When you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.
Every year, thousands of people lose money to telephone scams - from a few dollars to their life savings. Scammers will say anything to cheat people out of money. Some seem very friendly - calling you by your first name, making small talk, and asking about your family. They may claim to work for a company you trust, or they may send mail or place ads to convince you to call them.
If you get a call from someone you don’t know who is trying to sell you something you hadn’t planned to buy, say "No thanks." And, if they pressure you about giving up personal information - like your credit card or Social Security number - it’s likely a scam. Hang up and report it to the governemnt authorities.
Here are some warning signs of telemarketing fraud - what a caller may tell you:
- “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
- "You've been specially selected (for this offer)."
- “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize." But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
- "You trust me, right?"
- "This investment is low risk and provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else."
- “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
- “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
- “You don’t need any written information about their company or their references.”
- “You can’t afford to miss this ‘high-profit, no-risk’ offer.”
If you hear these or similar “lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you” and hang up the telephone.
How They Hook You
Scammers use exaggerated - or even fake - prizes, products or services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, texts, or ads to get you to call them for more details. Here are a few examples of “offers” you might get:
- Travel Packages. “Free” or “low cost” vacations can end up costing a bundle in hidden costs. Some of these vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid.
- Credit and loans. Advance fee loans, payday loans, credit card protection and offers to lower your credit card interest rates are very popular schemes, especially during a down economy.
- Sham or exaggerated business and investment opportunities. Promoters of these have made millions of dollars. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment.
- Charitable causes. Urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone.
- High-stakes foreign lotteries. These pitches are against the law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. What’s more, you may never see a ticket.
- Extended car warranties. Scammers find out what kind of car you drive, and when you bought it so they can urge you to buy overpriced - or worthless - plans.
- “Free” trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products - sometimes lots of products - which can cost you lots of money because they bill you every month until you cancel.
Tips for Avoiding Telemarketing Fraud
It’s very difficult to get your money back if you’ve been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:
- Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
- Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But, unfortunately, beware-not everything written down is true.
- Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. Unfortunately, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.
- Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, telephone numbers, addresses, and business license numbers. Verify the accuracy of these items.
- Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
- Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question. “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?”
- Don’t pay in advance for services. Pay services only after they are delivered.
- Be wary of companies that want to send a messenger to your home to pick up money, claiming it is part of their service to you. In reality, they are taking your money without leaving any trace of who they are or where they can be reached.
- Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
- Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
- Before you receive your next sales pitch, decide what your limits are-the kinds of financial information you will and won’t give out on the telephone.
- Be sure to talk over big investments offered by telephone salespeople with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor. It’s never rude to wait and think about an offer.
- Never respond to an offer you don’t understand thoroughly.
- Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
- Be aware that your personal information is often brokered to telemarketers through third parties.
- If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.
- If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies.