupt someone who was already using the line was to state you had an emergency. God forbid if you didn’t hang up the phone correctly and left it slightly off the hook. You blocked the whole street from making or receiving calls.

    4. Phony Genius*

      In my junior high school, some classmates did a prank mailing. They filled out paperwork to commit our assistant principal into joining the army. (They did not know he was a Vietnam veteran.) I don’t know what they expected to happen, I’m pretty sure that it was not the result they got.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        OK What happened? because I’m thinking it’s pretty bad to involve the federal armed forces in a prank. In writing that tends to be called the f-word: fraud.

    5. Lisa Simpson*

      I remember calling 1-800-Mattress from a payphone when I was 11 or 12 and saying “I want to order a bed FOR SEX” and hanging up.

      Very mature.

      1. Nea*

        I follow someone on Tumblr who had a job at a sex toy shop and then a job at a mattress shop.

        Their descriptions of how they absolutely ruin people who made sex jokes at the mattress shop by answering with complete honesty and a straight face are highly entertaining reading.

        1. Exit Persued by a Bear*

          Oooh, I follow her too. Her stories are entertaining enough I (almost) miss retail.

          Didn’t she also used to play a game with people who prank called the sex shop, where the employee won if you could make the caller hang up?

      1. Rainy*

        Sure, but most people just don’t pick up calls from blocked or unknown numbers unless they know they’re waiting for a call from a number they don’t already have in their phone.

    6. The Other Virginia*

      Oh to have been young and anonymous before caller ID and camera phones and social media! Our harmless youthful indiscretions rarely had the opportunity to follow us into adulthood. We really did have it pretty good!

    7. goddessoftransitory*

      Have you seen the William Castle classic I Saw What You Did? It stars Joan Crawford as a jealous next door floozy and she’s not even a main character!

  5. JustKnope*

    Please update us after you’ve talked to the intern, OP! I’d love to know how this student reacts and what your team decides is appropriate to do with him.

  6. old curmudgeon*

    I confidently expect that the next time Alison puts out a call for “tell us your stories of mortification at work,” we’re going to hear from an intern who got caught pranking his employer with a story of a huge donation…..

    1. Star Trek Nutcase*

      Or from an employee responsible for refusing a multi-million dollar donation. My sibling, S, works for a nonprofit and one day got a random call from a person wanting banking info to make an anonymous $3 million donation. S was sure it was a prank and so did I when S started telling me what happened. BUT turns out it was legit and donator was also donating similar to several other locations of S’s nonprofit. Thankfully S investigated fully before assuming it was a stupid prank.

      1. Paint N Drip*

        I work in an investment-adjacent job and once had a caller say he wanted to set up a meeting to invest his current million dollars, and that he was working on some inventions and expected some serious income soon. He was just so flat and weird and casual that my boss assumed it was a prank/joke… it was not :) truly a millionaire and inventor! And way nicer in person after getting past the prankster allegations


    ok but while unlikely in this instance, there is a way for scammers to use a real number that belongs to someone else…just putting that out there.

    1. Seashell*

      Yeah, I could see the intern’s friends/siblings/enemies doing something like that. Maybe not the most likely scenario, but possible.

      1. Forkeater*

        My thought as well especially based on how intern was described, and that the earlier calls had a different number.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      This is something that came to my mind too. I used to work for a police department and someone used our business line phone number to spoof call people to try to bully them out of money. It was not pleasant.

    3. Hell in a Handbasket*

      Yeah, I was wondering about this too. All other judgement issues aside, today’s teens have grown up with caller id. I can’t imagine that the intern would not have known that his number would be visible.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It astounds me sometimes how many people I talk to who don’t seem to get caller ID is a thing! “Hi, thanks for calling X. Is this So and so?” “…how…how did you know that????”

        It’s been around since the eighties! So many people seem to think I am a warlock.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        If this is his first job in an office, the intern’s only experience with caller id is likely to be that it shows the names you have programmed in your phone with everything else just being the numbers. I remember being surprised to learn (at age 26) that my cell phone number showed up on a non-cellular caller id with my dad’s initial and last name.

    4. Is Your Refridgerator Running?*

      I know this has happened to me on email multiple times (getting a scam message from my own addy), but I think I got a scam call once with my own # as the caller.

    5. Adele*

      Note: While spoofing the number initially is possible, when the OP calls the “spoofed” number back, it would go to the intern (the number shown on caller ID), not the actual unknown number of the prankster. So in this case, it could not have been spoofed. The call actually came from the intern’s phone, for sure. If it was the intern’s friends making the prank calls, then he needs to learn the valuable lesson of locking his phone.

  8. AnonInCanada*

    Remember the good ol’ days when caller-ID didn’t exist, thus making prank phone calls a lot easier? Then again, the only ones I ever made as a kid usually involved me saying “Hello, is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it before it runs away! Hahahaha.” Okay, I was a pretty lame kid.

    But back to OP. I honestly wouldn’t cut his internship short over this. He’s young, obviously new to conducting himself professionally, and isn’t this the reason why he’s interning? To teach him life lessons that will hopefully make him a better person as an adult? Now’s the time to teach him a life lesson: don’t do this again, or people will not think too kindly of you.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        …I haven’t typed that out in a long time that’s probably going to mean something different to anyone under 25

        1. jasmine*

          I’m almost 30 and my brain immediately went to something you definitely didn’t mean lol. I’ve no idea what *69 is

          1. Gemstones*

            If you got a call from someone, and you didn’t know who it was, you hit *69 and it would dial back your last incoming call.

            1. Bear in the Sky*

              But that was only available from the mid 1990s on. Before then, we didn’t even have that option.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As a trophy winning prank caller, I can tell you that at the time *70 would block *69 from being used.
        (For the youth: For a brief time before caller ID ruined it all, you could dial *69 to hear the last number that called you. Top prank callers knew if they dialed *70 before placing their call, the person you called wouldn’t be able to use *69.)

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          As a fellow “seemed like an angel” person, I am loving this insight into your youth!

          1. BellyButton*

            I was always too afraid to get into trouble so I was what was deemed the “Instigator” or the “Idea man” I was so subtle at it, that when the people who acted out my brilliant and deviant ideas got caught they would never rat on me because they truly believed it was their idea and I was just a bystander.

            This skill has served me well in my career- I am in organizational and people development- I lead people to the behaviors I want them to have. :)

        2. Rapunzel Rider*

          I thought it was *67 that blocked *69. Ahh the good old days of prank calls and ding dong ditch… Darn technology ruining it all (shakes fist in old lady at 33 lol)!

            1. Dogwoodblossom*

              I told a friend about this letter and about how the thread was mostly Allison reminiscing about all the cool pranks she used to pull, and my friend goes “THIS IS WHY SHE’S SOFT ON CRIME!”

          1. AnonInCanada*

            You’re right. *70 disabled call waiting for the duration of the call. *67 blocked *69 from getting your number, but you could dial *57 to trace the call should you need police to get involved with harassing phone calls.

            Then there was *66, for back in those days when we were trying to get through to radio station contest lines, hoping to get the phone to tell you when the busy line was free. Until you picked up the phone and heard the prerecorded voice say “The line was free but it has just become busy again…” (GRUNT)

          2. No Longer Gig-Less Data Analyst*

            You’d be surprised, we get at least a couple of ding dong ditches every summer, even with our Ring camera clearly in view! I never make a fuss though, it’s not anything I didn’t do when I was a dumb kid.

            1. I'm a Pepper*

              We’ve had a few of those, also in plain view on our Ring cameras, but also in full view of me and my partner sitting in our living room. We sat there cackling as the young girl from down the street rang our bell and then dashed away all while we watched through the window. It was charming, especially since we’ve chatted with her before while on walks and she’s always nice to our daughter.

            2. GythaOgden*

              I’m on a work trip and I leave home after a working day to get wherever I need to go to stay over. This is the first time I’ve left through my front door since I got my Ring doorbell (since my back door opens onto the road). As I was locking up my phone jingled and helpfully told me that there was someone at the front door.

              Yeah, that was me. It is pretty sensitive, but I think I would have been more worried if it //hadn’t// jingled.

        3. EvilQueenRegina*

          In the UK it’s 1471 to get the last number, 141 to block it (I think – it’s been a while!)

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Definitely 1471, yes. I can still hear what the beeps sound like as it dials!

            I have an idea you could dial 1471-3 to retrieve the number and then call it back.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I still frequently use 141 before dialing students’ parents if I’m on my own phone. For some reason I don’t want kids to have my number….

        4. BellyButton*

          LOL I was just about to post the same thing. It was a very in thing in my community for the kids to have their own phone line (all the kids in the family shared it). We always knew who was sleeping over at which house so prank calls lasted all night.

        5. AnonInCanada*

          You devil you! Then again, by the time caller-ID and *69 became available features, I was past my teen years and thus would’ve stopped making calls of this nature, that is, what few I actually made.

          Yes, I’m getting old. But still young at heart.

        6. Pauli*

          I recently participated an an “I Love the 90’s” trivia night at a local brewery and one of the questions was identifying what dialing *69 would do. Laughed a lot before feeling absolutely ancient :D

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I have had the R.E.M. song of this name in my head throughout this portion of the thread!

      1. Antilles*

        I’m sure he already knows Caller ID identifying phone numbers is a thing; it’s been standard on cell phones for at least 15+ years (source: I have literally never owned a cell phone that didn’t have Caller ID and my diploma is old enough to itself be in high school).
        He just didn’t think through the fact that his number would be instantly identifiable, because he’s a high schooler.

    1. Ashley*

      You can still block your number when you call out, but people are less likely to answer. There was also a great period before blocking your number you could use Sly-dial.
      If we wasn’t smart enough to give out someone’s else number this really doesn’t seem very well planned on his part which I guess is better, but if you are trying to prank me show some effort! (And this is not a good prank but few pranks really are.)

      1. I'm great at doing stuff*

        Sly dial was the best! I learned about it in Wired and used it for a few occasions (none work related) where I just didn’t feel like talking.

