People have been talking about telemarketing scams for almost as long as the telephone has been around. Telemarketing fraud initially referred to fraudulent sales practices used over the phone. However, today telemarketing scams refer to any fraud conducted over the phone, so a more accurate title would be phone scams.
Many seniors unwittingly believe that telemarketing scams went out with the advent of the National Do Not Call Registry. Unfortunately, scammers do not care who is and who isn’t on this list. What is worse is that seniors are the most frequent targets when it comes to telemarketing scams.
According to the FBI, there are a few different reasons why seniors are often the primary focus for phone scams:
- Seniors tend to be more polite and trusting.
- Seniors often have a healthy savings account and equity in their homes.
- Seniors are less likely to report being scammed
- Seniors are more likely to be isolated from friends and family than other age groups.
- Some seniors suffer from cognitive dysfunction, making them an easy target.
Overall, seniors have been scammed out of more than $3 billion dollars.
The good news is there are several ways to identify these scams and avoid them. However, if you fall victim to a telemarketing scam, you must report it to the proper authorities such as the Federal Trade Commission or local FBI office. Contacting your local FBI office may seem extreme, but they take elderly fraud seriously.
Top 5 Telemarketing Scams
- The Affirmative
- You’re a Winner!
- International Lottery
- Grants from the Government
The Scenario: This telemarketing scam tries to get you to say the word “Yes” because they are recording the call. The caller will frequently ask you, “Can you hear me?” to elicit that response.
The Scam: After they have your voice recorded saying yes, they can manipulate the recording to make it sound like you agreed to a specific charge or purchase.
Often these criminals have already stolen your credit card or bank information and plan to rack up the charges. To prevent having the charges reversed by the credit card company or financial institute, they will provide proof of your consent.
How to Avoid It: If you get a call with a person starting the conversation with a question like “Can you hear me?” or “Is this (your name)?” either hang up or ask the caller to identify themself instead of answering their question.
You’re a Winner!
The Scenario: You receive a call that you have won a prize of some nature, like a trip, car, computer, or money.
The Scam: To receive the said prize, the scammers tell you that you need to pay them upfront for taxes on a cash prize, shipping, or another made-up fee.
How to Avoid It: First, ask yourself when did you sign up for a contest; if you don’t remember signing up for one, hang up. Or ask the caller for more information about the contest and have them send it in writing before you pay them a dime.
No one wants to miss out on a big cash prize, but if they are unwilling to hold the prize until you have been provided more information, you know it’s a scam.
The Scenario: You receive a call from someone claiming to be with a specific government agency (like the IRS). The scammer will tell you that they are sending you money for something such as an overpayment to your taxes, underpayment on your Social Security, or they want to send you a stimulus check.
The Scam: The scammer will spoof a number so that the government organization’s name and the number will show up on your caller ID. They will tell you that they need to verify some information with you in order for them to send you the money.
After verifying your information, they will ask you for your bank account number so they can make a direct deposit into your account. By getting all of this information, they can both withdraw money from your accounts and steal your identity.
How to Avoid it: Never give your personal information to anyone over the phone. If you give a fraudster your Social Security number, address, or full name, they can steal your identity.
Government agencies do not call people and ask for personal information over the phone. If they need to reach you, they often do so through the mail. If you are unsure if the call is legitimate, hang up, look up the phone number, and call them directly.
Do not use the number on your caller ID to call them back, they may be using a phony number hoping you call it back.
The Scenario: You receive a call asking if you would like to buy an international lottery ticket. They explain you pay a weekly fee, and the more you play, the better your chances.
The Scam: Often, these scammers will pay you small winnings every week to keep you in the game, but over time will bleed your account dry.
How to Avoid It: Hang up. If you want to play the lottery, buy a ticket at the local convenience store. Never give your bank account information or credit card number over the phone to an unsolicited caller.
The Scenario: These scams are the ones that often target seniors and are frequently the hardest ones to turn away. Charity scams increase exponentially during times of crises such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic.
The caller will tell you they are with an organization such as Red Cross or other legitimate, well-known group and request a donation over the phone.
The Scam: Smart criminals will spoof a phone number, meaning they will make the caller ID show the name and number of the company they claim to work for, but in truth, they are just scammers.
Unfortunately, in today’s world of technology, many scammers know how to trick caller ID, giving their claims greater legitimacy.
How to Avoid it: Tell the caller that you plan on making your donation online and end the call. If you want to donate to a charity call them directly or go directly to their website.
Do not stay on the phone, as many scammers will attempt to manipulate and guilt you into giving them your credit card information over the phone.
How to Identify Telemarketing Scams
Most telemarketing scams have the same red flags, such as:
- The caller will pressure you to take action now using phrases like you don’t want to miss out, you must act today, and once this call ends, so does the opportunity.
- They request the payment be sent using cash or gift card.
- The caller will ask for immediate payment.
- The caller will threaten legal action, such as arrest or fines.
- The scammer will request personal information for verification.
- You will get some great prizes, but first, you must pay a fee.
How to Avoid Telemarketing Scams
There are a few ways to avoid telemarketing scams; the first is to hang up, but here are a few more things you can do to avoid falling victim to a telemarketing scam:
- Request that your landline phone number not be published.
- Avoid free product trials where you need to provide your payment information first.
- Do not send or make payments with a gift card; these are untraceable, and there is no way to recover those lost funds.
- Screen your phone calls; if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it.
- If you have a cell phone, you can silence unknown callers.
- If someone asks for your phone number, ask if they will sell it.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone to an unsolicited caller; this includes your full name, Social Security number, and address.
- Ask for more details to be mailed to you.
- Block unwanted callers, and if you get an unsolicited call, you can block the number from calling you in the future.
- Don’t give out your credit card or bank account information to unsolicited callers.
- If you are unsure if it is a legitimate call from a government agency or financial institution, tell them you will call them back, then look up the number directly and call them. Please do not use the caller ID or the number they give you, as it will frequently lead you back to them.
- Always take the time to research a company before paying them a dime.
- Don’t trust caller ID; fraudsters can manipulate this information.
- Be sure to have a clear understanding of precisely what you are signing up for or buying.
- Don’t mail money or money orders to someone you don’t know.
- Be sure to sign up on the Do Not Call Registry; though it will not stop all callers, it will cut down on them.
- Trust your gut; if the caller seems off or what they are claiming doesn’t seem right, hang up.
- Don’t make donations over the phone to callers claiming to be with a charity.
- Avoid purchasing products from telemarketers; there is no way to verify the caller.