Telemarketing Scams: Warning Signs You’re Being Targeted and How to Protect Yourself
Instances of telemarketing fraud aren’t one size fits all. As we shared in a recent article, they can include sweepstakes scams, the “grandparent scam”, credit card fraud, charity fundraising scams, and the list goes on. But even though scammers may use different reasons to try and get your personal information and access your money, there are some common practices you can look out for.
In this article, we share warning signs that a scammer may be on the other end of the line and tips for protecting yourself if you are a target. If you have an older adult in your life, share these tips with them — seniors make twice as many purchases over the phone as other age groups so they are often targeted with these scams.
Common warning signs
- It seems “too good to be true”: Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free products or prizes, low-cost vacations, sweepstakes, super-charged vitamins, and health care products. If it seems like an unbelievable offer, it probably is.
- Push to act immediately: 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.” Don’t feel pressure to take immediate action.
- Pay first to collect winnings: In the case of sweepstakes scams, the targets are told the money is theirs, but first they must wire money in fees and taxes (or provide a credit card number) before collecting their winnings. Remember, that’s not how you pay taxes, or how real lottery winnings are managed.
- Aggressiveness or scare tactics: Telemarketing scammers can take a threatening approach as well. Many make harassing phone calls to their targets, posing as representatives from government agencies or law firms. They are generally aggressive in tone, and relentless in repeated calls; they may tell their target they’re behind on critical payments. Even if you are in a financial bind, government officials, lawyers, and financial representatives should not speak to you in a threatening manner.
- Their information is limited: Often the caller has some accurate information about their targets, including addresses, birth dates, and even the names of relatives and friends BUT they are still asking for your personal or financial information. Your bank will never ask you for your account number, Social Security number, name, address or password in an email or text message. They will only ask you to provide this information to verify your identity when you call them directly. This is true for the IRS and other government agencies as well.
- They encourage you to keep quiet: Particularly common in the case of a grandparent scam, fraudsters may encourage targets not to share that they’ve asked for money out of “embarrassment” or “family harmony.”
What you can do to help protect yourself or a loved one
- Let your smartphone help: Many cell service providers will screen numbers against a known scammer database and clearly label these incoming calls as “Scam Likely.” You can also download an app to help detect and block scammers.
- Don’t share your information: Do not reveal any personal information on the telephone or via text under any circumstances to someone who has reached out to you.
- Think before you click: Do not click on any links or download attachments in texts from numbers you don’t recognize.
- Verify and call back: If you are unsure whether a caller is who they say they are; hang up the phone and call back using contact information you can verify (like a phone number on the back of your credit card).
- Wait to make the purchase: 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. Then, have the offer reviewed by someone with financial expertise. You can also research a business through the National Fraud Information Center or Better Business Bureau.
- Research legitimate charities: If you get a call from a charitable organization, use a resource like Charity Navigator and use their public facing information to get in touch with the nonprofit directly if you want to make a donation.
- Don’t pay for an IOU: Do not agree to pay any upfront taxes or fees for promised sweepstakes winnings or provide any account information or credit card numbers over the phone. Do not wire money or allow someone to come to your home to pick up money.
If you or a loved one is a victim of fraud
- Report it: You should always report telemarketing fraud. Contact the National Fraud Information Center at 1-800-876-7060 or visit their website to make a report. The center can help you file complaints with government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), FBI, local consumer protection program, and your state’s attorney general. Reporting the fraud may not get you the money back, but it can help protect others. In some cases, a government agency may take action against a fraudulent entity and be able to recover some of the funds for victims. It is also a good idea to report fraud to the entity a caller or texter is impersonating, such as the IRS or your bank.
- Dispute the charges: If you paid a scammer with a credit or debit card, you may be able to reverse the transaction. Contact your credit card company or bank right away, explain what happened, and ask for a “chargeback” to reverse the charges. They will likely cancel your card and mail you a replacement. If you used another payment method, visit the FTC website for more information on what to do if you’ve paid a scammer.
- Protect your identity: If you gave a scammer your Social Security number (SSN), visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how to monitor your credit report to see if your SSN is being misused. Credit freeze and fraud alerts can help protect you from identity theft or prevent further misuse of your personal information.
At the end of the day, the goal of most scammers is to steal your personal information and money. Turn to people you trust to help you do more research and ask more questions before you make any purchase or give money to any organization.