    2. Bast*

      I remember being 12/13 and going to sleepovers where we’d dare each other to call the person you had a crush on, which usually ended in a flurry of giggles the second someone picked up the phone followed by a quick hang up. Mayyybe a particularly bold girl would get out, “Is Tom there?” or something similar, and the second Tom said hello, giggles and a hang up. Or maybe for someone we didn’t care for — “Mrs. Smith, this is Mrs. Jones at ABC School, Tom’s math teacher. I was calling to let you know that Tom has not turned in a single assignment all semester and is flunking math right now. I am giving him detention every day this week to make up his assignments.” I’m not really sure how convincing we all were as a bunch of 12 year olds pretending to be a 50-something math teacher, (*cough* not at all) but we’d spend a few hours giggling on the floor over this. Ahh the days of having to drag out a big phone book and hope your crush/friend/enemy was listed.

    3. Veryanon*

      I was remembering how you used to have to pay extra to keep your phone number unlisted in the phone book. My dad was a police officer, so we always had an unlisted phone number. When I told my kids about this, they looked at me like I had three heads.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        My dad was an MD who practiced in our small town. He didn’t want to have an unlisted number and my mother didn’t want to deal with the flood of calls that would come if it was listed in his name, so it was always listed in her name. This was back when the standard form was “Dr. and Mrs. Lastname” as if the wife didn’t have a first name of her own, so having her name in the phone book was decidedly different.

        1. Emily Byrd Starr*

          I remember that it was almost always the husband’s name that was listed, even if he had a wife, so that perverts wouldn’t prey on single women or know where they live (the home address was listed in the phone book). After my grandfather died, my grandmother continued to have his name listed in the phone book for that reason. Sometimes, a woman living alone would opt to be listed as “Smith C” rather than “Smith Carolyn,” but perverts eventually figured out that a listing with a first initial was usually a single woman.
          Looking back now, the concept of everyone having a book listing everyone’s address and phone number seems REALLY creepy!

          1. Old Enough for Phone Books*

            As a woman with a very common last name and first initial, who wanted friends (and my kids’ friends) to be able to find our number, I had to fight to get them to put my first name in the phone book!
            I did get a creepy but amateur prank call once, and got my daughter’s boyfriend, who was at our home at the time, to say something loudly to me in range of the phone, and APCaller hung up on me. But with 3 teens in the house, including 2 with clearly male voices, the odds of a female answering the phone were significantly lowered.

          2. AnonORama*

            Ha, hadn’t thought about phone books in years — just re-watched the original Terminator movie from the 80s where phone books (and pay phones) figured prominently* and now this discussion. Do phone books still exist?

            * For those too young to remember (or who otherwise didn’t see it), the bad guy went back in time to kill the mother of his enemy, but he only had her name. So, he went through the phone book and killed the first two women with that name. Lucky our heroine was the last one listed!

            1. AnonInCanada*

              “Sarah Connor?”
              (BLAM BLAM BLAM!)

              That was a classic. Though I still can’t figure out how the man who was sent by her son in the future ended up being said son’s father.

          3. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I recall that being unlisted cost money but specifying your name was free, so my town had a Frumious Bandersnatch and I think a Jabberwock as well.

        2. Off Plumb*

          Very large city but unique last name, so our listing wasn’t under my MD father’s name either. With the added bonus that my mother thought that just having a woman’s name made us more vulnerable somehow (I guess the idea was woman assumed to be living alone might be targeted for break-ins or something?) so our listing just had her initial.

          I never really did prank calls but at one point we had a fax machine for some reason and I sent all kinds of off-the-wall faxes to my favorite radio program.

        3. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          Dad didn’t want to have his name and phone number listed in the phone book, so our number was under my mom’s maiden name. Problem with that was that that was the same name as a parole officer. My mother LOVED telling people on parole that they could go wherever they wanted (this probably only happened a few times; my mother’s only slightly evil). As an adult, I’m kind of horrified by this- my mother loves to make up elaborate stories, so this probably was a great way for her to exercise that desire.

      2. GladImNotThereAnymore*

        My wife years ago had an abusive ex-husband. When she moved to an address unknown to him she had her named changed in the phone book to “Oswald Nelson” (as in Ozzie and Harriet) because it was free to be listed, but not free to not be. We didn’t change it when we got married, either. Turned out to be handy in general – any caller looking for “Mr. Nelson” was obviously a spammer or cold caller that we weren’t interested in anyway.

      1. Czhorat*

        “No, my refrigerator was not running. Thank you for saving me from food spoilage!” – Principal Seymore Skinner

        1. Phony Genius*

          Or when Bart called Moe’s and asked for Hugh Jass. Except there was a man there with that name.

    4. Emily Byrd Starr*

      Ah, I miss the 1990’s sometimes. Land phones without Caller ID, dial up internet (which was annoying, but it prevented you from wasting too much time online), TV only on TV, going through your friends’/roommates’ CD collection to see if your music tastes were compatible, owning movies on VHS (and later, DVD) so that you could watch them over and over and memorize the entire movie and quote it, school bullies not being able to bully you after the school day was over, and best of all, no social media. I’m so glad I was a teenager then and not now.

    5. bamcheeks*

      I was once left “in charge” of my younger brother, and he phoned the operator and said, “Is that the operator on the line? Well, you’d better get off, there’s a train coming!” and the operator cut us off. My friend had to phone the operator and beg her to reinstate us before my parents got home from work.

    6. Zona the Great*

      I used to ask for random names and then say, Oh sorry, wrong number. Real savage pranking.

      1. Bast*

        These were the “hilarious” prank calls we sometimes made when we weren’t trying (and failing) to call a boy. I still can’t figure out why we thought they were so hilarious, except when sometimes we’d ask for people we knew obviously weren’t there, like Brad Pitt.

  9. Spaypets*

    It’s always possible that his number was spoofed by an obnoxious friend or sibling. If could be he really doesn’t know anything about it.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      This was my first thought too (I teach infosec so I have to wade in the filthy swamp of spoofing and SIM-swapping and similar). There is actually a chance it wasn’t your intern, OP.

      Fortunately, Allison’s advice still holds! Ask the intern what’s what and see what transpires.

    2. cindylouwho*

      Yeah, and I don’t really understand what the joke even was. Unless it was just a sibling trying to mess with them via their employer.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I can tell you what the joke was, although it’s not going to seem funny to your adult brain. They were probably talking about his job and he said “it’s crazy, people give them contributions of hundreds of dollars and I record the details” (or whatever) and a friend said “OMG, we should call and pretend to be making a multimillion donation” and they all thought that sounded hilarious. Their brains are very weird and sometimes they have no larger context for things. (I adore teenagers. It probably helps that I can still remember when my brain was like that and I look back fondly on all the weird/terrible things I did.)

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I think the reason teen dystopias are so popular is that it’s they’re only books with horrors that come close to the intensity of a best friend choosing to sit with a rival friend at lunch.

        2. Lavender*

          Yeah, teens are weird (but delightful). I had a friend in high school who was a incredibly talented opera singer, and he used to prank call people and just start singing very loudly (usually in a foreign language) as soon as they picked up. We thought it was *hilarious* at the time! Well, okay, I still kind of think it’s hilarious.

          1. Irish Teacher.*

            This reminds me of when one of my students started singing loudly in class and when I told him to stop, responded with, “but Miss, I’ve a gift. I want to share it with the world.”

            Sometimes you really are stumped as to whether to yell at them or burst out laughing.

            1. Allegra*

              I was on the school paper in high school and we had a back room of computers attached to the advisor’s classroom where we’d type up stories and do page layouts, etc. Naturally we would also goof around and play music. Once we were singing along to “Livin’ on a Prayer” really loudly and our advisor came back and said, “Remind me who sings that song?”

              We’re all like, “Uh, Bon Jovi?” And she goes “yeah, let’s keep it that way” and turns around and walks straight back out. Funniest possible way to scold us–and we did keep it down after that!

            2. New Jack Karyn*

              They are so silly! I love them so much and yes, they can also be tiring. I teach mostly 14-16 year olds.

            3. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Give them the teacher look then pretend you need to get something from the printer and giggle your butt off in the hallway.

      2. Frank Rizzo*

        Boys being boys, I suppose. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when OP talks with the kid.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          I’m not sure what, and especially after Alison’s retelling of her own prank-calling escapades, makes you think this is a “boy” thing (other than social conditioning to respond to boys’ misbehavior with bemused head-shaking rather than accountability, to everyone’s detriment). Consensus here is that teens will be teens!

            1. Pocket Mouse*

              The LW used he/him for the intern, but one of the two callers presented themselves as a woman. In this particular thread, Spaypets and cindylouwho used ‘friend’ and ‘sibling’. But I was responding to Frank Rizzo, whose comment I’m reading as referring to various possibilities behind this prank call; there’s nothing to indicate finding humor in prank calling is specific to boys, in general or in this instance, and quite a bit of evidence in this same thread that in general it’s very much not.

      3. Saturday*

        I was thinking the main joke might have been whatever they wanted to name the theater, but they didn’t have a chance to get to that part.

        1. Happy*

          Yes! Urban Fervor posited this below and I think it’s absolutely right.

          It explains why the prankster got deflated upon learning that the naming rights conversation would need to happen later.

      4. Fundraiser*

        I used to support fundraising events (gala dinners and the like), and we would have donation forms on the table for when the rich guests were so moved by the kid overcoming all odds on stage that night and tipsy on wine that they’d donate lots of money. Every single time, we got at least 1-2 fake ones for millions of dollars, only some of which were from children.

      5. Myrin*

        The joke, as with many (most?) pranks, was that people believed something that isn’t true. (I mean, OP and team didn’t believe it but they could have, especially in the minds of teenagers.)

    3. samwise*

      In that case, either the kid will know who did it or will be mortified or embarrassed that this happens. That’s been my experience in dealing with students who I’m 99% or more sure plagiarized or who sent an inappropriate email. Sometimes it does turn out that someone else is to blame — either my student always leaves the computer on and unlocked, has shared a password, or has a roommate or classmate with whom they’ve had a conflict.

    4. RC*

      The fact that the first number *wasn’t* his, so was either spoofed or self-aware enough to use a different phone, suggests to me that he was def involved. Then when things unraveled he used his own phone without realizing it would already have been in their records under his name.

      But yes, the mature advice is to just ask him about it and see what he says. Even though I’ve found many teen boys to be unreliable narrators. Those adolescent brains.

      1. Adele*

        The first one WAS the intern’s number:

        “We confirmed that the number for the original call (and the one I called when returning the voicemail) is the one given to us by the intern (he had already gone for the day when this happened).”

