What Is Telemarketing Fraud?

While there are many legitimate companies that use the telephone for marketing, consumers and business lose millions of dollars to telemarketing fraud each year. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between reputable telemarketers and criminals who use the phone to scam people. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the danger signs of fraud. If you are a victim or attempted victim of telemarketing fraud, it's important to report the scam quickly so that law enforcement agencies can shut the fraudulent operation down.
  • Know whom you're dealing with. If the company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Be aware that no complaint is no guarantee. Fraudulent operations open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn't mean that the company or charity is legitimate. You still need to look for other danger signs of fraud.
  • Don't believe promises of easy money. If someone claims that you can earn money with little or no work, get a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit, or make money on an investment with little or no risk, it's probably a scam.
  • Think twice before entering contests operated by unfamiliar companies. Fraudulent marketers sometimes use contest entry forms to identify potential victims.
  • Never pay to play. It's illegal for a company to require you to buy something or pay a fee in order to win or claim a prize. Buying something doesn't improve your chances of winning.
  • Resist pressure. Legitimate companies will be happy to send you detailed information and give you time to make a decision. It's a probably a scam if the marketer demands that you act immediately or won't take "No" for an answer.
  • Guard your personal information. Only provide your credit card or bank account number when you are actually paying for something. Don't give your social security number to a telemarketer.
  • Beware of bogus "recovery services." These crooks tell consumers that, for an upfront fee, they can recover money lost to fraud. Legitimate law enforcement agencies don't charge to help telemarketing fraud victims.
  • Know your rights. Under federal law, you can tell telemarketers to put you on their "Do Not Call" lists and sue them in small claims court for $500 if they call again. To document your request, ask for the name and address of the company on whose behalf the salesperson is calling, and record that information, along with the date, on a pad that you keep by the phone. If the company calls again, write down the date. Contact your state or local consumer protection agency to find out if you also have "Do Not Call" rights under state law.
  • Report violations. If your "Do Not Call" rights are violated, contact the Federal Trade Commission, 877­382­4357 or www.ftc.gov (the FTC does not have jurisdiction over banks, insurance companies, and telephone companies), and the Federal Communications Commission, 888­225­5322 or www.fcc.gov. Report violations of state law to the appropriate state agency.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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