Telephone fraud on the rise, BBB reports

Online Staff Report

Hundreds of scams target consumers every day. Among them are phantom debt, fake lotteries, work-at-home, credit repair, and fake utility bills, to name a few. But, all scams have one thing in common: a scammer who wants to take your money. What is the most frequent method they use to do that? The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says contrary to popular belief, it’s not the Internet.

Scams and different types of fraud are a major threat facing consumers,” said Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the BBB. “And more and more frequently, the scammers are plying their trade the old-fashioned way — by telephone.”

The National Consumers League (NCL) reports that nearly 43 percent of their complainants say they were first contacted by a scammer by phone. Next on the list was the Web at just under 31 percent, email 16 percent and snail mail at 7 percent.

This phone trend is particularly troubling,” noted Horton, “because it opens an especially vulnerable population — the elderly — to greater risk.”

There is another trend in the NCL study worth noting — a change in how victims report sending money to a con artist. Previously, wire transfer has been the method most often used. However, today, credit cards are used more frequently. That’s good news, because when the fraud is discovered, the victim has a better chance of recovering their money by filing a dispute with their credit card company.

Tips to avoid being scammed include the following:

Know who you’re dealing with. If a company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with the BBB. Fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t guarantee the company or charity is legitimate. Ask for advice about the type of pitch you received and the danger signs of fraud.

Some telemarketing pitches are blatantly fraudulent, and you should know the signs. It’s illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee upfront if they promise or claim it’s likely they’ll get you a credit card or loan, or to “repair” your credit. It’s also illegal for any company to ask you to pay or buy something to win a prize, or to claim that paying will increase your chances of winning. And it’s illegal to buy and sell tickets to foreign lotteries by phone or mail.

Other danger signs of fraud may he harder to recognize. They include: pressure to act immediately; refusal to send you written information; use of scare tactics; demands to send payment by wire or courier; demands for payment of taxes or customs fees to claim a prize; requests for your financial account numbers even though you’re not paying for something with them; promises to recover money you’ve lost in other scams, for a fee; claims that you can make lots of money working from home; and refusal to stop calling when you say you’re not interested.

How you pay matters. If you pay for a transaction with cash, checks or money orders, your money is gone before you realize there is a problem. Paying by credit card is safest because you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised.

Be prepared when you answer the phone. Think about the advice you’d give someone else about how to detect fraud, then follow that advice yourself. Use caller ID or an answering machine to screen calls. Don’t hesitate to hang up on suspicious calls.

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Posted Jan. 30, 2015

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