Telemarketing and phone scams
Telemarketing is big business for scammers. The Department of Justice tags the losses from telemarketing scammers at $40 billion dollars a year. One in six Americans is victimized, and a sizable majority is aged 50 or older. The broad categories of telemarketing fraud include identity theft; lottery and sweepstakes scams; the sale of undelivered or worthless goods; and investment and credit card fraud.
Telemarketers have a broad reach among seniors. Here’s the reason seniors are so desirable: they make twice as many purchases over the phone as the rest of us. Telemarketing fraud has also flourished because it is not a risky crime. There’s no face-to-face. There’s no paper trail. The calls are hard to trace. Furthermore, once a victim falls for it, the damage multiplies as their name is shared with other scammers looking for easy targets.
Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free products or prizes, low-cost vacations, sweepstakes, super-charged vitamins, and health care products. Typically, the scammer will say something along the lines of “you must act now" or "you can’t afford to miss this no-risk, high profit offer.” Do not respond to any of this. These are warning signs that you should hang up the phone.
In the case of sweepstakes scams, the victims are told the money is theirs, but first they must wire money in fees and taxes before collecting their winnings. Remember, that’s not how you pay taxes, or how real lottery winnings are managed.
Telemarketing scammers can take the threatening approach as well. Scammers make harassing phone calls to their victims, posing as representatives from government agencies or law firms. They tell their victims they’re behind in payments. Often the caller has accurate information about their victims, including social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, bank account numbers, and even the names of relatives and friends. The scammers claim to be collecting a debt, but won’t provide specific details. They are generally aggressive in tone, and relentless in repeated calls. In some cases, victims are threatened with physical violence if they don’t pay up.Remember, a representative from a government agency does not call up and harass people over the phone to pay up debts.
What you should do:
- Do not reveal any personal information on the telephone under any circumstances.
- Originate the transaction yourself. If you want to buy something, research the seller with the help of a trusted person. If they check out, call their toll-free number or go to their website yourself.
- If you’re considering making a purchase from a telemarketer who contacted you, always ask for, and wait for, written material about a company or offer before you make a move. And, have the offer reviewed by someone with financial expertise. You can also research a business through the Better Business Bureau or the National Fraud Information Center.
- Do not agree to pay any upfront taxes or fees for promised sweepstakes winnings.
- Do not wire money or allow someone to come to your home to pick up money.
Telemarketing schemes frequently take advantage of older people’s generosity and interest in helping others. Watch out for charity scams. In this type of fraud, fake charities emerge quickly following a natural disaster to “help” the victims. The victim is asked to send or wire or give cash immediately.
What you should do:
- Give only to reputable charities. The safest approach when giving to victims of a natural disaster is to go with one of the big, established groups, like the Red Cross.
- Use a service like Charity Navigator.
- Register both home and cell numbers on Do Not Call lists for free online or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
- Report an Internet or telemarketing scam to the National Fraud Information Center.
Hurt friend/relative and payday scams.
The scammer calls or sends an email saying that someone’s relative or child is hurt or injured or stranded somewhere, generally in a foreign country. They might be in a hospital. They need money immediately. You must help now! The victim gets conned into sending money to “help” their friend or family member in need. Alternatively there’s the payday scam. In this case, the scammer tells the victim that he or she has found or come into a huge amount of money and is ready to split the proceeds. Then the victim is asked to make a “good faith” payment by sending bank funds to the scammer. The victim is told to send those funds to a second scammer, posing as an accountant or lawyer. Remember what you’ve already learned earlier in this article. Do not respond to any of this. Hang up the phone and do not send money.
The fake grandparent scam
In this swindle, the scammer is counting on memory problems and loving generosity. He calls up his victim, and says something along the lines of, “Hi Grandma (or Grandpa), do you know who this is?” Then the victim picks the name of a grandchild who sounds like the voice on the phone. “Yes! That’s me,” says the scammer, who then asks for money for some sort of financial problem – rent, car repairs, a crisis. The fake, loving grandchild scammer then asks that the money be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require signatures to collect. To keep fake family harmony and dignity, the scammer asks the victim not to tell anyone. An alternate version of this scam involves the fraudster claiming to be a third party, like an attorney or an embassy representative calling on behalf of a fake grandchild.Again, recognize the scam and don’t send money. Hang up the phone.
For all these telemarketing and phone scams realize that most scammers are trying to steal your personal information and money. Don’t give either information or money away. Have people you trust help you do more research and ask more questions before you make any purchase or give money to any organization. It means keeping an eye on your credit report and acting quickly if you see any changes. And when you do suspect fraud, file a complaint with the National Fraud Information Center or the Better Business Bureau.