As previously reported in FDIC Consumer News, federal rules prohibit a variety of unfair or deceptive advertising practices, and they enable consumers to stop most telemarketer calls by placing their personal phone and cell numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov). We are returning to the telemarketing topic because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other agencies have reported increases in complaints involving telemarketers that may be perpetrating scams or otherwise violating federal and state laws.
According to the FTC, the vast majority of the violations of the do-not-call rules involve “robocalls,” which are pre-recorded phone messages that companies send to thousands of phones at the same time. Some companies continue to make robocalls to people who have signed up for the Do Not Call Registry, using fake “caller IDs” that make them hard to identify or trace. These calls might be scams.
Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC’s Financial Crimes Section, explained one scam involving a pre-recorded message supposedly from a financial institution or a government agency, describing some “urgent” matter. “If you return the call, you might be asked a series of personal questions using the touch-tone keypad on your telephone. The information you are asked to provide, such as account numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), birth dates, and passwords, can be used to access to your bank account or commit identity theft,” said Benardo.
He added, “Your financial institution or a government agency would never contact you asking for such information. When in doubt, call your institution or the government agency that the call is supposedly from by using a phone number that you know or that you find, not the number in the message.”
Because it may be difficult to get your money back, remember the following:
If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press “1” to speak to a live operator and don’t press any other number to (supposedly) get your phone number off a call list. Doing so will probably just lead to more robocalls.
Never give out personal identification information over the phone unless you initiate the call and know the other party is reputable. This includes bank account and credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, account passwords and PIN numbers.
Thoroughly check out any offer before agreeing to it. Always ask for key details in writing. Carefully read all applications and contracts so that you understand your potential costs, risks and requirements. You also can research an offer with help from your state or local consumer protection agency (start at www.usa.gov/directory/stateconsumer) or your state Attorney General’s office (http://www.naag.org/naag/attorneys-general/whos-my-ag.php).
Assume that any offer that “sounds too good to be true” — especially one from a stranger or an unfamiliar company — is probably a fraud. “Common examples of scams include fake lottery winnings, bogus job offers, and promises of an investment paying significantly above market rates,” said Kathryn Weatherby, a fraud examination specialist for the FDIC.
Resist pressure to make a decision immediately. Here are a few red flags that can help you spot a scam:
- You’re told to send money or provide bank account information before you receive anything in return;
- You sense a reluctance on the part of the caller to answer questions or provide written information; and
- You’re told you already agreed to pay money but you don’t remember that.
If you think you’re a victim, file a complaint with the FTC (at www.ftc.gov/complaint or toll-free at 1-877-382-4357) and with your police. For more tips on topics like reducing robocalls, avoiding phone scams and stopping unwanted mail and calls, start at the FTC’s web site.