Telemarketing Fraud

According to the FBI, Americans lose over $40 billion per year by becoming victims of fraudulent marketing of goods and services over the telephone or through the mail. While there are many legitimate telemarketing firms, there are also numerous fraudulent ones. Taking the time to learn how to tell the difference can save you time and money.

How do I know whether a magazine solicitation is legitimate?

If a telephone caller or a postcard you receive through the mail offers you a "free," "prepaid" or "special deal" on magazine subscriptions, think twice before you take advantage of this offer. You may become obligated to years of monthly payments for magazines you do not want or could purchase elsewhere for less.

Listen to the sales presentation. If you are not interested, simply hang up. If you are interested but are too busy to listen to the entire sales pitch, ask the salesperson to call back when you have more time to focus on the conversation. Saying "yes" without getting all the facts can obligate you to more than you want.

TIP: The best way to protect yourself from unscrupulous sales presentations is to be suspicious when anyone tries to sell you a "bargain" or give you something for "free." Do not take advantage of the offer until you know exactly what is being sold and all the costs involved.

What type of questions should I ask a magazine solicitor?

Find out the name, address and phone number of the company the salesperson represents. Then call the company yourself for verification before you place an order.

Find out the total annual cost for each magazine and then do the math. Is the "bargain" price really less expensive than the regular subscription price?

Ask the salesperson to send you a written copy of the sales terms offered over the telephone before you agree to buy anything. Read the sales agreement carefully and make sure you understand what you will be receiving and what it will cost.

The salesperson told me that they need my credit card number or bank account number for verification. Should I give it to them?

Never give out this information unless you have initiated the call or are familiar with the company with whom you are doing business. Giving out this information may result in unwanted charges to your account or debits to your checking account.

How can I get out of a magazine subscription I ordered by phone?

Once you order magazines by phone, you cannot simply call the company to cancel your agreement; oral cancellations will not be honored by the company.

In order to cancel your agreement, look for the provision allowing you to cancel your subscription when your sales agreement comes in the mail. Generally, cancellation must be made within 3 days of receipt of the agreement.

Caution: Remember, the FTC Cooling-Off Rule does not apply to sales made by telephone or mail.

Sign and return the cancellation notice to the proper address, which may be different from the company sending you the information. This information may be hard to find; read the agreement until you find the correct address.

Send the cancellation by certified or registered mail. This will provide you with proof of the mailing date. Photocopy the signed and dated notice and keep it for your records.

Once you have mailed the cancellation form, contact your bank or credit card company to stop any unauthorized payments.

I received a postcard telling me that I have won a fabulous prize. How can I win if I did not even enter?

If someone calls or sends you a post card saying that you have won a valuable prize in a sweepstakes, proceed with caution.

Do not pay anything to receive your prize. If it is a legitimate sweepstakes, you do not have to pay anything to collect your prize. If you have won merchandise, the sweepstakes promoter will pay the delivery charges. If you win cash, the sweepstakes promoter either will withhold taxes from the cash award or report the winnings to the Internal Revenue Service.

Do not give your credit card number for verification purposes. Again, legitimate sweepstakes do not need this information.

If you have to attend a sales presentation before you can receive your prize, be wary. Your chances of winning a valuable prize are doubtful, and you may end up the recipient of a high-pressure sales pitch.

How do I know if a solicitor calling on behalf of a charity is legitimate?

This is probably one of the most despicable fraudulent practices. You may be asked to buy tickets to send a handicapped child to the circus or buy light bulbs at inflated prices to help veterans.

Before donating any money based on one of these calls, ask for written information about how much of your donation will go to the charity and how much will be spent on administrative costs.

If the "charity" refuses to send you information (often telling you that the cost of printing and mailing this information will reduce the amount of money going to the charity), do not send them any money. Reputable charities will always send you information.

What is a "sucker list"?

