Telemarketing Scam Protection

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(This article appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

Consumers lose billions of dollars a year to telemarketing fraud. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages you to be skeptical about phone solicitations, and to be aware of a law that helps protect against deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices.

Scammers start with your phone number, which they can get from a telephone directory, a mailing list or a “sucker list,” a list of people who have responded to other telemarketing solicitations. These and other lists are bought and sold by promoters. You also may get solicitations through:

Direct Mail — A letter or post card saying that you’ve won a prize or a contest, but must respond to in order to collect. If you do, you’ll be called by a fraudster using intimidating sales techniques, scare tactics, and false claims to take advantage of you.

Broadcast and Print Advertisements — You place a call in response to a TV, radio, newspaper, or magazine advertisement. Just because you initiate the call, doesn’t mean the business is legitimate or that you should be less cautious about making a transaction.

“CharityOrganizations” — Many charities make legitimate solicitations. Con artists, however, try to confuse you with names that sound like well-known organizations or even law enforcement agencies, and pressure you to make an immediate contribution. You can ask the organization to send you written information so you can check them out. If they suggest you visit a Web site, be sure to plug the organization’s name — not the Web address — into a search engine. Oftentimes, a search will generate information about how the operation has been exposed as a scam.

Keep the following in mind whenever you receive a phone solicitation:

  • Never give out a credit card or bank account number, or your Social Security number to an unknown caller; 
  • Don’t be pressured to make an immediate decision; 
  • Don’t purchase something merely because you are offered a free gift; 
  • Be wary of prizes – particularly if you are asked to send money in order to claim them: These offers are rarely legitimate; 
  • Don’t accept offers where you are asked only to pay a fee or shipping charge; the solicitor may be seeking your credit card number; 
  • Get something in writing before you agree to buy; 
  • Almost all legitimate charities have Web sites or are registered with state agencies that track how much of their donations actually go to charitable activities; 
  • Never pay in cash; if you do, you won’t be able to dispute fraudulent charges; and 
  • Invite solicitors to call back, and check out unsolicited offers with the Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agencies, or your state’s Attorney General’s office in the meantime.

The Telemarketing Sales Rule

The FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule requires certain disclosures and prohibits misrepresentations. It gives you the right to stop unwanted telemarketing calls and gives law enforcement agencies the authority to prosecute telemarketers who operate fraudulently across state lines.

The rule covers most types of telemarketing calls and applies to calls that consumers make in response to materials received in the mail, and to offers received through the Internet.

It’s against the law to call before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. It is illegal for a telemarketer to call you if you’ve asked not to be called. Registering with the federal government’s National Do Not Call Registry will reduce the number of telemarketing calls that you receive at home. To register, visit, or call 888-382-1222 (TTY 866-290-4236) from the phone that you want to register. You should receive fewer telemarketing calls within three months of registering your number.

Reporting a Scam

Report scam artists to the FTC (as well as your state Attorney General) at , or call 877-382-4357 (877-FTC-HELP); TTY 866-653-4261. Through these FTC sources, you can file complaints and get free information on unfair business practices.

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