How to Avoid Phone Scams
How to spot the tell-tale language phone scammers use to trick you. Image from ThisIsMoney.co.uk.
Every year, the Federal Trade Commission reports that thousands of people lose money to telephone scams—“from a few dollars to their life savings.”1 How can you protect yourself, your family, and your money?
Recognizing a Phone Scam
The FTC has helpful information regarding phone scams. Here are some ways scammers try to “hook” you:
• Travel Packages. “Free” or “low cost” vacations can end up costing a bundle in hidden costs. Some of these vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid.
• Credit and loans. Advance fee loans, payday loans, credit card protection,and offers to lower your credit card interest rates are very popular schemes, especially during a down economy.
• Sham or exaggerated business and investment opportunities. Promoters of these have made millions of dollars. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment.
• Charitable causes. Urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone.
• High-stakes foreign lotteries. These pitches are against the law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. What’s more, you may never see a ticket.
• Extended car warranties. Scammers find out what kind of car you drive, and when you bought it so they can urge you to buy overpriced—or worthless—plans.
• “Free” trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products—sometimes lots of products—which can cost you lots of money because they bill you every month until you cancel.
Being aware of these kinds of offers can help you spot a phone scam before the scammers can get any important information—or money—from you.
Registering your mobile phone or home phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry could limit possible phone scam calls from reaching you. Image from DoNotCall.gov.
I Recognize the Scam—Now What Should I Do?
If you receive a suspicious call, ask yourself these questions before volunteering any information:
• Who’s calling… and why? The law says telemarketers must tell you it’s a sales call, the name of the seller and what they’re selling before they make their pitch. If you don’t hear this information, say “no thanks,” and get off the phone.
• What’s the hurry? Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics could be hiding something. Take your time. Most legitimate businesses will give you time and written information about an offer before asking you to commit to a purchase.
• If it’s free, why are they asking me to pay? Question fees you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift. Free is free. If you have to pay, it's a purchase — not a prize or a gift.
• Why am I “confirming” my account information — or giving it out? Some callers have your billing information before they call you. They’re trying to get you to say “okay” so they can claim you approved a charge.
• What time is it? The law allows telemarketers to call only between 8 am and 9 pm. A seller calling earlier or later is ignoring the law.
How Can I Avoid These Calls Altogether?
If you don’t want to receive unwanted phone calls from businesses, you can register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. Visit https://donotcall.gov/ to register your phone number, or to file a complaint if a business calls you back after 31 days of your number being registered.
1 Federal Trade Commission website, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0076-phone-scams
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