A sucker list contains the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people who have fallen for telemarketing scams. This list may also contain your name, income, hobbies, marital status and other information that helps the telemarketer personalize the call. They are created, bought and sold by unscrupulous telemarketers. These lists provide the telemarketers with an easy target for their scams.

What are "reloaders"?

Reloaders are con artists who use various schemes to target consumers who have already fallen for a telemarketing scam. They may purport to be a representative of a consumer organization that will help you recover the money you lost due to telemarketing fraud. However, they require a fee for their services. If you take them up on the offer, you have been scammed again.

National, state and local consumer enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations do not charge for their services.

I have heard that it is not a good idea to call a 900 telephone number. Is this true?

Using a 900 number can be a good way to do business, but you should be aware that you will be charged for the call. A 900 telephone number is not a toll-free number. You will either be charged a flat fee for the call, or you may be charged per minute. These charges can add up. Some states have enacted laws regulating the telephone providers of information services.

Example: Under the provisions of Illinois law, in any advertising for these services, the provider must:

  • accurately and clearly describe the content of the message and the terms, conditions and price of the service; and
  • state that any callers under age 12 must get parental or adult guardian permission before calling.

You cannot be billed for any call unless the sponsor gives you a certain message during a 12-second "delayed timing period." The message must accurately give you a description of the service and a summary of its cost and tell you that you will not be charged for the call if you hang up the phone during the message and that when the message is over, you still have 3 seconds to hang up to avoid being charged.

My son will be going to college next year and received a postcard in the mail from a scholarship search company guaranteeing him $2,000 in scholarships. Is this legitimate?

No. No company can guarantee that your son will get a scholarship; that is entirely up to your son.

Before you take advantage of any "scholarship" offer, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Beware of any scholarship that requires an application fee, even one as low as a few dollars. If enough people take them up on the offer, those few dollars add up. Legitimate scholarship programs do not require an application fee.
  • You should never have to give credit card or bank account information to award providers.
  • No one can guarantee that you will win a scholarship, because no one can control scholarship judges' decisions.
  • Look for contact information. Legitimate sponsors will provide contact information on request. If the sponsor does not supply a valid e-mail address, phone number and mailing address (not a P.O. Box) after you have asked for one, it could be the sign of a scam.
  • If you are notified that you have received a scholarship for which you never applied, be careful. It is most likely a scam.
  • Be aware that con artists often use official-sounding words like "national," "education" or "federal," or they display an official-looking seal to fool you into thinking they are legitimate. Check with your school if you question a scholarship provider's legitimacy.
  • If you cannot get a straight answer from a sponsor regarding their application, what will be done with your information or other questions, do not take them up on their offer.

TIP: There is no reason to pay a scholarship search service when the same information is available at the public library and the financial aid office of your school free of charge.

How can I stop telemarketing calls?

The FTC has created the National Do Not Call Registry to give Americans a choice about getting telemarketing calls at home. You can register online or call toll-free 888.382.1222. Registration is free.

Once your number has been on the registry for 3 months, most telemarketing calls will stop. However, not all calls are covered by the registry. You may continue to get calls from, or on behalf of, political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors, as well as calls from companies with whom you have an existing business relationship.

I put my name on the FTC's "Do Not Call" list, and I am still getting telemarketing calls. What do I do?

First, make sure that your number is actually on the registry. You can verify that your number is on the registry online (click on "Verify a Registration"), or by calling 888.382.1222 from the phone number you wish to verify.

If your number has been on the registry for at least 3 months and you are still receiving telemarketing calls, file a complaint with the FTC or calling 888.382.1222. You will need to provide the date of the call and the phone number or name of the company that called you.

I received a call from someone saying they were confirming my registry on the "Do Not Call" registry. Why would the government do that?

The government would not do that, but a con artist would. Under this scam, the phony registry "official" asks for your personal information to verify that you want to be on the "Do Not Call" list. They then use this information to run up debts in your name or otherwise steal your identity.

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