    5. Been There Done That*

      As a seasoned fundraiser, I hope the supervisor sits the intern down and explains the seriousness of this “prank”. This could have gone sideways so many different ways with number one would be someone, who merely overheard the conversation and in their excitement, sends out an email to the board. Who in turn get all excited and then the poor development director has to spend valuable work time putting out informational fires And if the intern is at the org as part of an official internship program, the intern sponsor should also be notified.

  10. LawDog*

    or go 10000% the other direction. call him in, let him know you know he called, and “set up a payment plan” with him gor the $7 million. be 100% serious with him, involve your boss.

    use the fear as a fun but teachable moment.

    1. Velomont*

      Or if he lives with his parents, call them and thank them so much for the donations. And then tell them you’ve called the local media for the donation ceremony.

    2. FrivYeti*

      I’m suddenly imagining calling him into the office and telling him, “We’re so glad that your parents have decided to give our organization $7 million, but don’t worry, it won’t affect your internship with us. I’m heading over to their house with the paperwork, you should come.”

      Not a *good* plan, but a very funny one!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        ask him how “tipsy” she was. Act serious, because you need to determine how to proceed. You can say, “when I call her, I won’t reference that comment your dad made, but we need to be sure…”

    3. Katie*

      I was thinking of follow up pranks too (like OP getting in ‘trouble’ for losing a $7M donation).

    4. Flossie Bobbsey*

      This is a terrible idea because there have been numerous stories in the news of teen suicides after the teen is scammed or tricked into thinking they’re on the hook for a huge amount of money. A desperate teenage brain could believe there is no other way out. I would absolutely not make someone believe they are on the hook for a huge sum of money, even if they had played a bad prank in the first place.

      1. Allonge*

        Also, the point would be to teach them that pranks and workplaces don’t mesh well in a lot of circumstances. Not sure this bring the message across.

  11. mango chiffon*

    Baffled at today’s teens doing prank calls like caller ID doesn’t exist, haha. Gone are the days of true prank calls from yesteryear. Would love to hear an update on this!

    1. Kara*

      I’m just baffled that more teens aren’t using spoofed numbers to do their prank calls! It’s not particularly hard, and has the added advantage of pointing the finger at someone other than you.

  12. LoV...*

    Part of maturity is learning to think about the consequences of your actions *before* you actually perform any of the actions. This could be a valuable lesson for the individual.

  13. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    I am not known as the kindest person in the world, but I think just a stern talking to is sufficient in this case. Unless he doubles down and overreacts to you explain how you do not prank call your job. But if he seems to get it that it wasn’t the smartest thing he ever did, give him a chance. He’s in high school, his brain isn’t fully formed yet.

    Did he waste your time? Yes. Was that wrong? Also yes. But no one was actually harmed, so a this cannot happen ever again ultimatum is enough.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes, it would take a lot for me to fire a high school intern. They’d have to prove that they couldn’t benefit from the learning opportunity any further. This is one strike, sure, but it’s not like they’re unsafe or something. I would talk with them about it though.

    2. Jake*

      Yeah, I think this is one that can legitimately go either way. I probably wouldn’t fire him unless it was clear he had no understanding or contrition.

      It would put him in a position where any wrong move involving judgement is going to be a fireable offence though.

    3. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      Agreed. Teenagers are stupid (all of them – me, you, every person reading this) so unless the kid seems really flippant or rude there’s no reason to fire him. Let it be a dumb thing he submits to Modification Week in 5 years.

      1. Elsewise*

        Man, now I’m just daydreaming about this kid growing up, submitting it to mortification week, and the long-time commenters going absolutely wild. That would be so much fun.

    4. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      I agree. High schoolers typically don’t understand professional norms the way adults do–it’s not their job to do so, their primary job in life is to be students and growing teenagers, and they don’t have the life experience we do. All OP needs to do is say, “This is what happened, this is why it’s not okay and won’t fly in professional settings. Take this is a warning and if it happens again we will end your internship.”

    5. Czhorat*

      I HATE pranks, but I’m with you here, on two fronts:

      1) No blood, no foul. The prank annoyed OP and OP’s boss and wasted some minutes of their time, but that’s the extent of the harm. As far as pranks go, this one is pretty harmless.

      2) He’s a kid. Kids will do stupid things, and groups of kids will do breathtakingly stupid things. The only entity with less forethought than a high school kid is six high school kids.

      3) A stern talking to will probably scare the pants off him and have him flying straight. If it happens again, then you kick him out the door.

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        I remember learning (I think in Nurture Shock) that adolescent brains handle social decision making in literally the same way as a math problem. So while we wide adults would be able to say “oh absolutely not” in an instant, a teenager has to first find the derivative of the square root of x, then tell their friends whether or not they’ll participate.
        It’s helped me to give a lot more grace to young people!

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      I wouldn’t fire him unless his response during the “stern warning” lecture is really off the wall. I would, however, come up with some really arduous jobs for him to do during his internship.

    7. Lizy*

      Yeah this is where I’m at. He prank-called his job. As far as pranks go, this is pretty harmless. Give him a good talking-to, say don’t do it again, and then laugh about it later.

      Because honestly. It’s pretty funny.

  14. Smithy*

    I completely agree with all of this advice, and also want to note that based on the conversation with this young person – that if you do decide to let them go, that may ultimately be helping him.

    When I was younger, my mom definitely engaged in a bit of helicopter parenting in terms of finding me either jobs or internship/volunteer opportunities. The result was often that I got opportunities that were definitely stretch opportunities for me, where I was actually just not ready to take on the work afforded to me. When it came to nonprofit volunteering, this meant that I didn’t necessarily have the internal motivation or confidence to independently do the desired work.

    In my case, it never resulted in prank calling – but often did result in being quite shy and almost timid. But then being around my peers and being the complete opposite. These ended up being opportunities I really didn’t want and looked for excuses to get out of it. For all of this, the time I was actually fired stuck with me the most and was more helpful in taking more responsibility for finding my own opportunities and disentangling myself with my mom’s “help”. Part of being young and learning can be that embarrassment of making mistakes but not having them last with you forever. And being fired in high school can be effective for someone who really isn’t ready.

  15. Yup*

    Oh boy, before the age of call display we used to have sleepovers and perfect our crank-call skills. We’d phone anyone we could think of and make up outrageous scenarios. Looking back, it was ridiculous and potentially hurtful, but teen-brains are weird and not fully wired, and make bad decisions. This advice sounds great, in a natural-consequences kind of way. Depending on their reaction and the details that emerge, I’d keep them on as someone who can learn from hard lessons and mistakes.

  16. Petty Patty*

    Y’all thinking that he’ll fess up are being too optimistic. He’ll deny, deny, deny. If he doesn’t get fired over this (he should), I’d lay money he’ll quit over the embarrassment.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I really don’t think the denial is a given. High schoolers aren’t inherently immune to mortification. He’s either gonna do what you’re saying or be super apologetic; I don’t think there’s an in-between here.

    2. samwise*

      You’d be surprised. I work with college freshmen (17 / 18 yr old) which is a bit older than this kid, but plenty of them do fess up.

      I do a version of Alison’s advice, adding that “Telling the truth will go farther with me.” Then let them talk.

      1. Carter*

        My partner has conversations with kids this age (college frosh) about cheating on a regular basis. 3/4 of them fess up when caught.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        As a teacher (of 12-18 year olds), I’ve seen it go both ways, from the kids who lie black was white and can be so convincing that you’d doubt the evidence against them to kids who admit to things when I didn’t even know who did them but they were just so guilty that they assumed they were caught out.

        Given what the LW said about this kid, I think the odds are actually in favour of him being one of those who would own up. You can never know for sure, but in my experience they kids who lie convincingly tend to be the ones who are constantly in trouble and who have a lot of experience getting out of it. The generally “nice” kids who just got carried away in the moment tend to blurt out what they’ve done at the slightest hint I might be suspicious.

        But obviously, it’s not 100% on either group.

      3. Ms. Elaneous*

        asking him to ‘fess up:

        Perhaps an opening statement to the intern would encourage him to be honest:
        Well, Sampson, if it was you who did this call, just tell me, I’ll give you a stern warning lecture, and tell you to watch your step.

        If it WASN’T you, we have to get the FBI involved and find out who it really was. Because This is potential criminal activity.

    3. Nynaeve*

      If that happens, and I think there is a reasonable chance it does whether he’s just trying to lie to stay out of trouble, or he just has terrible friends who got ahold of his phone, I think this may be an opportunity to teach him a bit about infosec.

      LW, get him into a meeting to go over the security settings on his phone. If he as face or fingetprint ID set up, turn it off. Make him change his passcode. Set up TFA on things that are seneitive with him.

      I have a son this age and there is a very high chance he and his friends would do something like this if they got ahold of some friend’s phone and were able to open it because said friend was passed out with thier face or fingers readily available, or they had all shared their passcodes with one another because reasons. Or even just a classic game of keep-away with the kids phone at a party where they are making fun of him for trying to be grown.

    4. Fluffy Fish*

      Being fired over a harmless prank is totally unnecessary.

      We have no idea whether he will deny or fess up. Both are possibilities and both are NORMAL reactions by a teenager to finding out they are in trouble.

      Lets not expect teenagers to be adults, k?

  17. Beancounter Eric*

    Ah, to be young again, what a concept…..

    If you decide to keep the intern, I would suggest the following words of wisdom: “You’re supposed to be stupid. Don’t abuse the privilege.”

    For what it’s worth, they probably aren’t bad introductory words to most interns……and wouldn’t hurt for the managers of interns to remember their early days in the workplace…..”young and stupid” is something going back a very long time, and to be honest, most of us who are managers did one or more things which qualify.

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        They are “young and stupid”…..more formally, young and inexperienced in professional norms and their field of endeavour.

        There generally is an expectation interns will do “dumb” things – it’s part of the learning process.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        I think in this case, “stupid” means “immature compared to an adult employee and unaware of things adults would know.” The point is that a 16 year old intern is going to do stuff that an adult employee would know not to because well, they are 16 and there to learn the norms of the working world.

    1. anon_sighing*

      I don’t mean to get serious or be “that guy” but “being stupid” while young is a privilege only a subset of kids get.

