Telemarketers want your money. The question is do you want to give it to them. If the answer is no, you need to be very, very careful with what you say. Or just hang up.
Remember that when speaking to a telemarketer you never, ever give them your personal information. Unless you called them or know they are legitimate, information about your social security number, bank accounts, credit cards, driver license, birth date and mother's maiden name should be strictly off limits. If you give a scammer this information, they may be able to steal your identity, charge your credit card or plunder your bank account. These threats are very real and Texans get victimized far too often.
You can take steps to protect yourself from telemarketers by knowing the common scams, researching charities you would like to support and enrolling your telephone number on the Texas and federal do-not-call lists.
You can enroll your residential and mobile telephone numbers for free with both the state and federal do-not-call lists. These are separate lists, so you should review the terms and policies of each. You can enroll with the Texas do-not-call list at www.texasnocall.com and the federal list at www.donotcall.gov. Please note that if you sign up for the Texas don-not-call list via the telephone or by mail, you will need to pay a nominal registration charge for each telephone number you include on the list.
Bear in mind that it will take several weeks from the time you enroll for your participation to take effect. Also remember that illegitimate companies and scam artists won't respect these lists. Therefore once your enrollment goes into effect you should be extra careful of unsolicited telemarketing calls unless you know they come from a company with which you have a legitimate, established relationship.
Telephone scammers can be warm, slick, pushy or threatening. They may offer terrific prizes and great deals or claim they are with the government and threaten you with criminal action if you don't do as they say. Regardless of their demeanor, the value of the prize or nature of the threat, they usually want you to either send them money or provide them your personal information. Don't do it. Offers that are too good to be true usually are, and no government agency or legitimate business will ever ask you to "confirm" your personal information to them.
Also be wary of accepting collect calls from people you do not know. If you accept the call and hang up before the other caller, they may be able to stay on the line and make additional collect calls on your account. Also never dial "*72" while on a collect call. This allows the other caller to make more collect calls which will be billed to your account and may tie up your line.
In addition be careful if you respond to an ad with a toll-free number and the person who answers asks you to call a 900 number. In situations like this, callers to the 900 number have been billed more than 50 dollars per minute.
Telephone scammers change their pitch all the time, but many scams surface over and over again. Visit the Federal Trade Commission to see their list of telephone scams.
You should be wary of these warning signs:
- High-pressure sales tactics. Beware if you must "act now" because the offer will not be available tomorrow. Remember that a genuine offer is not usually urgent.
- Reluctance to answer questions.
- Unwilling to send written information.
- Blocking identification for Caller ID units. This is illegal under Texas law.
- A request to send payment by private courier. Use of a courier, wire transfer or sending someone to your home to get a check can be ways to circumvent mail fraud.
Finally, under Texas Law, if you buy from a telemarketer using a credit card, the seller must refund unopened and undamaged goods, provided you return them within seven days from when they arrive. In addition federal law allows you to dispute a credit card charge with the bank that issued the card. You can refuse to pay questionable charges pending the outcome of your dispute. Disputes over credit card bills must be made in writing.
Telemarketers that raise money for public safety and veterans organizations are required to register with the Texas Secretary of State (SOS). If you are considering giving to a telemarketer from one of these kinds of organizations, contact the SOS to make sure they are registered.
The following resources can help you research charities:
- The BBB Wise Giving Alliance: The Alliance issues reports on national charities when they receive questions or concerns from a charity's donors. Reports include evaluations of the charity.
- The American Institute of Philanthropy: The AIP is a charity watchdog who helps donors make informed choices.
- Guidestar: Gathers data on more than 850,000 IRS-recognized non-profits.
Filing a Complaint
You can file a consumer complaint with our office against a telemarketer you suspect of fraud, deceptive trade practices or violations of the Texas no-call list. You may also wish to contact the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The PUC has limited jurisdiction over certain telemarketers and the FTC enforces the federal do-not-call list.
Contact the Direct Marketing Association to remove yourself from many mailing lists for up to five years.
You can also limit the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive by removing your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus.
If any of your credit card companies send random-issue convenience checks, request in writing to be removed from that mailing list. Also ask your bank about its privacy and information policies. Find out if your bank provides your account information to third parties. Ask to opt out of this practice.