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September 2011

Watch out for Telemarketing Schemes

Readers of Consumer Checkpoint” recently have asked a series of questions on telemarketers. In one case, several consumers said they were targeted for telemarketing by a person who left a message stating that they had “good news” and implied the consumers might have won Easter Seals’ “Cool Car, Cold Cash” raffle. The consumers were asked to call a named person at a toll-free phone number to collect the prize.

Fortunately, before calling, each of the consumers decided to research the solicitation to determine if it was for real. They did the right thing because they likely would have been defrauded if they had called to collect their nonexistent prize by paying the “taxes” or “shipping charge” up front.

Other readers complained to me that they are receiving pre-recorded phone calls from telemarketers who leave messages on their answering machines stating that they should press a telephone key to hear “an important message.” When the consumers press the key on their land-line telephone, they then hear a foghorn and are told, “This is your captain” and that they will receive an all-expense-paid cruise to the Bahamas and Nassau if they answer a series of questions. These readers also thought this marketing pitch was suspicious and hung up the phone.

Is this a scam? The short answer is that these calls violate Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws for at least three reasons.

First, pre-recorded telephone solicitations are illegal in Wisconsin. Second, these consumers are listed on the state’s “Do-Not-Call” Telemarketer Registry. Therefore, it was illegal for the telemarketer to contact the consumer unless he or she had a prior business relationship. Third, the telemarketer appears to state the consumer will win the cruise if the questions are answered. I checked into the reader’s complaint and determined that the solicitation appears to be tied to a “Survey Research Center” allegedly located in South Carolina. I learned many consumers are complaining about the solicitation and none appeared to have received the promised cruise.

Loyal “Consumer Checkpoint” readers know we have often advised consumers to never give out personal identifying information, including credit card numbers, over the telephone to someone who has called or e-mailed them. Why? Because it is impossible to verify that the callers or writers are really who they say they are.    

Unfortunately, many telemarketer or online thieves are quite expert in using methods that convince consumers they are legitimate. For example, many consumers are already suspicious of pre-recorded telemarketing pitches. Therefore, some fraudulent telemarketing firms provide names and phone numbers the consumer can call back. This gives some consumers a false sense of confidence. Others fall for calls they believe are made by well-known charities.

Your best defense is to hang up on these calls. Also, never engage a live operator in a conversation because that is when they will begin to hook you into their scam. You should also make sure you are on the Wisconsin “Do-Not-Call” registry and this will protect you from at least some calls and substantially increase the penalties if the fraudulent telemarketer should get caught by federal or state authorities. You can get on the list by going to: http://datcp.wi.gov/Consumer/No_Call/index.aspx or by calling toll-free 1-866-966-2255. You may also want to file a complaint about potentially fraudulent telemarketers or online marketing by contacting Wisconsin Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128.


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