  18. Nosy_Librarian*

    I’m a high school librarian, and this is the sort of thing my students love to do to prank their friends. They give no thought to the person receiving the call, they simply want to embarrass their buddy. It might have been your intern, but I’d bet money that a group of his friends took his phone and did this. I’ve seen my students do reeeeaaaaalllly stupid things on one another’s phones and not think twice about how it will impact their friends.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I saw this in law school. If you left your laptop open it was considered acceptable to post something weird (nothing that would really get the person in trouble). They could not understand the concept of it’s not yours, don’t touch it. In law school — after we took criminal law. Some people never grow up.

        1. Bast*

          In my very first office job, I switched my coworker’s desktop background to a picture of our boss, whom she couldn’t stand. I thought I was hilarious.

          1. Dogwoodblossom*

            At my roommate’s job, back when they were in office all the time, if IT came by your desk and your computer was unlocked but you weren’t there, they would send out a mass email to the entire company from your account about how much you love beans.

            1. JustaTech*

              At my husband’s startup it was Justin Bieber – every time you left your laptop unattended and unlocked someone would message the whole company that you loved Justin Bieber. It would escalate from there – change your background, randomly play music.

              But the point was to remind people to lock their laptops – especially after the CEO had his stolen out of his office (in the middle of the day!), not just to be funny or annoying.

              1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

                My tech support team “ponied” unlocked machines before locking them: My Little Pony wallpaper, in the days before Bronies. We worked with customer data including credit cards and it was much better to get caught by a peer than a supervisor.

                Each team had their own favored prank.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I arrived at college just as Facebook was spreading past Harvard, and our absolute favorite thing to do was to sneak onto our friends’ computers and write gushing posts about how fabulous we were. “Josh is… just thinking about how amazing it is to have Ally McBeal as a friend. [Insert several positive attributes here.]”

      2. hypoglycemic rage*

        oh god. i have flashbacks to seeing facebook statuses that were something like “hey (person’s name) you left your laptop unlocked!!!! haha!!!!”

        harmless, but i cringe thinking about that now. (and most people my age do not use fb much these days anyway.)

    2. MsM*

      Yeah, assuming that’s what happened, I might actually have a conversation with him about being careful about who gets access to assets he uses for work purposes, especially if his work does involve donors in any way.

      Honestly, though, this is just making me grateful all our interns need to at least be in college.

    3. Polaris*

      Parent of high schooler agreeing. Because its not “their” phone, “their” parents, “their” boss, its “innocent and fun”. No regard given to the person who actually owns the phone and has to deal with their parents or boss.

    4. Jake*


      I’d be shocked if he knew what was happening while it happened. I bet his first tip off that something happened was when he looked at his call log and thought, “huh, that’s weird.”

      It’s even possible his thought process stopped there!

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Possibly not even then – if he just saw a call to work in his call log, he might think he butt dialled it and think no more of it.

    5. theletter*

      I’ve seen this as well with teenage family members. It took an incident that brought me to tears for them to realize that other people’s phone aren’t toys.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        My uncle and aunt have been having this struggle with their eight year old granddaughter, who spent half of Christmas playing with other people’s phones. My uncle left his lying around on Christmas Eve and she used it to send a string of emojis to the plumber (this may have been a mistake; the plumber’s name is close enough to the name of one of our relatives that it’s possible she meant to send the emojis to the relative and just picked the wrong contact). I hate to think what will happen when she’s a teenager.

    6. bamcheeks*

      Yep– employers, parents, teachers etc aren’t real people in the same way you and your friends are, they’re just the framework of the world you live in. It comes as a real shock to realise you can do something that actually has a real impact on adults, positive or negative.

      (this isn’t a diss to teenagers! Being a child *should* mean being held safe in a framework of people who essentially can’t be harmed by you. Realising you’ve moved out of that state and actions might have real consequences on other people is a normal part of growing up!)

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        YES! As a teacher, I’ve had a few colleagues and friends who take things way too personally and think, “this kid did X. He is trying to insult me” or “I’m not doing any more for such a class. They didn’t even thank me when I took them on a tour/brought in chocolates/whatever” and I’m just thinking, “they really aren’t thinking of you at all.”

        I always maintain that “the day I grew up” was the Friday of my first week in college. In Ireland, college students tend to go home for weekends and our lecturer had lost or broken his watch so he accidentally let us out five minutes early and I decided to get an early train than the one I’d planned to get. I felt so grown up, making my own travel plans until about 10 minutes into the journey when it occurred to me to worry what if my dad had come up to meet me and ensure I got the right train (he was a bit over-protective and it was the sort of thing he’d do). This was back in the late ’90s when mobile phones were only becoming a thing and neither I nor my dad had one, so I couldn’t phone until I got to the station where I changed trains and rang home and found out that thankfully, that hadn’t happened. But it taught me that being grown up and making your own decisions didn’t just mean you could do whatever you liked and hang the consequences; it meant you needed to be the one to think through the likely consequences before making a decision.

        (And yeah, in that case, if my dad had decided to come up without telling me, the fault would be partly, or even mostly, his, but it was still a good lesson, that you need to consider other people when making decisions.)

        1. hypoglycemic rage*

          this reminds me of one time i had to attend some play or whatever with a club i was in (middle school, maybe girl scouts?). anyway, we lived right across the street from where the event was. i was supposed to meet the rest of my group there, and if i couldn’t find them, i was supposed to walk home on this one specific side of the building, because my dad was going to watch for me. for whatever reason, i forgot which side of the road i was supposed to go on, and my dad flipped out when i got home, because he didn’t know where i was. i also had to call the group leader afterwards and apologize.

          i wasn’t a bad kid, i just forgot stuff (tbh still do) and didn’t realize that my actions impacted other people (i am better about this now, in my 30s).

      2. Emmy Noether*

        bamcheeks, how did you get so wise?

        I just recently had a conversation about a stepparent and a falling out over stepchildren not being sufficiently appreciative as late teens/young adults. It did not sit right with me at all, and you’ve put words on why (I much less elegantly put it as “teens are self-centered and fully occupied with their own lives, and it’s the adult’s job to maintain the relationship and teach them how”).

    7. Lizy*

      I think it was last week when I saw a group of people “steal” a friend’s phone and post on Facebook… Now, it was definitely all in fun and “haha you shouldn’t leave your phone unlocked”. But also it was teachers. But still.

      Harmless pranks are harmless. Kids are dumb. Teach kids that harmless pranks should stay that way and other pranks should not – like pranking your boss/employer. (Although the more I think about it the more I love this kid lol)

  19. Colorado*

    Sometimes mortification is the best teacher. Definitely confront him, then just listen. I’m not sure if I’d fire him over it unless he doubled down hard and you had proof he’s outright lying. Please give us an update!

  20. Carter*

    Already desperate for an update. I think there’s basically no chance the intern wasn’t involved. What high school students know to call a nonprofit, ask about naming rights, and correctly get in or about the correct dollar range for such a thing? Only ones interning at said nonprofits, methinks.

    1. anonymouse*

      oh, good point. I was believing that it was his friends till I read this. The caller knows too much.

    2. I edit everything*

      My 8th grader knows about naming rights, and some number of millions would be a typical “lots of money” offer for a kid. I don’t find this hard to believe at all. If the intern had talked at all about his internship, all it would take would be a simple Google search to get all the info they needed.

    3. Night Owl*

      Eh, rich people giving money to get something named after them is pretty basic knowledge, and 7 million seems like a pretty easy guess for “a lot of money to donate” – I think all the friends would really need to know is where the intern was interning and what the organization did. Not saying he definitely wasn’t involved, just that I don’t think this prank required much inside knowledge.

    4. Yessica Haircut*

      It’s possible he talked about his work around his friends, so they understand the broad strokes of large institutional gifts, but they could potentially have still pulled the prank without his involvement.

  21. RagingADHD*

    Personally, I think if you can’t trust your interns to adhere to a very, very low bar of basically acceptable behavior, they shouldn’t be there. I have high schoolers. This isn’t a normal level of high school maturity for a kid who gives even a very small shit about their internship. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect from middle schoolers. He’s either too far behind the curve to keep up with expectations, or he doesn’t really want to be there and is trying to get fired.

    I also think losing the internship would be a great learning opportunity. He’s in high school. It might sting enough for him to take it to heart, but it isn’t going to ruin his life. I’m not sure that getting off the hook by acting embarrassed and contrite when called out is the skill set you want to teach, or would really make the intern a better employee later on.

    I mean, honing his BS skills to get away with immature and disrespectful behavior would probably help *him*, in that it would enable him go on to bigger and better jobs, and open up opportunities to get away with bad behavior on a larger scale. But it wouldn’t be doing the rest of the world any favors.

    Better to experience small consequences early when the stakes are low, than continue on and hit a bigger wall that might also have negative consequences for others.

    1. MaxPower*

      Agreed, I too have high schoolers. As I was reading the letter, it did not sound like what a high school kid who had landed an internship would do. I could see it being a prank by a friend or bully to embarrass the intern or to cause him to lose his job, but I wouldn’t consider prank calling their own employer normal teen behavior.
      I’m one who is generally all for extending extra consideration to teens, but in this case if he was involved, I think firing is the correct path. This is a lesson he needs to learn. Better with an internship than a paying job down the road.

    2. Lisa Simpson*

      I employed high schoolers, and yeah, a lot of them are this dumb. And they were this dumb in 2015 and 2016, long before COVID Zoom school and TikTok.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Sure, numerically a lot of grownups are this dumb. I don’t think that makes it a typical expectation, and I don’t think LW is obligated to allocate the nonprofit’s resources to trying to coach the most immature cohort of teenagers on rudimentary concepts like “don’t prank call your job.”

    3. Hell in a Handbasket*

      I also have high schoolers, and I agree. My kids would never dream of pulling something like this against their job — especially a non-profit that they supposedly care about! It’s very different from other types of prank calls. I’m surprised how many people see this as typical teenager stuff.

      Additionally, if he did do it, it was incredibly stupid to not realize that his number would be visible. Today’s teens have grown up with ubiquitous caller id. (That’s the main thing that makes me think that maybe his phone was stolen or number was spoofed.)

    4. ecnaseener*

      Re: low stakes, I would just check whether losing the internship would affect his ability to graduate on time (at some schools an internship is either required or counts toward credit requirements) and calibrate accordingly. Not that it should shield interns from *ever* getting fired, of course, but high stakes are very possible.

