How to Fight Back Against Phone Scammers
It's National Consumer Protection Week and today we're offering some strategies to fight back against phone scammers.
Have you ever received a phone call from someone who is trying to sell you something or that you won a trip to Hawaii? How about that your student loans can be magically forgiven? Or that they can reduce your credit card interest? Is it a number similar to your phone number?
Scammers are constantly changing their tactics to find new ways to contact and deceive you. However, as a consumer you should know your rights and learn what you can do to combat the seemingly endless stream of scam calls!
Here are some simple things you can look for to determine if a phone call is suspicious:
- Calls from Unknown, Private, or Blocked phone numbers
- Call from a number suspiciously similar to yours. It might be one digit off or it might have the same first 6 digits.
Scammers know people are more likely to answer calls from within their own telephone prefix. Let suspicious phone calls go to voicemail. If it’s important, they will leave a message.
There are a variety of laws which telemarketers must follow. It’s important to understand when a scam call is violating your rights.
- not call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.,
- promptly tell you the identity of the seller or charitable organization and that the call is a sales call or a charitable solicitation, and
- disclose all material information about the goods or services they are offering and the terms of the sale, as they are prohibited from lying about any terms of their offer.
If a telemarketer asks you to use one of the following payment methods, they’re breaking the law:
- Cash-to-cash money transfer — like those from MoneyGram and Western Union
- Asking you to pay by giving the PIN from a cash reload card like MoneyPak and Vanilla Reload
- Asking for your bank account information to create a type of check that you never see or sign. Those checks are called “remotely created payment orders.”
If a telemarketer you haven’t done business with calls to ask for your bank account number for any purpose, say “No” and hang up.
If a telemarketer has your account information before the call — known as “pre-acquired account telemarketing” — and offers you goods or services on a free trial basis before charging you automatically, the telemarketer must
- get your permission to use a particular account number,
- ask you to confirm your desire to approve a charge by giving the telemarketer at least the last four digits of the account number, and
- create an audio recording of the entire phone transaction.
Before agreeing to anything, ask for a written contract, the cancellation policy, and the contact information of the telemarketer and company they represent, as required by Minnesota law.
Resources to fight back
The Do Not Call Registry
National Do Not Call Registry was created and is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The federal government’s National Do Not Call Registry is free (and never expires) and an easy to way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home and on your cell phone.
According to the National Do Not Call Registry in 2017, there were 22,819,164 actively registered phone numbers. The topic most frequently identified when reporting a robocall complaint was “Reducing Debt,” with 861,258 complaints received in 2017.
To register, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you want to register.
The system will send you a confirmation email. To complete your registration, click on the link in the email within 72 hours. You can expect fewer calls within 31 days of the date you sign up for the registry.
Once registered, a telephone number stays on the Do Not Call Registry until the registration is canceled or service for the number is discontinued.
How does the National Do Not Call Registry work?
The law requires telemarketers to search the registry every 31 days and avoid calling any phone number on the registry. Unless a telemarketer has consumers’ written permission to be contacted, it’s illegal to make such calls.
Legitimate companies may still call you. Some pre-recorded messages, such as school, airline and pharmacy updates are allowed.
Although callers who ask for charitable contributions do not have to search the national registry, a for-profit telemarketer calling on behalf of a charitable organization must honor your request not to receive calls on behalf of that charity.
Filing a Complaint
The Do Not Call list has mostly put an end to telemarketing calls, yet violations still occur.
If you receive telemarketing calls after your telephone number has been in the registry for 31 days, you can file a complaint at donotcall.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). You need to know the date of the call and the company’s name or phone number to file a do not call complaint. A telemarketer who disregards the National Do Not Call Registry could be fined up to $40,000 for each call.
To learn more detail about the Do Not Call Registry, visit the FTC’s website.
Additional Resources to Stop to Unwanted Calls
Until your phone number is actively part of the Do Not Call registry, there are resources to help limit your exposure to robocalls.
- Traditional landlines have a feature that’s often free, called anonymous call rejection. To enable it, pick up phone and press *77. You can turn this feature off by pressing *87. Weeds out calls that come in as Anonymous, Private or Blocked.
- It seems like there’s ALWAYS an app for that. And there are indeed apps to block robocalls. Check out CTIA’s list of robocall blocking apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry Click on your phone type to see the suggested apps.
Not all of these apps are free; so be sure to do your research before downloading and paying for an app.
If a scam has you worried about your financial well-being, please call 888.577.2227 to set up an appointment with an LSS Financial Counseling. We can help get your budget in order and review your credit report. If you have been a victim of a scam, we can also help you navigate your situation, reporting the scam, and get you back on track financially.
Authors Mei Lin Knoll and Dan Park are certified LSS Financial Counselors.