It happens all the time: You’re in the middle of dinner after a hard day of work, about to dig into that delicious pile of mashed potatoes — and then the phone rings.
You interrupt your supper, pick up the phone, and hear a friendly voice trying to sell you something. Perhaps it’s a “free” vacation; perhaps it’s an unfamiliar “charity” that desperately needs your donation; or perhaps it’s a business opportunity that’s too good to be true.
Well, before to turn over any of your money or personal information (i.e. credit card details or Social Security number), keep this in mind: Unfortunately, not all telemarketers are legit. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), here are some ideas that might just help you from being scammed by an unscrupulous telemarketer:
Quick Security Tip: It's very difficult to get your money back if you've been cheated over the phone. 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, unfortunately, beware — not everything written down is true. Always check out unfamiliar companies with a consumer protection agency: Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. Unfortunately, though, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations. Obtain a sales representative's name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, phone numbers, addresses, and business license numbers. Verify the accuracy of these items. 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?" Do not pay in advance for services. Pay for services only after they are delivered. Some con artists will 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 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. It's never rude to wait and think about an offer. Be sure to talk over big investments that telephone salespeople are offering with a trusted friend, family member, or financial adviser. 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 people. Your personal information often is brokered to telemarketers through third parties.
If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies.
For more details on telemarketing scams, go to www.fbi.gov.
My Final Thoughts: Most telemarketers, of course, represent legitimate businesses and organizations. However, extreme vigilance should be exercised before you turn over any money or personal information, such as credit card data or a Social Security number, to anyone.
In addition, you may want to consider putting your telephone number on the National No Call List to assist in preventing unsolicited telemarketing calls at home. For information about this listing, go to www.donotcall.gov.
Bruce (Mandelblit.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is [email protected].
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit