How can you avoid losing your money over the phone?
Emma Holt, of Franklin, received a phone call at her home last month declaring her the winner of millions of dollars. The 82-yearold mother of three and grandmother of six was skeptical.
“He sounded professional. He said you’ve won $2.5 million,” she recalled. Surprised, Holt asked for details. The caller went as far as naming the local radio station and regional television stations that would be covering her out-of-the-blue jackpot, which she said made the call seem legitimate enough.
“I asked him if this was a joke and he said that it was definitely real, but that I had to have $600 first for them to make their trip,” Holt said. When she told the caller that she did not have the $600, he asked her if she could borrow the money from somebody like a family member or neighbor, which she said was a big indication that it was a scam. “It sounded too good to be true,” remarked Holt.
The caller told Hold that if she could get the money together she should call him back. She promptly called the local radio and television stations and confirmed that the call was actually a classic case of telephone fraud. Her caller I.D. indicated that the call came from Las Vegas.
“If they had $2.5 million ready for me then they wouldn’t need $600 of my money to make the trip,” Holt laughed. “He tried to make everything sound real.”
The incident has made Holt more cautious of her finances. “Make sure not to give out credit card information or bank statements. Don’t fall for it. He sounded so real, so if they start talking like that, hang up on them. When they ask you for money that’s when you know it’s a scam.”
Cases such as Mrs. Holt’s are increasingly common, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When a person sends money to people they do not know personally or gives personal or financial information to unknown callers, they increase their chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, telephone scammers are proficient in their schemes. “They say anything and target everyone to try to cheat people out of money. They may call you and imply that they work for a company you trust, or they may send direct mail or place ads to convince you to call them.”
A common tactic of telefraud scammers is their tendency to evoke a sense of urgency so that the victim doesn’t have time to think and evaluate their offer.
Here are some warning signs of telemarketing fraud—what a caller may tell you:
— “You must act now or the offer won’t be good.”
— “You’ve won a free gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to 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.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
Services like Western-Union are commonly used by such scammers for their victims to wire any money to them – proving the system to be the ‘fastest way to steal your money worldwide.’ Often such transactions can’t be tracked and can be picked up from any location without authorities being able to identify the perpetrators.
Before buying anything over the phone
It’s very difficult to get your money back if you’ve been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:
• Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
• Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But, beware—not everything written down is true.
• Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. Unfortunately, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.
• Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
• Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question. “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?”
• Don’t pay in advance for services. Pay services only after they are delivered.
• Be wary of companies that want to send a messenger to your home to pick up money, claiming it is part of their service to you. In reality, they are taking your money without leaving any trace of who they are or where they can be reached.
• Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
• Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
• Before you receive your next sales pitch, decide what your limits are—the kinds of financial information you will and won't give out on the telephone.
• Never respond to an offer you don’t understand thoroughly.
• Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
• Be aware that your personal information is often brokered to telemarketers through third parties.
• If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.
• If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies.
For more information on how to avoid such scams, visit www.fbi.gov.