      1. RagingADHD*

        I feel like if the kid has to hustle to work out an alternative, like summer school to make up the credits, that is still a learning opportunity.

        If his diploma is on the line, all the more reason he should not dick around, and maybe all the more reason to give him the time he needs to finish growing and maturing, like an extra year in high school. It really isn’t doing him any favors if he winds up in a college or work environment that he isn’t capable of handling.

    5. Nancy*

      Agree. Prank calls stopped being funny among my friends at around age 11, and we certainly knew enough to not prank call our employers. I guess it’s possible that friends were calling without him knowing, but if he was involved, then yes, my org would fire him. I don’t think the intern’s number was spoofed since OP called it back and got the “elderly woman.”

    6. Lizy*


      I mean, I still see full grown-adult people prank-posting on their friend’s facebook. He’s in high school. It was a prank call about an outlandish proposed thing that everyone knew was a prank call about an outlandish proposed thing….

      I’d feel very differently if he called in to “prank” a bomb threat or shooting or the like. But to me, this is less irritating and bad behavior than cold-call salespeople.

        1. Lizy*

          I’m pretty sure it’s not their boss, but I think *technically* the prankee is higher up the food chain… although probably only slightly.

    7. Allegra*

      I’ve read some articles lately about how doctors are seeing a lot of kids and older teens being about 2-3 years, developmentally, behind where they’d “normally” be, due to the effects of lockdown and missing what’s proportionally a not-insignificant portion of social time. So maybe this kid IS a little more like a middle schooler, in terms of judgment? Maturity isn’t something that people just acquire by virtue of time passing–it has to be cultivated, with some room to grow. We can disagree about whether or not harsh consequences are necessary for that, and I don’t have kids so I don’t know, but I think I internalized life lessons better when I was given some grace to fix an error in judgment instead of having the hammer brought down.

    8. CM*

      Totally agree. I have teenage kids and if they did something like this, I would be grateful to the organization for firing them. Getting fired from a high school internship is a consequence they will remember, and not want to repeat, but not one that will change the course of their lives. On the other hand, if they learned that they could be totally disrespectful and inappropriate and would just get asked politely not to do it again, that would be a terrible lesson.

    9. Medicated Ginzo*

      Regretfully, the anecdotal reports in this thread cannot be considered strong evidence of general teenage maturity levels, as 100% of successful teen prank callers have parents who don’t know what they’re up to.

  22. I edit everything*

    The thing that puzzles me is that when the OP called the number, the “old lady” answered the phone. If that was the kid, would he really have answered as the old lady character, rather than himself, if he saw that it was his job calling? Even less likely to answer as the woman if he didn’t recognize the number. This suggests to me that someone got hold of his phone and was a determined prankster, or it’s a land line, rather than the kid’s cell phone, and the older lady exists and wasn’t pranking so much as confused.

  23. BellyButton*

    I hope they don’t fire him. Hear me out- kids today get away with a lot less than most of us did, especially the Gen Xers. They aren’t given independence to FAFO and frankly I am not sure kids today have nearly the level of fun as we did. I think it is part WHY we see a high level immaturity into college and after.

    What he did was pretty harmless, yes have a talk with him. Hopefully he is embarrassed and it is a lesson learned, heck he may not even know how landlines work or that they could see caller ID. LOL. Kids needs to be kids and making a prank call isn’t that big of a deal, even if it was soooo dumb to call his workplace. Teenage boys do not have the brain development to think through their consequences- so let him know that it was dumb and some places might have fired him or held it against him.

    I might be a little tipsy right now. HAHA Kidding!

          1. Emily Byrd Starr*

            *the phone CALL, that is. I thought you meant that the phone call came from a landline.

          2. BellyButton*

            OH no, I meant the org probably had a phone line! Most kids have never seen one, let alone used one. When I worked as a trainer at call center 10 yrs ago I had to teach the people under 25 how to use them.

            1. JustaTech*

              My work just got rid of our desk phones – so I took one home as a toy for my toddler, because it has buttons and he loves to push buttons, even if they don’t do anything.

    1. I edit everything*

      I agree. Youngsters learn by playing, human or non-human, and messing up generally gets a warning growl, second time a nip on the ear, and third time a serious pounce or claws-out swipe. This kid is at warning growl stage. Firing would be the swipe.

      1. Kitry*

        I love this analogy.

        I also agree with BellyButton- kids these days are so tightly controlled, monitored and supervised that it’s no wonder we’re seeing this type of goofy behavior at older ages than in previous generations.

    2. Sarah*

      Ditto. Let the kids have some old fashioned fun (just don’t let them think they got away with it)

  24. Wren*

    Personally I think you should fire this intern. Pranking isn’t funny; at best, it wastes people’s time. It’s only a matter of time before he graduates to pranks that actively hurt people, and you don’t want that in your office. It’s what you would do to any prankster in a regular office, and you should do it here.

      1. Wren*

        Pranks aren’t funny! I don’t know why everyone here thinks they are. This is the first form of prank, and if it’s not caught now and he learns a lesson, he’s going to escalate into ones that people here will consider assault (see literally all other prank posts on this blog).

        Not to mention, the nature of this prank itself shows a real lack of professionalism and understanding of this job. Talk to him beforehand, but I still think he should be let go. It’s a learning experience; it’s not like he won’t find another job elsewhere.

        1. Ferret*

          Humour is pretty much the definitive example of subjectivity so no-one here can make a universal call on whether pranks are funny or not. And you assumption that if he doesn’t get fired for making one silly phone call he will certainly and inevitably end up assaulting someone is weird

          1. Wren*

            Literally every single prank letter on this blog except for this one has pranks that several people consider assault and say so loudly. I don’t understand why everyone is giving this dude grace when this prank isn’t funny. He’s going to go into more intense pranks that people won’t like. I think being let go is a good learning experience

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              1) So you think Alison is the exception, and every single other kid who’s ever made a prank call is going to escalate to being an awful person?

              2) You, uh, do realize that we only generally hear about the awful pranks on this site because of the nature of the site? Like, so many jobs (my own included), people do silly pranks where everyone generally does laugh and then move on. Like, many pranks are not this serious.

            2. Nea*

              There is no evidence in this letter that the intern is the one who actually made the phone calls – shared lines are a thing and LW doesn’t say “we recognized his voice” – so it’s a big leap to insist that the intern is heading towards a future physical assault in the name of pranking.

            3. Ellis Bell*

              There wasn’t any assault or harm done by this prank; this is catastrophic speculation.

        2. Czhorat*

          I 100% agree with you on pranks (and I think that’s a big split here – some people LOVE pranks, some HATE them. I’m with you in the latter camp).

          Where I disagree is in the need to drop the hammer on this kid; if he knew professional norms he probably wouldn’t be an intern. The purpose of his “employment” there is to learn, even if it’s a paid internship. So, this IS a learning experience. The lesson could come in the form of a serious conversation and the extraction of a promise to never do it again.

          The mortification when he realizes it wasn’t AT ALL funny to his boss should be enough lesson for most people.

          1. CM*

            I’ve seen the phrase “dropped the hammer” used repeatedly in this thread. Getting fired from a high school internship is not a hammer drop. It’s embarrassing, and maybe will result in some changes of plans, but it’s an entirely proportional consequence for what he did. They don’t have to badmouth him all over town or anything. Just explain why this was very poor judgment and say unfortunately, they have to let him go.

        3. BellyButton*

          I hate pranks, I really do. Usually they are at some else’s expense and harmful. This was overall pretty innocent.

          1. AnonORama*

            It sounds innocent, and it worked out OK because OP handled it well and their boss doesn’t seem to be a jerk. But, I’ve worked in nonprofit development with some doozies for bosses, and if this had gotten any further, OP could’ve gotten blowback.

            I don’t think the kid needs to be fired; he and his friends were just being silly. He wouldn’t have understood that he could be putting OP on the line to get reamed for even mentioning a donation of this size without strong verification. Even though OP couldn’t verify it, because they weren’t on the level to talk to donors this size. That would make no difference to a difficult boss who saw a game-changing donation dangled in their face and snatched away. Doubly true if the org is struggling, which we don’t know here.

            So yeah, talk to him and give him one more chance. This could’ve been way worse, but it wasn’t awesome.

        4. MsM*

          Speaking as someone who works in this field, that’s a major overreaction. The fact the people on the other end of the line (who, as it’s already been pointed out, may or may not have been doing this with the intern’s knowledge) backed off when they realized they were going to have to deal with the head of the organization directly means they misjudged just how seriously this was going to be taken. And while that does require a conversation, he’s not going to have the opportunity to understand exactly why it’s a big deal if you pull a “one strike and you’re out” over something that ultimately just amounted to a minor annoyance.

        5. Turnipnator*

          It’s perfectly possible for him to learn a lesson without being fired; which is why the general consensus aligns with Alison’s advice to confront him first, and after talking with him and getting more information to make the call about how to proceed.
          More information is good! An automatic firing without that information would be irresponsible, in my opinion. It’s possible his manager gets the whole story (and gauges whether he understands the gravity of his prank) and decides firing makes sense, but before that I think it’s too early to make that call.
          Not to mention: expecting a high schooler to already have fully developed adult-level professionalism is expecting too much. Learning from his mistake here should be plenty, if he demonstrates he learned.

        6. Irish Teacher.*

          Honestly, I don’t think that just because somebody does one prank, it means they will necessarily continue on to more serious pranks that actually hurt people. Those ones get mentioned here because they harm people, not because they are common. I wouldn’t assume that the pranks that advice columnists are asked about are in any way representative of pranks as a whole.

          Nor do I think the question of whether it is funny or not should play any part in whether or not he is given grace.

          People are suggesting letting it go, not because it is funny (which shouldn’t be relevant anyway) but because it was a one-off, because there are no indications this is likely to become a common thing and lots of teens do stupid things with their friends; most don’t escalate and because he is a kid who can be expected to make mistakes.

        7. Ally McBeal*

          Some pranks are genuinely funny. There’s a current trend on TikTok where the wife lays on the ground and pokes just her head out of the room she’s in, waits for her partner to walk by, then asks him an innocuous question. The dudes shriek and often jump several feet in the air. No one is hurt and the dudes always come back for a good laugh about it. It’s not everyone’s sense of humor, but if all parties involved can laugh about it right away, it’s fine.

