Every year, thousands of people lose money to telemarketing scams. It could be a few dollars or an entire life's savings but the scammers will say anything to get the money. The caller may imply that they work for a company you trust or have even dealt with in the past, they may send mail or place ads to convince you to call them. Often the caller is very friendly, calling you by first name, making small talk, asking about your family, but this is a ploy to ease your suspicions.
You need to be suspicious if you receive a call from a stranger trying to sell you something -- just say "no thanks" and hang-up. If the caller tries to pressure you to provide personal information like a credit card or Social Security card number, it's highly likely this is a telemarketing scam call.
Signs of a Telemarketing Scam
Telemarketing phone scammers don't want to give you time to think about their pitch, they just want you to say "yes". If you ask for more information, some will readily direct you to a website featuring "satisfied customers", otherwise known as shills, whose praise is as fake as their scam. Here are a few "red flag" lines:
- "You've been specially selected for this offer/prize."
- "You'll get a free bonus if you buy this product."
- "You've won big money in a foreign lottery."
- "this investment is low risk and provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else."
- "You have to makeup your mind right away."
- "You trust me, right?"
- "You don't need to check our company with anyone."
- "We can put the shipping/handling/processing fees on your credit card."
How They Hook You
Scammers use exaggerated and fake prizes, products and services as bait. Some may call you but others will use mail or texts to get you to call for details. Here are a few examples of "offers":
- Travel packages
- Credit and loans (advance fee loans, payday loans, and credit card protection plans)
- Fake and exaggerated business and investment opportunities
- Charitable causes
- Foreign lotteries
- Extended car warranties
How to Handle the Call
Everyone is a potential target. Fraud isn't limited to race, ethnic background, gender, age, education, or income. that said, some scams seem to target certain groups. Senior citizens are often targets because the caller assumes they live alone, have a large nest egg, or may be more polite and accommodating to strangers. Questions to ask yourself:
- Who's calling and why? Federal law states telemarketers must tell you it's a sales call, the company name and the product/service before they make their sales pitch. If you don't hear this information, say "no thanks".
- What's the hurry? Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics to force your decision. Legitimate businesses will give you time and information about an offer before asking you to commit.
- If it's free, why do they need my credit card? Question fees (registration/handling/shipping/processing) that must be paid in order to claim a "prize". Free is free -- if you have to pay something it is not a prize or gift.
- Why am I "confirming" my account information? Why are you giving out personal information on the phone at all! Some callers have your information before they call and are trying to get you to say "okay" so you can't dispute a future charge.
- What time is it? Federal law allows telemarketers to call ONLY between 8 am and 9 pm.
- Do I want more call like this? Tell the caller you do not want further contact and if they call back they are breaking the law. Register your phone number and address on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Some Additional Guidelines
- Don't send money by messenger, mail, Western Union, or money transfer. If you send cash or wire money for the transaction, you usually lose the right to dispute the fraudulent charges -- the money is simply gone.
- Research unsolicited offers with the Better Business Bureau or the California State Attorney General Office.
- Beware of offers to "help" you recover money you have already lost. Callers saying they are law enforcement officers or recovery agents who will get your money returned for a fee are definitely scammers.
- Report any caller who is rude or abusive, even if you have already sent them money. Report to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-382-4957 or filing a claim at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
If you have been the victim of a scam or have questions regarding this post, please call the Mill Valley Police Department at 415-389-4100.