Protecting Yourself From Telemarketing Fraud.
It can be hard to resist. A phone call from a charity seeking desperately needed funds for flood victims, endangered species, or the homeless. A postcard claiming you've won an amazing sweepstakes prize if you'll just call and send an "administrative fee." Or an investment offer giving you an "exclusive" chance to earn potentially enormous profits.
But resist you must. These are just a few examples of the kinds of fraudulent schemes Americans run across every day. Experts estimate that consumers lose more than $100 billion annually to a broad assortment of frauds, cons, and scams. Fraudulent telemarketing and direct mail apeals account for $40 billion of this total.
Alarmingly, the elderly are a major target for con artists, expecially phony fundraisers nd hucksters hawking bogus investment and insurance schemes. Whether they are widowed and lonely, eager to help others, or merely intrigued by a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, increasing numbers Americans are falling for sophisticated and slick apeals that can wind up costing them thousands of dollars, not to mention untold anguish and stress.
Taking your money is the number-one goal of the nation's scamming scoundrels. Many concoct their cons just to get a credit card number so they can go on a spending spree financed by YOU. Others will bill you incredible sums for merely calling them to find out more. And still more wnat a check or cash as soon as possible - by overnight delivery, by wire or even by courier - so they have their money before you have them figured out.
What consumer-soaking schemes are all the rage these days? Among the major scams are postcard sweepstakes offers. In a recent poll, 30 percent of Americans said they had responded to such mailings, sometimes sending hundreds of dollars to "register" for a seemingly fabulous prize or trip.
False charities are another popular consumer con. Telephone troublemakers claiming to represent everyone from police officers to the disabled take advantage of Americns' generosity to the tune of billions of dollars each yer. Adding to the problem is an array of fraudulent appeals - in newspaper ads, on TV and by mail - about business and investment opportunities, vacation homes, and even "miracle cures" for everything from baldness to cancer.
WHAT CAN YOU DO....
In the face of this onslaught of fraud, the best course for consumers is to beware. Here ar some pointers so you won't be conned by the pros.
- If a caller asks for your credit card, bank account or Social Security number to verify a fere vacation, a prize, or a gift, say "No" and hang up.
- If you're calling a 900 number in response to an advertisement or something you received in the mail, make sure you know all the charges up front.
- Before you agree to support a charity that calls seeking money, ask for written information about its finances and programs.
If you feel you've been conned, call the police or the Better Business Bureau. Remember, consumer fraud is a crime. And last but not least, remember that an offer that sounds too good to be true, probably is.