    1. Ferret*

      “It’s only a matter of time before he graduates to pranks that actively hurt people”
      This is a ludicrous reaction to a child making a silly phone call. Do you think that Alison and all the others with fond memories of pranking turned into vicious sociopaths?

      1. Carol*

        Yeah – this response might be a bit over the top. But acceptance of pranks as “okay”, a rite of childhood, astounds me. Reminds me of the attitude that sexual comments and bullying against women are fine because “it’s just boys being boys”.

        Is there a handbook as to what’s acceptable and not? If you call once or twice, that’s fine? Is five too many? If the recipient is an older, easily confused individual – does that matter? What if the words being said could seem threatening? What if it simply wastes the person’s time and they miss out on another important call or interrupts train of thought during a critical process?

        I’d really like to know who decides the boundaries on this because I prefer zero tolerance.

        1. Florence Reese*

          Come on. It’s wildly insulting to compare a prank phone call to your own workplace to scamming the elderly or sexually harassing people. You know those are not the same.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          It’s not that they’re “okay”, it’s that almost all kids do stupid things, and acknowledging that isn’t necessarily accepting it. Also, there are degrees of stupidity, and I think conflating prank calling to sexual harassment really misses the mark.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          Seriously, I say this without any great love of pranks, but I’m stunned at the fear-mongering here just because something happened which isn’t a good enough idea to be in an Official Internship Handbook for Teenagers; generally you don’t use an actual handbook or set of hard and fast rules to guide decisions in life, you use critical thinking skills, context and life experience. I’m not saying this shouldn’t be presented to the kid as zero tolerance, and against cardinal rules but it’s possible to do that act without internally actually writing a kid off all together while considering yourself to have never needed guidance. Although as a teacher, if someone wants to write a handbook, and put it into practice with real life teenagers; I will watch that reality show all day long.

    2. Happy*

      1) Pranks can be funny and they can bring people joy.
      2) People who make prank phone calls don’t always graduate to pranks that actively hurt people.
      3) Wow.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I’m so astonished too! I feel like people don’t understand what an actual prank is. Possibly a lot of people who were honest to god bullied, were also told “Oh my god it was just a prank, lighten up” because bullies never admit to being bullies and use words like “it was a joke” or “it was a prank”.

    3. Lavender*

      Ehh, I don’t know. This is something I can absolutely picture my high school friend group doing, and we’re now all perfectly professional adults. His supervisor should make it clear to him that this kind of prank isn’t acceptable in the workplace, but I’d chalk it up to immaturity rather than any sort of malicious intent.

  25. Madame Señora*

    When I was a teenager, someone broke into my house and stole the cassette out of the answering machine. It’s been over 25 years and to this day I am dying to find out what prank call lead to a B&E.

      1. Emily Byrd Starr*

        I could see that being the plot for a sitcom or teen movie from that era. I could totally picture it on Full House or Saved By the Bell!

        1. BellyButton*

          On Friends, Monica attempted to delete a message she had left on Richard’s machine and instead made her message the outgoing message. LOL She was prepared to break into his apartment to steal the tape.

    1. Carlie*

      My first thought is confession of a crush or date request, and that it was real. Only exposure of true feelings would cause the kind of teenaged after-call regret and dismay that would lead to crime as cover-up! :D

      1. Madame Señora*

        My dad was a high school Math teacher and not a terribly popular one. I always assumed it was intended for him.

  26. Poison I.V. drip*

    Kids these days. A prank like this needs to drop a famous name to raise the stakes. Myself, I would have impersonated Angelina Jolie.

  27. Kristin*

    I was a champion prankster, too, in my youth. Sometimes the adults we called went along with it, which was hilarious. Does anyone remember the old William Castle movie, “I Saw What You Did”? It holds up very well.

  28. Former teacher*

    If the intern came through a school or other institution you might let the head of the program know. If they have any kind of general instruction on professional behavior they could add a unit on “Taking the Mission of Your Employer Seriously” or “Confidentiality” or the like.
    When I was a teacher, I had a student who got a part time job at a bank and immediately looked up the accounts in the names of a friend’s parents. He then reported to the friend that the parents had an account with little or nothing in it. And I heard the conversation. I reported him to his mentor/teacher. Of course, I could have just talked to him, but if I’d had an account at that bank, I would have called the bank and maybe taken my business elsewhere. He accused me of almost making him lose his job. I prefer to think I saved him from losing his job.

    1. Ferret*

      This is in a totally different category of behaviour though? Sharing confidential and sensitive information seems pretty much totally unrelated to this kind of silly prank call?

      1. Former teacher*

        Yes, it’s a different category. But both actions have a serious core that should be discussed – in the case of my student giving out confidential information, in the case of the LW’s intern not realizing how important it is to follow up with a potential donor and thus causing the LW and others to waste time and energy.

  29. CTA*

    The best case scenario: The intern’s friends/siblings took his phone or spoofed his number.

    The worst case scenario: The intern doesn’t understand the concept of caller ID and was in on this. I’ve had friends tell me that their interns didn’t understand the red blinking light on the desk phone meant there was a voicemail. I’ve had interns who think the obvious and not hidden security camera is a fake and get caught on camera doing things they know they’re not supposed to do (like invite boyfriends over to hand out after they already received a warning).

    1. Nea*

      I can also see a scenario where it’s the intern’s parents, on the assumption that Mom was a little tipsy and thought maybe the organization would show favoritism to her boy if there was a large donation in the balance.

        1. Nea*

          The money doesn’t have to exist for the promise of money to sound like a good idea to someone who’s drunk.

    2. Random Dice*

      I thought the worst case scenario was that his parents are abusive and deliberately tanking his ability to be independent.

      1. Tea*

        I thought one of the blog rules was to not indulge in crazy fanfiction about the submissions anymore but maybe I missed a memo???

  30. Jenzee*

    I guess I’m a wet blanket, then. I think prank calls are low. Disrespectful. The definition of “It’s not funny if you’re the only one laughing.”

    That said, I wouldn’t fire the kid either, unless he was totally unrepentant and really didn’t understand what he did wrong (if, in fact, he did it).

  31. Despachito*

    Wait… was the voice female, or you couldn’t tell?

    I’d definitely talk to the intern first. While it is likely it was his prank, I think there are some chances it wasn’t – that either someone took his phone or impersonated him (I think scammers nowadays can make appear any phone number they want on your screen and thus make you think they are a legit call). I’d make sure first it is really him to blame.

  32. Lee*

    Definitely in the minority today as I’m anti-prank. I would never brag on having been good at tormenting others in my youth. It’s a slippery slope between “harmless fun” and bullying, scamming, disrespecting.

    I do agree firing him is too much unless there are other factors.

    It does seem hypocritical to talk about chastising him for disrespecting others while secretly enjoying the trip down memory lane. I can’t say I never did anything stupid in my past. But it’s things I’d be embarrassed about and remorseful now, not fondly reminiscing. Definitely a different mindset on my end.

    1. Ferret*

      Unless you believe that a large proportion of the commenters reminiscing over their pranking youth turned into bullies or scammers how slipper of a slope can this be.

      I never did anything like this or would have imagined it (I was a really boring teenager) but talking about this kind of silly phone call as “tormenting” is just a really ludicrous piece of hyperbole

    2. Zona the Great*

      I think you may have misunderstood the intent of why Alison shared her past with us. She was not bragging or fondly reminiscing in the way you’re describing. Tormenting is a far cry from what Alison or this intern were doing. I do agree that it was in poor taste but nothing to label him or anyone else as tormentors.

      1. AnonORama*

        IMO there are pranks and pranks. Singing Prince’s “Kiss” on the assistant principal’s answering machine did not make me a bully or a scammer, and the two kids who sang it with me are also respectable members of society. Sadly, the boy who thought it would be funny to call an unpopular girl, pretending to be a cop, and tell her that her mother had been killed in a car accident, is also a respectable member of society. (I haven’t seen him in years, so I suppose he could be a scammer with a veneer of respectability who hasn’t been caught.)

        I’m not a big prank fan, but there seems to be a silly-mean divide that speaks more to someone’s character than having ever committed a prank at all.

        1. Curious*

          This. Very much this!

          The prank we are discussing today was unprofessional, and (assuming this was the intern’s doing) warrants a severe admonishment, along with a “this is your one and only” warning.

          The sort of vicious prank im AnonORama’s second example warrants termination with extreme prejudice. There is a difference between stupid actions and vicious ones.

        2. CzechMate*

          Yeah, there’s an element of punching up v. punching down there. Kids with little experience pranking adults with power is different than kids pranking other kids, which is different than adults pranking kids, which is different from adults pranking adults, which is…

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I never enjoyed pranks myself, and when my friends tried to tell me a funny one that happened it always made me roll my eyes because it was never clever enough to be funny. However, even without a background in pranksterdom, I do know the difference between calls which are pranks, and ones which are scams, bullying or just straight up disrespect. Those are four very different things….

  33. CzechMate*

    Did the voice sound like your intern? Did it sound like a different person? I COULD see a sibling being mad at your intern (ex. “It’s not fair that Todd gets to use the car bEcAuSe He HaS aN iNtErNsHiP”) and this is how they’re exacting their revenge.

    Yeah, part of me thinks it would be hilarious to sit the intern down and tell him that because the org has received the promise of a multi-million dollar donation, they’re going to do a training exercise where he and the boss have a conference call with the donors to express their heartfelt gratitude and to discuss the next steps for their partnership but………I suppose Alison’s advice is better.

  34. HonorBox*

    Oh gosh… I have so many great prank call stories from the before times when caller ID was not a thing. We had one place in particular that we’d call regularly … so much so that we thought later that we should have sent an apology with flowers. But that’s not helpful to the letter writer, so here goes…

    LW, I think the conversation you have with this intern will tell you a lot about them and whether to keep them on. If you open the door with the explanation suggested – that you received a call from their number – and the immediate reaction is that they’re mortified or apologetic, you can probably just kindly explain that a prank like this may seem pretty low-stakes, but it can be hurtful. Then let them continue and see how this helps them be a better intern and person. If they push back, place blame, get defensive, then you could easily decide to part ways with them.

