With the advent of smartphones, consumers are urged to beware of a resurgence of online scams, telemarketing scams and breaches of “do not call” legislation. The latest wave adds text messaging to the ways fraudulent telemarketers try to scam thousands of Canadian and U.S. residents each day.
But the Telemarketing Sales Rule and Unsolicited Telecommunications Rule of both countries provide consumers with tools to prevent unsolicited calls, preserve electronic privacy, and reduce the billions of dollars lost to telemarketing fraud each year.
Mobile Phone Scam
Email inboxes were flooded this week with a forwarded message warning that “all cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies”. The message includes a contact to add mobile phones to an official “do not call list”.
The scam begins when consumers call the fraudulent 800 number and are instructed to pay to register their mobile number. Neither U.S. nor Canadian authorities require any fee when registering phones on legitimate Do Not Call Lists. Do not respond to the email without first verifying the information.
Authentic Do Not Call List
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center encourage consumers to register their mobile phone numbers to prevent unsolicited telemarketing calls. Those numbers are:
- FTC Do Not Call Registry – 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov. The FTC urges consumers to call from the phone they wish to register.
- Canadian Do Not Call List – www.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca/insnum-regnum-eng
It takes from one to three months after registration for telemarketing calls to stop. Any calls received after that can be reported and violators are subject to prosecution. Calls are still legally allowed to come through from:
- Telemarketers with whom a business relationship has previously been established
- Charities, political parties, and candidates
- Newspapers seeking subscribers
- Surveys and market research polls
- Business to business calls
Dangerous Text Message Scams from Fraudulent Telemarketers
Fraudulent drug companies recently started sending text messages to random cell phone numbers, claiming to offer discounted drugs without prescriptions. The contact info connects the victim with an imposter website asking for credit card information.
These are especially dangerous when directed to mobile phones of minors. Opening the message will incur a charge as only a few cell phone models allow text messages to be deleted without first opening them. Advise minors not to respond to messages from unknown numbers, often appearing as “Withheld” or “Unknown” on mobile screens. Consult cell phone manuals on how to block calls and report suspected fraud to:
- Canada: Phonebusters – 1-888-495-8501 or www.Cb-bc.gc.ca
- U.S.: Consumer Sentinel Network – 1-877-701-9595 or 1-877-FTC-HELP
Hang Up on Telemarketing Scams
Both the FTC and Phonebusters advise consumers responding to a call to hang up if the telemarketer insists on an advance payment for a service or product. Any telemarketing calls asking for banking info or received before 8 am or after 9 pm are against the law. A “service scam” occurs when telemarketers pose as mortgage or loan officers, soliciting low interest rates, advance free loans, or offers to repair consumer credit for an advance fee to start the service. Legitimate credit repair and credit services do not ask for payment in advance of services.
Secret Agent or Scammer?
Another cell phone scam became prevalent towards the end of December 2009. Someone posing as an FDA or FTC agent offers to retrieve money lost by the consumer in a previous scam and insists on verifying credit card or banking info to “solve” the case. Consumers should ask the “agent” for contact info, then hang up and report the callers number to Phonebusters or the FTC.
The “prize” or “sweepstakes scam” has also resurfaced for 2010. Consumers are asked to make a purchase to receive a “free” prize. Check the origin of a number through websites like 800Notes.com. Note number and report it.
Granny Scam Plays on Emotions
The “emergency” phone and email scam became prominent in the last two months and plays on the emotions of its victims. The caller or email poses as a family member or family friend. They make a frantic appeal for help, suggesting they are in an emergency, an accident, or legal complications in a foreign country. The consumer is asked to wire money to a foreign city and is warned not to contact other family members for fear of embarrassing the “victim”. This scam is usually played on the elderly with the caller posing as the friend or traveling companion of a grandchild. Wary consumers should insist on verifying the identity of the caller or simply hang up and report number to Phonebusters or the FTC.
Anyone with a mobile or smartphone is subject to telecommunications fraud and online scams, but the informed consumer insures that telemarketers do not call once phones are registered and violators are reported.