Telemarketing Fraud

Many legitimate companies and charities solicit consumers by phone.  Unfortunately, con artists use the phone, too.  They rob people every day, with phones as their weapons.

To recognize and avoid telemarketing fraud, the FTC recommends consumers ask:

  • Who’s calling - and why? Telemarketers must tell you it’s a sales call, the name of the seller, and what they’re selling before they make their pitch. If they don’t give you the required information, say “no thanks,” and get off the phone.

  • What’s their hurry? Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics could be hiding something. Take your time. Most legitimate businesses will give you time and written information about an offer before asking you to commit to a purchase.

  • If it’s free, why are they asking me to pay? Question charges you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift. Free is free. If you have to pay, it’s a purchase – not a prize or a gift.

  • Why am I “confirming” my account information – or giving it out at all? Some callers have your billing information before they call you. They’re trying to get you to say “okay” so they can claim you approved the charge. Or, they’re trying to learn your account number. Don’t give it out unless you know who you are talking to and what you are buying.

  • What time is it? The law allows telemarketers to call only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. A seller calling earlier or later is flouting the law.

  • Isn’t there a National Do Not Call Registry? Yes, and putting your number on the Registry will stop most telemarketing calls – but not all. You still will get calls from companies with whom you have an established business relationship, charities and political organizations, unless you tell them to stop calling you, too. But calls from sales people from unfamiliar businesses may be the sign of a scam. To add your name to the Do Not Call Registry, visit www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 (TTY 866-290-4326).

Phone fraud and DNC violations can be reported Online at FTC.gov or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP. DNC violations can be reported at DoNotCall.gov or by phone at 1-888-382-1222. For a DNC report, you’ll need the phone number or name of the company that called, and the date of the call.

Additional precautions about telemarketing calls:

  • Fraudulent telemarketers understand human nature and prey on our vulnerability.    We all want to believe that it’s our lucky day, that we can get a great deal, or that there is an easy way to solve our problems.
  • Older people are disproportionately targeted by fraudulent telemarketers.   That’s because they’re home to get the calls, they have money saved that can be robbed, and they’re too polite to hang up.
  • It’s important to know whom you’re dealing with.    If a company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with the Better Business Bureau.  Fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t guarantee the company or charity is legitimate.  
  • Some telemarketing pitches are blatantly fraudulent, and you should know the signs.    It’s illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee up front if they offer you a credit card, a loan, or “repair” of your credit.  It’s also illegal for any company to ask you to pay or buy something to win a prize, or to claim that paying will increase your chances of winning.  And it’s illegal to buy and sell tickets to foreign lotteries by phone or mail.
  • Other danger signs of fraud may be harder to recognize.    They include:
    • Pressure to act immediately;
    • Use of scare tactics;
    • Refusing to send you written information;
    • Demanding that you send payment by wire or courier;
    • Demanding payment of taxes or customs fees to claim a prize;
    • Requesting your financial account numbers, even though you’re not paying for something with them;
    • Promising to recover money you’ve lost in other scams, for a fee;
    • Claiming that you can make lots of money working from home; and
    • Refusing to stop calling when you say you’re not interested.
  • How you pay matters.    If you pay for a transaction with cash, a check or a money order, your money is gone before you realize there is a problem.  Paying by credit card is safest, because you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised.  You don’t have the same dispute rights when you pay with debit cards or give your bank account number.  Bank debits have become fraudulent telemarketers’ preferred form of payment.
  • Where telemarketers are located matters, too.   Some fraudulent telemarketers are deliberately located in other countries, because it’s more difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to pursue them.  It may be hard to tell where they are; they may have mail forwarded from the U.S. and use telephone numbers that look like domestic long-distance.  Be very cautious when dealing with unknown companies from other countries.

You can help cut down on fraud by reporting other kinds of telemarketing concerns to the FTC, the FCC (Form 475) and the NFIC, using their convenient online consumer complaint forms.

Further Reading

Top 10 Telemarketing Scams of 2005 , as documented by the National Fraud Information Center