Telemarketing Scams

Top scams to avoid.

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A Sad Story

Doctor F., a 92-year-old Massachusetts psychologist eager to get some extra money to keep a free counseling service in operation that he had set up, fell prey to a series of scams perpetrated by 72 different companies, all promising the good doctor that a small fortune was just around the corner. These crooks sweet-talked over $360,000 out of Doctor F., leaving him no choice but to file for bankruptcy. When asked why he continued to fall for the promises of big cash prizes after having been stung by the first two or three swindles, Doctor F. replied, "you want to believe."

By learning what some of the latest types of scams are all about, you can help avoid becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.

The Newest Telephone Scam

Imagine this: You receive a pager message to call 809-555-5555. Or, you find an urgent message on your telephone answering machine indicating that a relative has had an accident, and to call 809-111-1111. Or, you receive an e-mail message about an unpaid bill, and are urged to call 809-555-2222 to clear up the matter. What do you do?

Unless you actually have relatives in the Caribbean, which is where the 809 area code is located, don't return the telephone or pager messages to this area code. The call is directed to a pay-per-call line, similar to a 900 number, and you risk getting billed outrageous amounts for the call. Some consumers have reported calls costing $25 or more. Before returning a call to an unfamiliar area code, check the front of your phone book for the location, so you will know if you are actually making a call out of the country. If you are billed for one of these calls, call your local phone company and report that you may have been the victim of a scam.

Other Common Telephone Scams

Con artists never run out of scams. Have you heard any of these?

Prize offers: You usually have to do something to get your "free" prize - attend a sales presentation, buy something, or give out a credit card number. The prizes generally are worthless or overpriced.

Travel packages: "Free" or "low-cost" vacations can end up costing a bundle in hidden costs. Or, they may never happen. You may pay a high price for some part of the package - like hotel or airfare. The total cost may run two to three times more than what you'd expect to pay or what you were led to believe.

Vitamins and other health products: The sales pitch also may include a prize offer. This is to entice you to pay hundreds of dollars for products that are worth very little.

Investments: People lose millions of dollars to "get rich quick" schemes that promise high returns with little or no risk. These can include gemstones, rare coins, oil and gas leases, precious metals, art, and other "investment opportunities." As a rule, these are worthless.

Charities: Con artists often label phony charities with names that sound like better-known, reputable organizations. They won't send you written information or wait for you to check them out.

Recovery scams: If you buy into any of the above scams, you're likely to be called again by someone promising to get your money back. Be careful not to lose more money in this common practice. Even law enforcement officials can't guarantee they'll recover your money.

Tip-Offs to Phone Fraud

Telephone con artists spend a lot of time polishing their "lines" to get you to buy. You may hear this:

You must act "now" - or the offer won't be good.

You've won a "free" gift, vacation, or prize - but you pay for "postage and handling" or other charges.

You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier - before you've had a chance to consider the offer carefully.

You don't need to check out the company with 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 phone.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

It's very difficult to get your money back if you've been cheated over the phone. 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.

Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state Attorney General, the National Fraud Information Center, or other groups. Unfortunately, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.

Always take your time making a decision.

Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.

It's never rude to wait and think about an offer. Be sure to talk over big investments offered by telephone salespeople with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor.

Never respond to an offer you don't understand thoroughly.

Never send money or give out your credit card or bank account number to unfamiliar companies.

Be aware that any personal or financial information you provide may be sold to other companies.

And, last but not least, if a particular company's calls are bothersome to you, ask to be put on their "do not call" list.

Courtesy Federal Trade Commission

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