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What to do if You're a Victim of Telemarketing Fraud

Date: 
05/01/2001
Author: 
NCLC

Common scams and who to contact if you're a victim of telemarketing fraud.

Americans lose an estimated $40 billion each year due to the fraudulent sales of goods and services over the telephone. 

One of the most likely targets of telemarketing scams is the elderly.  Studies have shown that fraudulent telemarketers direct anywhere from 56% to nearly 80% of their calls at older consumers.   It often difficult to recover money lost to a telemarketing scam. Even so, there are several practical actions that you can take to minimize losses and avoid future scams. Common telemarketing scams Sweepstakes and Prize offers: Schemes in which consumers are lured by false offers of cash or other prizes.

Travel packages: Vacation packages that are advertised as "free" or "low cost". These packages end up costing an exorbitant amount because of hidden costs, or the seller may not ever provide the promised trip.

Investments
Schemes and Work-At-Home Scams: These schemes promise that you will "get rich quick" or "make $1000/week from home." They advertise high income with little or no risk, but end up delivering nothing.

Charity
Fundraising Scams: Phony charities that ask for money over the phone, often pressuring you for an immediate gift. 
Phony charities may try to confuse you by using names that sound like well-known charitable organizations or even law enforcement agencies.

900 Numbers or Pay-per-call Services (also known as "pay-per-call"or "information access" services):
These scams entice you to pay to make calls in order to receive information, such as how to save money on groceries or how to receive free credit cards. They then charge you exorbitant prices for calling these
numbers.

Recovery
Scams: Telemarketers who prey on people who have already been victimized by other telemarketers. For a hefty

 

 

 


 

fee, the recovery room scam will promise to get your money back, or get you the prize or investment you didn't
receive from the first scammer.

Reporting Telemarketing Fraud

You should always report telemarketing fraud. One organization that can help is the National Fraud Information
Center.  Call the Center at 1-800-876-7060 or go to www.fraud.org. The Center can help you file complaints with government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), FBI, local consumer protection
program, and your state attorney general. You can also file a complaint with these agencies directly. 

Reporting the fraud may not get you the money back, but it will help prevent the scam artist from hurting others.  In
some cases, a government agency may take action against a company and even get some refunds.  If you report the fraud, you help make sure your name is on the list of victims to get refunds. 

If a Credit Card Was Used 

Federal law provides valuable rights if you used a credit card to pay a telemarketer who defrauded you.  The
law allows you to dispute charges for goods that were never delivered or not delivered as represented.  There
are TWO ways you can do this: 

Option 1 

You can make a claim with your credit card company about the telemarketer's fraud if you meet the following 3 requirements: 

1) The amount in dispute is more than $50; 

2) The transaction occurred in the same state or within 100 miles of your current address (You should argue that the telephone transaction occurred in your home state since that is where the telemarketer initiated the sale); and  

3) You have made a good faith effort to resolve the matter with the telemarketer. 

Simply write a letter to the credit card company explaining how the telemarketer defrauded you and your attempts to resolve the problem. You should NOT pay the amount in dispute until your claim is resolved, because payment waives your right to assert this remedy. 

Option 2 

If you cannot meet the requirements of Option 1or have already paid the disputed charge, you can still claim that the charge is a billing error. (The federal government has stated that the failure to provide purchased goods or services is a billing error). The credit card company is required to initiate an investigation and reverse the charge if
warranted. Information on how to notify your credit card company about a billing error should be included on a regular basis with your monthly credit card statements.

Telephone Charge Fraud

If the fraud involves a 900 number or pay-per-call service, the charge will appear with your local telephone bill. 
This is not a charge from your local telephone company.  UNDER FEDERAL LAW, YOU CANNOT BE DISCONNECTED BY YOUR LOCAL TELEPHONE COMPANY OR LONG DISTANCE CARRIER FOR FAILING TO PAY THESE CHARGES.  The law also requires telephone companies to offer you the option of blocking access
from your phone to pay-per-call services. Your state law may also protect you from abusive 900 number practices. 

Sometimes charges will appear on your local or long distance telephone bill for services that you never ordered.  These may involve pay-per-call services or other types of services, such as club memberships or voicemail services.  The practice of adding unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges to your phone bill is called cramming and it's illegal.  Always check your telephone bill carefully and call your local or long distance telephone company if you see any charges that you don't understand or remember ordering. 

Prevent Future Fraud 

Never let a telemarketer pressure you to make an immediate decision. Never give your credit card, checking account or social security number to an unknown caller.

Before you buy something over the phone, get all information in writing, including any refund policies.

Never pay for something just because you'll receive a "free gift." Scam artists will try to get you to buy something by
making you feel guilty that you received a free gift.  Don't fall for this.  "Free" means free.

Check out a telemarketer's record with your Better Business Bureau, local consumer protection program, or state attorney general.

Avoid wiring money or sending cash, money orders or personal checks. If you use these payment methods rather than a credit card, you may lose valuable rights to dispute fraudulent charges.

To stop calls from a particular telemarketer company 

If you want to stop receiving calls from an individual telemarketer, whether or not you think the telemarketer is legitimate or fraudulent, you should ask to be added to the caller's "do-not-call" list. Federal law requires the telemarketer to stop making calls to you and to keep a record of your request for 10 years. 

If calls continue, contact the National Information Fraud Center, the FTC, your local consumer protection program, or your state attorney general. 

To stop receiving telemarketing calls in general 

Contact the Direct Marketing Association, which represents many businesses that engage in telemarketing and other forms of direct sales. 

Ask the DMA to remove your name from lists that its members use.
While many fraudulent telemarketers will not respect such a request, this will stop any telemarketing calls from DMA member telemarketers. Contact the DMA at: 

DMA
Telephone Preference Service
P.O. Box 9014
Farmingdale NY 11735
(212) 768-7277

Additional Resources 

National Consumer Law Center, Unfair and Deceptive Acts Manual (4th ed. 1997), [includes FTC Rules applicable to Telemarketing and a list of state telemarketing fraud statutes]

American Association of Retired Persons
601 E St., N.W.
Washington, DC  20049
www.aarp.org

Federal
Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC  20580
www.ftc.gov

National
Association of Attorneys General
750 First Street, N.E.
Suite 1100
Washington, DC  20002
www.naag.org

Advocates for elders seeking more information can call the National Consumer Law Center at (617) 542-8010 or visit our website at http://www.nclc.org/

May 2001 

This brochure was supported, in part, by a grant, number 90-AM-2041, from the Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.  20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. 
Points of views or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration on Aging policy.