8 THINGS You Should Know About Telemarketing Fraud
1 Most telephone sales calls are made by legitimate
businesses offering legitimate products or services.
But wherever honest firms search for new customers, so do
swindlers. Phone fraud is a multi-billion dollar business that
involves selling everything from bad or non-existent
investments to the peddling of misrepresented products and
services. Everyone who has a phone is a prospect; whether you
become a victim is largely up to you.
2 There is no way to positively determine whether a sales
call is on the up and up simply by talking with someone on
No matter what questions you ask or how many you ask,
skilled swindlers have ready answers. That's why sales calls
from persons or organizations that are unknown to you should
always be checked out before you actually buy or invest.
Legitimate callers have nothing to hide.
3 Phone swindlers are likely to know more about you than you
know about them.
Depending on where they got your name in the first place,
they may know your age and income, health and hobbies,
occupation and marital status, education, the home you live in,
what magazines you read, and whether you've bought by phone in
Even if your name came from the phone book, telephone con
men (and women) assume that, like most people, you would be
interested in having more income, that you're receptive to a
bargain, that you are basically sympathetic to people in need,
and that you are reluctant to be discourteous to someone on the
phone. As admirable as such characteristics may be, they help
make the swindler's job easier. Swindlers also exploit less
admirable characteristics, such as greed.
4 Fraudulent sales callers have one thing in common: They
are skilled liars and experts at verbal camouflage.
Their success depends on it. Many are coached to "say
whatever it takes" by operators of the "boilerrooms" where they
work at rows of phone desks making hundreds of repetitious
calls, hour after hour. The first words uttered by most victims
of phone fraud are, "the caller sounded so believable..."
5 Perpetrators of phone fraud are extremely good at sounding
as though they represent legitimate businesses.
They offer investments, sell subscriptions, provide
products for homes and offices, promote travel and vacation
plans, describe employment opportunities, solicit donations,
and the list goes on. Never assume you'll "know a phone scare
when you hear one." Even if you've read lists of the kinds of
schemes most commonly practiced, innovative swindlers
constantly devise new ones.
6 The motto of phone swindlers is, "just give us a few good
'mooches,'" one of the terms they use to describe their
Notwithstanding that most victims are otherwise
intelligent and prudent people, even boilerroom operators
express astonishment at how many people "seem to keep their
checkbooks by the telephone!" Sadly, some families part with
savings they worked years to accumulate on the basis of little
more than a 15-minute phone conversation -- less time than
they'd spend considering the purchase of a household appliance.
7 The person who "initiates" the phone call may be you.
It's not uncommon for phone crooks to use direct mailings
and advertise in reputable publications to encourage prospects
to make the initial contact. It's another way swindlers imitate
the perfectly acceptable marketing practices of legitimate
businesses. Thus, just because you may have written or phoned
for "additional information" about an investment, product, or
service doesn't mean you should be any less cautious about
buying by phone from someone you don't know.
8 Victims of phone fraud seldom get their money back -- or,
at best, no more than a few cents on the dollar.
Despite efforts of law enforcement and regulatory agencies
to provide what help they can to victims, swindlers generally
do the same thing other people do when they get money: they
That a Caller Could be a Crook
1 High-pressure sales tactics.
The call may not begin that way, but if the swindler
senses you're not going to be an easy sale, he or she may shift
to a hard sell. This is in contrast to legitimate businesses,
most of which respect an individual's right to be "not
High-pressure sales tactics take a variety of forms but the
common denominator is usually a stubborn reluctance to accept
"no" as an answer. Some callers may resort to insult and
argument, questioning the prospect's intelligence or ability to
make a decision, often ending with a warning that "you're going
to be very sorry if you don't do such and such." Or, "you'll
never get rich if you don't take a chance."
2 Insistence on an immediate decision.
If it's an investment, the caller may say something like,
"the market is starting to move even as we talk." For a product
or service, the urgency pitch may be that "there are only a few
left" or "the offer is about to expire." The bottom line is
that swindlers often insist that you should (or must) make your
decision right now. And they always give a reason.
3 The offer sounds too good to be true.
The oldest advice around is still the best: "An offer that
sounds too good to be true probably is." Having said this,
however, you should be aware that some phone swindlers are
becoming more sophisticated. They may make statements that
sound just reasonable enough (if only barely) to keep you from
hanging up. Or they may make three or four statements you know
to be true so that when they spring the big lie for what
they're selling, you'll be more likely to believe that, too.
That's where the verbal camouflage comes in.
4 A request for your credit card number for any purpose
other than to make a purchase.
A swindler may ask you for your credit card number -- or,
in the most brash cases, several credit card numbers -- for
"identification," or "verification" that you have won
something, or merely as an "expression of good faith" on your
part. Whatever the ploy, once a swindler has your card number
it is likely that unauthorized charges will appear on your
5 An offer to send someone to your home or office to pick up
the money, or some other method such as overnight mail to
get your funds more quickly.
This is likely to be part of their "urgency" pitch. It
could be an effort to avoid mail fraud charges by bypassing
postal authorities or simply a way of getting your money before
you change your mind.
