You answer a telephone call. A marketer says her company can get you out of debt, save you from a problem detected with your Windows computer or extend your vehicle warranty. Or, a man says you have been selected to receive a discount on a great vacation, product or service. Excited (or alarmed), you hand over your personal and financial information to remedy the problem or take advantage of an amazing opportunity. Later you wonder, “What did I just do?”
Telephone scams are a huge problem today. It is virtually impossible to recover your money after you have become a telephone scam victim, but you can take steps to reduce the likelihood of falling prey in the future.
Q: What is a telemarketing scam?
A: A telephone marketing (“telemarketing”) scam typically involves a caller who seeks to obtain personal information, money or access to financial information without a legal, legitimate purpose. The caller promises products without any intention of delivering them, or creates a situation and then charges money to resolve it, or obtains the money or information for other fraudulent purposes, including possible future identity theft.
Q: When I returned a call using my Caller ID, I reached a completely different person. Why?
A: Savvy scam artists may “spoof” your Caller ID using a “spoof card,” which tricks the Caller ID into showing a false reading. This technology then sends the false reading to your Caller ID. Some scammers even change the caller’s voice. If you attempt to call the number indicated on your Caller ID, and reach someone who has never heard of you, you may have been the victim of a Caller ID spoof.
Q: Why can’t I get my money back if I am a telemarketing scam victim?
A: It is virtually impossible to identify or locate a telemarketing scammer. In fact, many scammers operate from outside the country. You cannot press criminal charges, seek restitution or pursue a civil lawsuit if you cannot locate or identify the person who fraudulently took your money or personal financial information. Some states have established victim funds to assist telemarketing victims recover some of their financial losses, but Ohio does not yet have such a fund.
Q: What kinds of scams are currently operating?
A: Telemarketing scams offer everything from fake lotteries to fake jobs. Many scams have been around for several years. In one ongoing scam, a caller claims to be from Windows Tech Support, saying that a virus has been detected on your Windows device and patiently walking you through a process to correct the problem. Instead, the scammer secretly installs virus programs onto your computer, then offers to remove the virus for a fee. In the “Sweetheart” and/or “Grandma” scam, a person calls, often late at night, pretending to be a loved one, a child or a grandchild. The person quickly states that he/she is in the hospital or in jail and needs money or information immediately. The scammer may transfer the call to a third person claiming to be a police officer or a hospital employee, who then demands personal or financial information to release or treat the fictional loved one.
Q: If I believe a scammer is contacting me by phone, what should I do?
A: Never provide any personal or financial information unless you can verify that the call is legitimate. Most reputable companies will not request such information over the phone. Hang up or ask to be contacted by regular mail. Research the caller online to learn if there have been complaints about the company. Call the telemarketer back using the telephone number shown on your Caller ID. Contact the Ohio Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission to find out if this is a known scam.
Q: What if I am a victim of a telemarketing scam?
A: Dispute the charge and report the scam. You can dispute charges made via credit (and sometimes debit), and your financial institution may be able to credit the charge back to your account. If you have provided your financial or banking information to the scammer, consider closing the associated account to prevent future fraud. You should also report the scam to the Ohio Attorney General’s office at: http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/About-AG/Contact/Report-A-Scam, and the Federal Trade Commission at: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1.
Q: Where can I learn more about telemarketing scams?
A: The Federal Trade Commission tracks many scams that are being reported here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts. Other websites can also indicate potential scams, such as www.RipoffReport.com.
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by consumer protection advocate, Dayton attorney Mandy A. Jamison, of JAMISON LAW, LLC. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek the advice of a licensed attorney.