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      This Saturday, we should all post on the open thread our favorite memories of prank calls and funny answering machine messages.

  35. kristinyc*

    (This is kind of long but was one of the funniest work experiences I’ve ever had…)

    When I interned at the company that makes Ball jars, my desk was with the customer support team who took calls from people who had questions about canning/making jam. The support staff was all older women who knew a lot about jam. They were all very sweet, but the job was so boring.

    I was g-chatting with a friend during this, and she decided to call support. She said, in her thick Memphis accent, that her boyfriend-now FIANCE- had proposed to her by catching a sturgeon fish and putting the ring on its nose. She wanted the customer service ladies to help her with recipes for making some fish jelly and preserving the fish.

    They were stumped, and put her on hold to ask the other ladies. Meanwhile, I’m in my cubicle on the other side trying to silence my uncontrollable laughter. And chatting my friend things to say that were questions someone who knew about canning might ask (” What temperature should I cookie it at? How do I avoid botulism?”), I was also sending her things like [to the tune of Bootylicious, which was newish then] “I don’t think you’re ready for FISH JELLY!”

    The lady got back on the phone and tried to talk her into maybe taking some pictures or making him a nice meal with it instead. My friend ended up hanging up because she was laughing so hard.

    1. MsM*

      I was also not ready for fish jelly, because I now need to go clean the water I spit out off my desk.

    2. Minimal Pear*

      I mean, you CAN can meat but you need special equipment and it’s never seemed appetizing enough to be worth it to me…

      1. I Have RBF*

        I have successfully pressure canned chicken, mushroom marinara, and split pea soup. Done correctly, it tastes great. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

        Fish would need to be gutted, then put in pint jars with a little salt and vinegar. At sea level, the pressure needs to be at 11 pounds for 100 minutes. (A simple recipe is at https://extension.sdstate.edu/canning-fish)

  36. Mmm.*

    This reminds me of the guy who couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting called back for jobs, only to find out his little brother had put something inappropriate on his resume. He wasn’t checking the resume because it was complete.

    I truly hope this intern has nothing to do with it.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Or that one here years ago where someone turned up for an interview with “shitting” on his CV and then called the next day very embarrassed because he just found out his son had done it.

    2. Jill Swinburne*

      I once had a party at my house – aged about 17 – and the next day had an official appointment to which I had to bring a form. I handed over the form and to my horror discovered that one of my friends had scrawled a huge cock and balls and swear words on the back.

      The man was very nice – stifling a snigger, he just said ‘let’s get you another one of those’ and suggested I put stuff away next time. He probably howled with laughter when I left.

  37. BananaSam*

    The number of times I called Hooked on Phonics from the church office phone is way too high.

  38. BellyButton*

    When I was in HS, my 3 best friends and I all worked at the same locally owned pharmacy. We almost always worked the same or overlapping shifts. Usually one of us was behind the counter, one was restocking/cleaning shelves, and one was at the drive-thru. If there were customers in the store we would grab the ‘grossest” thing we could find and walk up to whoever was on the floor and say “Sir, here is that enema you were looking for. Hope it all comes out ok” Or something equally ridiculous. To our 16 yr old brains it was hilarious and we for sure thought the customers would believe this young kid needed a (fill in thing kids don’t typically need). We did our jobs just fine, and we were good kids- we were just kids.

    I hate any sort of prank now, but these sorts of things are just silly things kids do to amuse themselves in the world they are just learning to navigate through. It is also how they learn when things have gone too far, crossed a line, could offend someone, or be harmful.

    Making mistakes is how we learn.

    1. Arglebargle*

      When I was about 22 years old I worked as a temp in a small architectural firm in their product literature library (which was basically a huge library of catalogs and product announcements and specs and stuff like that). I found a catalog full of morgue equipment: walk in refrigerators, dissection tables with sinks attached, gurneys that “hid” the corpse inside them for wheeling them down a hallway, etc etc. Using the company’s letterhead, I faxed a number of pages from this catalog to my then-boyfriend with a letter that basically said I had found the PERFECT appliances for his kitchen remodel, and couldn’t wait to review them with him at our next appointment. The fax number went to a machine that was behind the receptionist’s desk and she would announce overhead when anyone received a fax. She announced “Fax for BoyfriendName!” and he came running up, exclaiming “Oh! Excellent! I’ve been waiting for this one!” (obviously had been expecting a different fax.) He put it down without reading it for about an hour and wondered why everyone was walking by his cubicle staring at him strangely. Once he read it he laughed out loud and called me, congratulating me on not only pranking him but also all the busybodies in his office who looked at the fax before he did.

  39. anonymouse*

    I only ever did a prank once as a kid, and never again, because as it turned out, we spent the next I don’t know how long on pins and needles waiting for the reaction, and the longer it went without anyone saying anything, the more nervous we got about whether we’d get in trouble. There was no way they didn’t know who did it (it was an obviously faked letter from my mom about an absence, so yeah, it was me) so I guess they correctly decided we’d suffer more waiting indefinitely for the hammer to fall. That was SO not fun that I never did anything like it again.

    So yeah as everyone says, you have to say something but…maybe let him stew in his own juices for a little while first.

  40. Boss Scaggs*

    I mean if the guy who had the bird phobia and pushed is colleague into a moving car didn’t get fired, I think this intern is safe. Comes across as extremely immature though – my kids and their friends did this stuff when they were 11 or 12, not at actual jobs..

    1. anon_sighing*

      That case wasn’t remotely similar to this one…?

      The circumstances were (apparently): “HR was wary of firing Jack when he has had no previous trouble and has a phobia and mental illness that rise to the level of needing treatment.”

      Even Alison said: “you can’t let an employee (i.e., the one who was pushed) dictate that another employee be fired” and that they were right to not fire Jack.

      The company was more than willing compensate Liz (the one who was pushed), but she very understandably quit and wanted nothing to do with them. I think if you want to fault anyone in this situation, it should be the company in trying to help find Liz a solution that would work that allowed her to stay and not feel like everyone was siding with Jack. I think, if I was Liz, this would hurt just as much as the physical wounds and piss me off beyond belief. I don’t think what Jack did was right but these two situation…just are not comparable.

    2. Accidental Manager*

      So, keep in mind, when this kid was 11 or 12, he may very well have been isolating at home, with very little social interaction with his peers due to the pandemic. All the kids in high school right now are probably more socially immature and didn’t have the opportunity learn what’s acceptable in various social situations because he didn’t get to experience them.

      So, are he and his friends immature – yes! Is this supposed to be a learning opportunity for him? Also yes! So let’s give him the opportunity to learn to be better.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        And people mature at very different rates. In particular, I see huge gaps around the 16 year old age group where some have a near adult level maturity and others aren’t much different from 10 or 12 year olds. I remember one class in particular where it very much broke down by gender. The group would have been 15-17 and all the girls were serious students, as was one boy, who sat alone, I guess because he was embarrassed to sit with the girls but didn’t want to sit with the rest of the boys who were throwing paper planes when my back was turned or scrapping their chairs along the ground to make noise or asking stupid questions to try and “catch me out.”

        One was something along the lines of “did the boss’s son’s wife marry the boss’s son because the boss’s son’s wife,” all said at top speed, just because it would be so hilarious if I asked him to repeat it. Which sounds about the same level of humour as this and the kid would have been about the same age.

        And this was nearly 20 years ago without the impact of the current pandemic, which as Accidental Manager pointed out, meant that a lot of kids nowadays missed out on doing this stupid stuff at the appropriate ages, getting in trouble and realising they weren’t impressing anybody.

        People don’t all mature at the same rate and yeah, some kids would have learnt better at 12 – some would have thought it stupid when they were 7. Others would still think it funny at 16 or 17.

        (The boys in that class, by the way, were complaining I discriminated against boys because I was always telling them off but didn’t tell the girls off when they were talking. Um…because when the girls were talking, it was one person whispering to the person beside them, “can I borrow a pen? Mine has run out” or something like that, whereas when the boys were talking, it was calling out stupid comments or something.)

  41. anon_sighing*

    I won’t be the party pooper but I’ve never really liked pranks when they’re stranger-on-stranger or between people who don’t really know each other. Prank calling your friends? Fun, light hearted, and they know the level. Pranks on your parents? They brought you into this world, call them on their threats to take you out. Pranks on cousins? What is the point of having a cousin?! Basically, pranking someone who you know will laugh with you or laugh about it in the future with you is ok. With all the scammers and things, a prank call just doesn’t hit the way it used to. I feel like prank calls like these were funner when the world was a bit more naive (i.e., no caller ID, people were out and about mostly, you had to PAY for that call, lol).

    Pranks on random people, people who clearly don’t like it, or your job though? Inconsiderate at best, dangerous at worst.

    I’d ask why he called to offer the fake donation. No gotcha, no walking him into a trap, just “your number came up on caller ID (show him). Do you have an explanation for this?” Then fire him. A high schooler absolutely would come up with something stupid like this (the name he wanted to name it was probably the punch line to this joke that you didn’t get him get to) but they need to know there is consequences. It won’t affect their future in a tangible way but hopefully they learn a lesson that real life isn’t “kids will be kids.”

  42. Panicked*

    This reminds me of when I was a teen and we started getting phone calls from old ladies asking for us to pray for them. We assumed it was a prank until we got home from a dinner out and had an entirely full answering machine. We ended up calling the last caller back to see where the got the number. The local church had put our number out as their new prayer line instead of their own. Ours was only one digit off and they typed it wrong in their program.

    1. La Triviata*

      That’s how we ended up with NORAD tracking Santa each Christmas. If you don’t know the story a local store or something printed a phone number (back in the ’50s I think) so kids could track Santa. Unfortunately, they printed the number for a NORAD office and, well, it happened. Not a deliberate prank, but the head of the office and his staff were willing to play along. It’s kind of nice to know that people with an important job can be tolerant and go along with an error to help make children happy at Christmas.

    2. AnonORama*

      Ha, my parents’ phone number was one number off from the one you were supposed to call to find out if your school was closed for a snow day. Of course, one year they got it wrong and we got LOTS of calls. I’m sure I wasn’t a little brat who answered a few and told people school was closed…

    3. Bi One Get One*

      One of my friends in college had a phone number that was one digit off from a popular sandwich shop. Half the time she’d correct the number for callers, and the other half she just took orders.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      I grew up with a number very similar to a local dental surgery. Since I was registered with that surgery, booking appointments for these callers was probably not the best idea.

