What is Telemarketing / Email Fraud?
While many companies that use the telephone/internet to sell goods and services are reputable, some use phony prizes and deceptive sales tactics to defraud consumers. You can protect yourself by being aware of the most common types of deception, by checking out the companies before doing business and by taking the time to carefully consider any purchase.
What Should I Look for?
One tip-off to a telephone/internet solicitation scam is a very low-priced offer. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away things of real value or substantially undercut everyone else’s price.
Be cautious if you hear the following types of offers:
- An offer for free gifts that requires you to pay shipping and handling charges, redemption fees, or gift taxes before delivery. The gift may be worth less than the extra charges.
- Get-rich-quick schemes that promise "high-profit, no-risk" investments in gold, oil, gas, real estate or gems. No high-profit investment is free of risk.
- High-pressure sales tactics to get you to "act now" because the offer will not be available tomorrow. If it is a good deal today, it is usually a good deal tomorrow.
- "Buy one, get one free" travel, vacation or similar deals. The first one may cost more than the entire package is worth.
- Your favorite charity, some telephone solicitation scheme claims to be acting on behalf of charities. Callers may claim to work for charities that do not exist or are not legitimate. Often, these callers will use a name that sounds like that of a well-known charity.
- Phone contests offering prizes. Usually, no contest has been held, and everyone is a winner. To claim your prize, you may be asked to provide your credit card or bank account number for verification purposes. The prize may have very little value, and the telephone solicitor may take your credit card number or bank account information and bill you for merchandise you did not order.
- Calling 900 numbers: Dialing a 900 number costs you by the minute, from a few dollars to more than $50 per minute. These charges then appear on your phone bill.
- Foreign lotteries: Although it is illegal to purchase tickets in a foreign lottery, scam artists will sell you tickets under the pretense that you are part of a pool of ticket purchasers sure to win and split the proceeds.
- Requests for Updating Your Information: You may receive an email that has a bank, eBay or another company logo that is requesting that you update your information by clicking on the link provided. Web scams can reproduce very realistic websites in order to have you enter your personal information, which they will use for other purposes. Check the website address in your address bar, most legitimate, secure sites have either https: or HTTP: at the beginning of their address. Also, look for an icon of a padlock. If you click on the padlock, it should give you the details of the site.
- In almost all cases, banks, credit unions, eBay and other companies will not ask for you to update your information via the Web. If you have questions, call the company using a phone number from a statement (Not the one listed in the email) and speak to customer service to verify that they are making this request via email. Legitimate financial institutions will usually contact you by mail for this information.
How Do I Protect Myself?
- The Federal Do Not Call Registry now covers the State of New York. Register your phone number and find more information on the National Do Not Call Registry website. Once a phone number is registered, telemarketers have up to 31 days to stop calling you. The registration is good for five years. You can register up to three phone numbers per household.
- Don’t Be Pressured: Insist on getting all information in writing before you agree to buy. Then make sure the information confirms everything you were told by phone.
- Be Careful About Disclosing Your Personal Financial Information: Don’t give your credit card number over the phone unless you know the company is reputable. An easy way for a scam operator to close a deal is to get your credit card number and then charge your account. The same applies to bank account numbers and other personal information.
- If You Do Not Receive the Goods You Were Charged For: If, for some reason, you do provide your credit card information to a scam artist and you see the charge appear on your credit card bill, call your card company immediately and provide them with all of the information regarding your conversation with the "company." The credit card company will enter a dispute with the false company and remove the charge from your bill. Their fraud department can only act when they have a decent amount of information, so be prepared to explain exactly what transpired during the phone call leading up to these charges.
- How Do I Report Deceptive Telephone Solicitations? You can call the New York State Attorney General’s Consumer Hot-line at 800-771-7755. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau.
- Delete Suspicious Emails Without Opening Them: If the subject of the email makes no sense, delete it. If the sender’s address is not familiar to you, delete it. If they are offering something that seems too good to be true, it probably is, so delete the email. If it is from an institution that you regularly do business with and you suspect it is a fraudulent email, call them (using a legitimate number) and ask for the email address of their fraud department and then forward the email without opening it.