Every year, thousands of people lose money to
telemarketing scams - from a few dollars to their life savings.
Telephone scammers are good at what they do. They say anything to cheat
people out of their money. They may call and imply that they work for a
company you trust, or they may send mail or place ads to convince you to
call them. Some seem very friendly - calling you by your first name,
making small talk, and asking about your family. These are ploys to ease
If you get a call from someone you don’t know
who is trying to sell you something you didn't think you need, say "no
thanks". If they pressure you about giving up personal information
- like your credit card or Social Security number - it is likely a scam.
Hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Signs of a Telemarketing Scam
Scammers who operate by phone don’t want to give you time to think about
their pitch; they just want to get you to say "yes". But some are
so cunning that, even if you ask for more information, they seem more
than happy to comply. They may readily direct you to a website or
otherwise send information featuring “satisfied customers". These
customers, known as shills, are likely as fake as their praise for the
Here are a few red flags to help you spot telemarketing scams. Say "no,
thank you", hang up, and file a complaint with the FTC if you hear a
line that sounds like this:
"You've been specially selected." (for
"You'll get a free bonus if you buy
"You've won one of five valuable
"You've won big money in a foreign
"This investment is low risk and
provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else."
"You have to make up your mind right
"You trust me, right?"
"You don't need to check our company
"We'll just put the shipping and
handling charges on your credit card."
How They Hook You
Scammers use exaggerated - or even fake - prizes, products or services
as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, texts, or ads to
get you to call them for more details. Here are a few examples of
“offers” you might get:
Travel Packages. “Free” or “low cost”
vacations can end up costing a bundle in hidden costs. Some of these
vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid.
Credit and loans. Advance fee loans,
payday loans, and credit card protection are very popular schemes,
especially during a down economy.
Sham or exaggerated business and
investment opportunities. Promoters of these have made millions of
dollars. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can
be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment.
Charitable causes. Urgent
solicitations for recent disaster relief efforts are especially
common on the phone.
High-stakes foreign lotteries. These
solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border
sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. What’s more,
you may never see a ticket.
Extended car warranties. Scammers find
out what kind of car you drive, and when you bought it so they can
urge you to buy overpriced - or worthless - plans
Buying into any of these "offers", or ones like them, will likely lead
to another call from another salesperson promising to get your money
back for a fee. This is called a refund or recovery scam.
Why They're Calling You
Everyone is a potential target. Fraud is not limited to race, ethnic
background, gender, age, education, or income. That said, some scams
seem to concentrate in certain groups. For example, older people may be
targeted because the caller assumes they may live alone, have a nest
egg, or may be more polite toward strangers.
How to Handle an Unexpected Sales Call
When you get a call from a telemarketer, ask yourself:
Who is calling…and why? The law says
telemarketers must tell you it is a sales call, the name of the
seller and what they’re selling before they make their pitch. If you
don’t hear this information, say “no thanks”, and get off the phone.
What is the hurry? Fast talkers who
use high pressure tactics could be hiding something. Take your time.
Most legitimate businesses will give you time and written
information about an offer before asking you to commit to a
If it is free, why are they asking me
to pay? Question fees you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift.
Free is free. If you have to pay, it is a purchase - not a prize or
Why am I “confirming” my account
information - or giving it out at all? Some callers have your
billing information before they call you. They are trying to get you
to say “okay” so they can claim you approved a charge.
What time is it? The law allows
telemarketers to call between 8 am and 9 pm. A seller calling
earlier or later is flouting the law.
Do I want more calls like this one? If
you don’t want a business to call you again, say so and register
your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If they call
back, they’re breaking the law.
Some Additional Guidelines
Resist pressure to make a decision
Keep your credit card, checking
account, or Social Security numbers to yourself. Don't tell them to
callers you don't know - even if they ask you to “confirm” this
information. That is a trick.
Do not pay for something just because
you will get a “free gift.”
Get all information in writing before
you agree to buy.
Check out a charity before you give.
Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask the
caller to send you written information so you can make an informed
decision without being pressured or rushed into it.
If the offer is an investment, check
with your state securities regulator to see if the offer - and the
caller - are properly registered.
Do not send cash by messenger,
overnight mail, or money transfer. If you use cash or wire money
rather than a credit card in the transaction, you may lose your
right to dispute fraudulent charges. The money will be gone.
Do not agree to any offer for which
you have to pay a “registration” or “shipping” fee to get a prize or
Research unsolicited offers with your
consumer protection agency or state Attorney General’s office before
you agree to send money.
Beware of offers to “help” you recover
money you have already lost. Callers saying they are law enforcement
officers who will help you get your money back “for a fee” are
Say “no thanks” and hang up the phone.
If you don’t want a business to call you again, say so. If they call
back, they’re breaking the law.
Register your home and mobile phone
numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. This won’t stop all
unsolicited calls, but it will stop most. If your number is on the
registry and you still get calls, they are likely to be from
scammers ignoring the law.
Report any caller who is rude or
abusive, even if you already sent them money. They will want more.
Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit ftc.gov/complaint.
This site is for educational purposes
and is not intended to provide legal advice. For specific advice
about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified
professional. Credits: Federal Trade Commission; Federal Bureau of
Investigation; Homeland Security; National Cyber Security Alliance.