  43. Urban Fervor*

    Am I the only one dying to know what they planned to name the theater? I feel like the name was the intended punchline.

    1. Happy*

      Oh, I bet you’re right! Hence the insistence on handling it immediately.

      I’m so disappointed we missed out on the punchline!

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      “Yes, gazing upon the Hugh Azzbahls Theater will always warm my heart in memory of my late cousin.”

  44. Dawn*

    I know that this isn’t the point, but after waffling on it a bit, I thought you might like to be aware, given that you work in fundraising; seven million dollars is seven figures. 100,000 to 999,999 is six.

    1. MsM*

      I think OP’s point was that even six figure gifts typically don’t just show up out of the blue, let alone seven. (I’ve had the former happen a couple of times, but never with a donor we had no prior connection to at all.)

      1. Dawn*

        I reread it to make sure that wasn’t the case before posting, and I don’t think it was, but you could of course be correct and I misunderstood their intent.

  45. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    All I can think of is the line from the classic Blink 182 song:
    What the h*ll is caller ID? What’s my age again?

    1. MsM*

      The fact that song is now considered “classic” repeatedly has me asking the title question of myself.

    2. ferrina*

      I would have never made this mistake as a high school student, because I listened to Weird Al. I knew not to go making Phony Calls- I stuck to the seven digit numbers I was used to.
      (Phony Calls came out in 1996, in case anyone was wondering. I am now feeling very old.)

  46. Blue me Blue and blue John John*

    One of the ways I interact with AAM is to scroll through the comments and look for the blue responses from Alison, and read through those threads. Today was ::chef’s kiss:: magnifico! Thank you for sharing your silly youthful ways!

  47. KP*

    I know this is likely a stupid prank by the intern and his friends.

    But I also wonder if the intern really does have an incredibly destructive, alcoholic mother who pranked his workplace to sabotage him.

    1. anon_sighing*

      With a father who’ll call back and complete the prank!

      This would be the wildest update to the letter and maybe I’ve read too many “don’t fire him, there is a reason that doesn’t involve him” pleas that I’m hoping it’s true too (really unlikely to me still), but one involving his parents and not friends would be dizzying.

      1. KP*

        Nah, more of a trying to minimize/smooth over what happened….then panicking and hanging up before talking to the boss.

        Basically, I could see my own mom doing something like this when I was 17 and then me in a panic spiral trying to fix it….

        1. anon_sighing*

          Wouldn’t he just outright say (if he wanted to protect the student), “That was my wife. I’m so sorry about this, there is no donation and we’re sorry for troubling you”? If he’s just closing out the donation fiasco, he could say “We’ve changed our minds about donating. Sorry and goodbye.”

          Then again, people don’t think clearly in a panic.

    2. Nea*

      You are not the only one side-eyeing the kid’s mother. I’m wondering if she thought offering money would make his internship go better.

  48. animaniactoo*

    I would just like to say that I was today years old before I realized that the greatest prank of all here is the person who got *69 approved as the number for “turning around and calling back”.

  49. Research Nerd*

    When I was in high school, my friend’s boyfriend emailed her workplace something inappropriate, (stupidly) not thinking the business email was visible to the entire staff and the boss. My friend was furious and mortified, but was still a good employee who was not involved in the bad prank.

    I have supervised a few college students/interns and sometimes their lack of professionalism and seemingly basic manners appalls me (I’m in my 20s so it wasn’t long ago that I was a student). I have been reminded that having students isn’t just about them gaining field experience. They are learning basic work culture and some students/interns do not come from places where they were given the appropriate dos and don’ts of having a job (or basic manners).

  50. Arglebargle*

    A zillion years ago before cellphones and caller ID, I was in a band with three other women. As her “day job,” the drummer worked at a bank as a teller or in customer service and her colleagues were all older middle aged women (like the ancient-to-us ages of 55-65). When we were in the recording studio, there would be long stretches of downtime while things got set up or whatever and we amused ourselves with calling her coworkers and pranking them. The two best ones I can remember were 1) having a looooong drawn out conversation about CDs (certificates of deposit) and their various costs and interest rates, and offering various “valuable” things (afghan knitted by grandma, cuckoo clock, silverware) in exchange for them because “I just don’t have that kind of money right now” with the punchline being, “I don’t understand WHY a little plastic disc with music on it is SO EXPENSIVE!!” and 2) discussing the various costs of safe deposit boxes–for a pet turtle (“What do you mean you won’t feed him for me? He’ll DIE in there!”) These poor women were so trained in customer service that they would never just hang up on us and it was hysterical and resulted in almost peeing in pants multiple times.

  51. Excel-sior*

    i honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it WAS his friends. my friends and family would see an unattended mobile as an open invitation for posting silly embarrassing Facebook updates, well into our early 30s. We’d never do anything stupid like contacting a workplace (we were, after all, adults with jobs and mortgages and children, so a bit more mature, if only marginally) but i can see how at that age there’d be at least one kid who’d take it too far.

  52. Lizy*

    brb I have to google ways to prank call people now…

    seriously. it’s a PHONE CALL. And it’s so outlandish that the OP knew immediately it was a prank. I mean, have a conversation with him, sure. Heck – tell him that in the real world he could very well be fired. Use your Big Serious Voice. But anything beyond that? Nah.

    I’d feel different if the kid called pretending to be child services or a cop or whatever, or if he was doing a fake act of violence. But… this is not that. It’s not even close to that. Tell the kid to not do it again, close the door, and laugh about how you wished you were cool like that when you were younger.

  53. Falling Diphthong*

    As an old reading this, what’s delightful is picturing the earnest young people assuring each other that it’s okay, caller ID hasn’t been invented yet, plus no one will ever penetrate our steely adult cover identities. When they are basically three owls in a trench coat.

  54. Colorado*

    Okay, the comments today have made me:
    1. laugh
    2. remember my youth and stupidity with a smile
    3. realize my own idiot* teenager is, sigh… just a teenager herself
    4. feel old

    * I love my kid but sometimes as a parent I forget I was a kid too one time ;-)

  55. judyjudyjudy*

    I dunno if I’m just a square or what, but I don’t think any of these prank calls are funny? Some seem a little mean-spirited even — designed to make people frustrated or panicked or worried or make them look foolish. I understand that’s the point — to make fools out of people so you can jeer at them, but it makes me feel bad for the person being pranked. I didn’t laugh once reading about any of these phone pranks, even the jellied fish one.

    1. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      Humor is subjective and everyone’s opinions on what is and isn’t funny will vary.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      I think that’s part of the point, that things that just seem stupid to adults can seem very funny to teenagers so we can’t always judge teenagers’ behaviour by the same standards we judge adults’.

      1. judyjudyjudy*

        I think that’s a good point. I don’t have an opinion about how this situation could be addressed with this intern.

  56. MrsPookie*

    My number one question: Who hires a HIGH CHOOL STUDENT for an internship? Im going out on a limb to say this student may have been graduating and off to college. They need to learn now -not after they graduate.

    1. Nancy*

      We’ve had high school seniors in internships at my workplace, especially during the summer. It depends on the field and job.

    2. Lavender*

      High school internships aren’t unheard of in some fields, especially the if it’s the kind of internship where the student really is just there to observe rather than do any actual work. Or if they do any work, it’s very very entry-level stuff like filing or making copies.

    3. JustaTech*

      I had two internships in high school, one of which resulted in a summer job. It was a requirement of my high school that every year we had a week of no classes where you did a “project” (internship) – I worked for the website for a telescope, but I had friends who worked at galleries or museums or theaters.
      Seniors had a month of no classes where we worked on a project (but we also didn’t get spring break).
      As far as I know all the internships were designed with high school kids in mind.

  57. tabloidtainted*

    Okay, but…what’s the prank? If this was a prank call, it was weirdly elaborate and had no punch line.

    1. musical chairs*

      Completely agree! I don’t understand what the joke even is?

      While I think firing him is a bit of an overreaction as he is a teenager, I’m still kind of leaning in that direction purely because his prank was just so profoundly unfunny. Can’t have someone with so little commitment around the office, it’s bad for morale! Kid’s gotta step his game up.

  58. Bomm*

    The comments are so wildly different that I think the OP can only respond in a way that feels authentic to her. High school boys are amazingly stupid (speaking as the parent of one) and also amazingly lovely. Many are likely to feel bad about this. If you think the whole thing is pretty funny, you can’t honestly fire the kid, however you then make clear he did wrong. Hypocrisy is not good for the soul. If you don’t think it is funny at all, that also seems fair. What makes me laugh is how appalled he must have been when you called back. Terror plus creativity could be punishment enough — but only if it feels true.

    I so want a follow up.

  59. Pranked*

    When I was a kid, my family was besieged with hang-up calls. My mom swore it was my friend Kim who lived a block away but could see into our living room window from her house. My mom said the phone would ring until she walked past the window and picked up the phone and it would always start again as soon as she sat down.

    One day, I had the phone cord stretched outside the backdoor (oh, the olden days) and it rang in my hand. I answered it and instead of just a ‘click,’ I heard my friend’s three dogs barking before it hung up. I was outside, so after the hangup I could hear the dogs in the distance. I hurriedly called a mutual friend and said that I had proof that Kim was the one calling me. Mutual friend, who lived a couple of miles away, said “it can’t be Kim. She’s right here.”


    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      I thought it was weird that my middle school bullies constantly prank-called my house over and over again, but that beats all!

  60. Annie*

    I’m a librarian in a public library setting, and at the first library I managed, we had a teen volunteer whose family had been regular library patrons for years. At the time, phone use was not restricted solely to staff; our system’s policy was to allow patrons to use the phone in urgencies/emergencies (no pay phone), and we had volunteers calling to notify patrons for holds. We started getting calls from angry people saying they’d received nasty prank calls from our number, and we wracked our brains trying to figure out who was doing it; it turned out that the very quiet, shy teenage boy who was supposed to be prepping craft materials at the volunteer table in the back was using the library phone to call and say vulgar things in a disguised voice to people whose phone numbers he and his family knew! We were *shocked*. (I also had another teen volunteer who I discovered huffing the Lysol spray he was supposed to be using to clean storytime mats… I learned a lot at that job!)

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