It’s easy enough to fall prey to their sales pitch. Telemarketing fraud is a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. Every year, thousands of consumers lose from a few dollars to their life savings to telephone con artists.
That’s why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages you to be skeptical when you hear a phone solicitation and to be aware of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, a new law that can help you protect yourself from abusive and deceptive telemarketers.
Fraudulent telemarketers try to take advantage of older people on the theory that they may be more trusting and polite toward strangers. Older women living alone are special targets of these scam artists.
Here are some reasons older people become victims of telemarketing fraud:
- Often it’s hard to know whether a sales call is legitimate. Telephone con artists are skilled at sounding believable—even when they’re really telling lies.
- Sometimes telephone con artists reach you when you’re feeling lonely. They may call day after day—until you think a friend, not a stranger, is trying to sell you something.
- Some telephone salespeople have an answer for everything. You may find it hard to get them off the phone — even if they’re selling something you’re not interested in. You don’t want to be rude.
- You may be promised free gifts, prizes, or vacations—or the “investment of a lifetime”— but only if you act “right away.” It may sound like a really good deal. In fact, telephone con artists are only after your money.
Don’t give it to them.
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 would 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 with watchdog groups.
- 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
- 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.