6 A statement that something is "free," followed by a
requirement that you pay for something.
While honest firms may promote free phone offers to
attract customers, the difference with swindlers is that you
generally have to pay in some way to get whatever it is that's
"free." The cost may be labeled as a handling or shipping
charge, or as payment for an item in addition to the "prize."
Whatever you receive "free" -- if anything -- most likely will
be worth much less than what you've paid.
7 An investment that's "without risk."
Except for obligations of the U.S. Government, all
investments have some degree of risk. And if there were any
such thing as a risk-free investment with big profits assured,
the caller certainly wouldn't have to dial through the phone
book to find investors!
8 Unwillingness to provide written information or references
(such as a bank or names of satisfied customers in your
area) that you can contact.
Swindlers generally have a long list of reasons: "There
isn't time for that," or "it's a brand new offer and printed
material isn't available yet," or "customer references would
violate someone's privacy." Even with references, be cautious,
some swindlers pay off a few customers to serve as references.
The caller may also be reluctant to answer questions by
phone -- such as inquiries about the firm or even how and where
you can contact the firm. The swindler may insist on contacting
you "for your convenience."
9 A suggestion that you should make a purchase or investment
on the basis of "trust."
Trust is a laudable trait, but it shouldn't be dispensed
indiscriminately -- certainly not to unknown persons calling on
the phone and asking that you send them money. Even so, "trust
me" is a pitch that swindlers sometimes employ when all else
To Avoid Becoming a Victim
1 Don't allow yourself to be pushed into a hurried decision.
No matter what you're told to the contrary, the reality is
that at least 99 percent of everything that's a good deal today
will still be a good deal a week from now! And the other one
percent isn't generally worth the risk you'd be taking to find
There may be times when you'll want to make a prompt
decision, but those occasions shouldn't involve an irrevocable
financial commitment to purchase a product or make an
investment that you're not familiar with from a caller that you
don't know. And purchase decisions should never be made under
2 Always request written information, by mail, about the
product, service, investment or charity and about the
organization that's offering it.
For legitimate firms, this shouldn't be a problem.
Swindlers, however, may not want to give you time for adequate
consideration, may not have written material available, or may
not want to risk a run-in with legal or regulatory authorities
by putting fraudulent statements in writing.
Also insist on having enough time to study any information
provided before being contacted again or agreeing to meet with
anyone in person. Some high-pressure telephone sales calls are
solely for the purpose of persuading you to meet with an even
higher-pressure sales person in your home!
3 Don't make any investment or purchase you don't fully
A beauty of the American economy is the diversity of
investment vehicles and other products available. But it's a
diversity that includes the bad as well as the good. Unless you
fully understand what you'd be buying or investing, you can be
badly burned. Swindlers intentionally seek out individuals who
don't know what they are doing! They often attempt to flatter
prospects into thinking they are making an informed decision.
4 Ask what state or federal agencies the firm is regulated
by and/or is required to be registered with.
And if you get an answer, ask for a phone number or
address that you can use to contact the agency and verify the
answer yourself. If the firm says it's not subject to any
regulation, you may want to increase your level of caution
5 Check out the company or organization.
If you assume a firm wouldn't provide you with
information, references, or regulatory contacts unless the
information was accurate and reliable, that's precisely what
swindlers want you to assume. They know that most people never
bother to follow through. Look at it this way: Most victims of
fraud contact a regulatory agency after they've lost their
money; it's far better to make the contact and obtain whatever
information is available while you still have your money.
6 If an investment or major purchase is involved, request
that information also be sent to your accountant,
financial advisor, banker, or attorney for evaluation and
Swindlers don't want you to seek a second opinion. Their
reluctance or evasiveness could be your tip-off.
7 Ask what recourse you would have if you make a purchase
and aren't satisfied.
If there's a guarantee or refund provision, it's best to
have it in writing and be satisfied that the business will
stand behind its guarantee before you make a final financial
8 Beware of testimonials that you may have no way of
They may involve nothing more than someone being paid a
fee to speak well of a product or service.
9 Don't provide personal financial information over the
phone unless you are absolutely certain the caller has a
bona fide need to know.
That goes especially for your credit card numbers and bank
account information. The only time you should give anyone your
credit card number is if you've decided to make a purchase and
want to charge it. If someone says they'll send a bill later
but they need your credit card number in the meantime, be
cautious and be certain you're dealing with a reputable
10 If necessary, hang up.
If you're simply not interested, if you become subject to
high-pressure sales tactics, if you can't obtain the
information you want or get evasive answers, or if you hear
your own better judgment whispering that you may be making a
serious mistake, just say good-bye.
SWINDLERS ARE CALLING
is prepared as a service to the public by:
National Partners Association
Public Affairs and Education
200 West Madison Street
Chicago, Illinois 60606-3447
800-572-9400 (in Illinois)
in association with:
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
2033 K Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20581
Federal Trade Commission
6th & Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20580
Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing
c/o National Consumers League
815 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005