Thousands of people each year lose money because they are victims of telephone scams. Some lose just a few dollars, while others lose their entire life savings. Fraudsters will say whatever they believe people want to hear in order to get their money. Many times, the fraudsters sound very friendly and try to build a personal relationship with you. They will often pose as someone in a position of trust, or they may even place advertisements so that encourage you to call them.
If you ever receive a telephone call from someone whom you don’t know, and this person is trying to sell you anything that you had no intention of buying, you must simply say ‘no’ and hang up. If you feel pressured and/or this person tries to convince you to hand over personal information (social security number, bank details, date of birth etc), it is likely to be a scam. If this happens, hang up and immediately report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Signs of a Scam
Very often, fraudsters who use the telephone will try to catch you off guard, so that you don’t really have time to consider their pitch. All they want is for you to say ‘yes’. They have perfected the art of doing this and will often even answer your questions first. For instance, they may direct you to websites with full details of the product or service they claim to sell, which will often have a range of both positive and negative reviews, which makes it look really authentic. In reality, these reviews are left by so-called shills, which means they are not authentic.
There are a number of specific red flags to look out for, as listed below. However, bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive. If you spot any of the following, you must immediately hang up and file an FTC complaint:
- Stating that you have been specially selected.
- Stating that you will receive a free bonus.
- Stating that you have won a valuable prize.
- Stating that you were a winner in a foreign lottery.
- Stating that you can take part in a low risk, high return investment that is not available anywhere else.
- Stating that you must decide immediately.
- Sentences such as ‘you trust me, right?’
- Stating that there is no need for you to check the company out.
- Stating that the shipping and handling charges will be charged to your credit card.
One way to immediately protect yourself from these types of scams is to join the National Do Not Call Registry. While this will not stop all calls from coming your way, it will stop many. If you still receive telephone calls, they are most likely to be scammers and should be reported to www.donotcall.gov.
Across the U.S., vast differences exist in the number of scams reported in each state. Idaho is the most fraud-ridden state by far, with a whopping 24 scams reported per 100,000 residents. Why? A glance at the Idaho Attorney General’s website and the news reveals that scam attempts are abundant. For one thing, many Idaho counties reported an increase in scam phone calls from people posing as IRS agents – in fact, Idaho had nearly double the number of reports per capita of imposter IRS agents as the next-highest state.
How Scammers Hook You
Scammers are skilled artists and they attract you by using things everybody wants – prizes, money, products. They may telephone you, but they can also use advertisements, emails or text messages. Some of the offers that are likely to be sent by scammers include:
- Free or low cost travel packages and vacations that turn out to have thousands of dollars worth of hidden costs. You may even find that the vacation itself never materializes.
- Loans and other forms of credit, such as payday loans, advance fee loans and credit card protection or offers to lower your interest rate. These types of scams are particularly popular with people of low income and during economic downturns.
- Exaggerated investments or business opportunities. This is one of the highest paid types of scams, because most people do not understand the world of investments and therefore simply believe their investment never paid of.
- Charities, asking you for money to help with certain disasters. These almost always happen by telephone.
- Foreign lotteries with very high stakes. Participating in these types of lotteries – if they exist at all – is actually against the law, as you are not allowed to purchase lottery tickets from a country you are not physically in. Naturally, with this scam, there actually is no lottery ticket at all.
- Extended vehicle warranties, whereby a scammer learns the type of car you own and ask you to take out an extended warranty plan that is actually completely worthless.
- ‘Free’ trial offers, whereby you actually sign up for lots of protects that are billed monthly to your credit card until you cancel it.
Why Are You Targeted?
Anybody can be a target of phone scams. Fraud is indiscriminate of ethnic background, age, gender, income or education. However, it has been found that certain groups are particular targets for fraudsters. These include the elderly, who often live alone, are less up to date with technology and often have nest eggs, and poor communities.
What to Do
If you suspect a telemarketer is actually a fraudster, you should ask yourself a few questions. These include:
- Who is calling you and what are they calling you? By law, a telemarketer must tell you who they are, what they are selling and why before they pitch it. If this isn’t mentioned, hang up.
- Why are they in a hurry? If a telemarketer puts you under pressure and talks very quickly, it is usually because they have something to hide. If they are genuine, they should be more than happy to answer your questions calmly and in detail.
- If something is supposedly free, why are they asking for your payment details? Always question any fees and why something is being marketed as ‘free’ when payments are involved.
- Why do you have to give out or ‘confirm’ your account information? This is usually because they hope you will approve a charge over the phone.
- Check the clock, telemarketers cannot telephone before 8am or after 9pm. Any calls outside of that are scams.
- Can you tell them to not phone you again? If so, and if you are registered with the National Do Not Call Register but they still call, they are breaking the law and should be reported to the FTC.
A Few Extra Guidelines
A few things to take into consideration:
- Be strong and don’t allow someone to pressurize you into making immediate decisions.
- Never tell anybody your personal details such as your account numbers, social security number of credit card number. Even if they give you numbers and ask you to ‘confirm’ them, say no.
- Do not be tempted to buy something for the ‘free gift’.
- Never buy anything until you have written information.
- Research any charity before you decide to donate to them.
- Ask your state securities regulator whether an investment opportunity is genuine or not.
- Never send money by overnight mail, messenger, or money transfer. If you send physical money, you often will no longer have any right to dispute a fraudulent charge, like you can with a credit card. Effectively, your money will be gone.
- Never accept special offers that require you to pay a shipping fee or registration fee.
- If you see an offer, look into it through the Attonery General’s office or consumer protection agency of your state.
- If you have lost money through a scam, you will likely be targeted with offers to help you recover it. Telemarketers will often pose as a law enforcement officer and will say they will help you get your money back for a fee. This is a scam.
- Make sure you report any caller, particularly if they become abusive or rude, even if you have sent money. Report this online through the FTC, or telephone 1-877-FTC-HELP.
What About Robocalls?
Robocalls are recorded messages, rather than live people. In most cases, these messages encourage you to purchase something. Robocalls are almost always illegal, unless you gave a company that uses robocalls written permission to telephone you. If you receive such a call:
- Immediately hang up. Do not press 1 in order to speak to a live operator, or any other number that you may be told will take your telephone number off the list. If you press any numbers instead of hanging up, you will likely get more telephone calls in the future.
- Speak to your telephone operator and look into the possibility of blocking certain phone numbers. If they charge a fee for this, you may want to look into other options, as telephone scam operators will frequently change their number.
- Report the telephone conversation to the FTC online, or telephone 1-888-382-1222.
- If you have a cable or internet phone services, there may be an option for you to add screening services, so that robocalls are blocked or screened.