Hanging up on telemarketing fraud
Last Updated March 2007
Consumers across the country were robbed of more than $1 million in 2006 in a variety of telemarketing fraud schemes, according to PhoneBusters. (CBC)
Many Canadians have found it tough to hang up on fast-talking scam artists pitching exclusive investment opportunities, pleading on behalf of questionable charities, and promising free trips and prizes.
While many consumers think they couldn't be fooled by a telemarketing scam, police caution that fraud artists employ highly sophisticated techniques to manipulate, trick and bully.
Consumers across the country were robbed of more than $1 million in 2006 in a variety of telemarketing fraud schemes, according to PhoneBusters, the national anti-fraud call centre.
Cpl. Louis Robertson, of the RCMP's Criminal Intelligence Analytical Unit, said fraud artists tend to cast a wide net.
"You could be 16 years old or you could be 92 years old. You are a potential victim," he said.
In December 2006, police in Montreal made a string of arrests, breaking up an alleged telemarketing ring that preyed on seniors and businesses in Canada and the U.S. Police say the alleged boiler-room plot, which targeted mainly Americans, defrauded its victims of up to $13 million over three years.
One of the phone pitches allegedly had fraud artists persuading seniors to play phoney lotteries, in which the targets made fake tax payments on non-existent winnings. Authorities allege the scam artists targeted the vulnerable, aiming to rob people of their life's savings.
Telemarketing fraud can have devastating results, leaving people emotionally shaken and in financial ruin. But experts suggest people can separate legitimate business calls from scams if they ask critical questions and hang up on suspicious callers.
How to protect yourself
"If it's too nice, it's not true," Robertson said of telemarketing pitches that try to tap into people's needs or desires.
Fraud artists aim to exploit people's vulnerabilities to their advantage by making lavish promises and offers. Who wouldn't want a free Caribbean cruise to break a long and cold winter? Why wouldn't you want to enter a lottery if you were guaranteed to win?
Consumers should slow down and ask questions before agreeing to anything. If you are unsure whether a service or offer is legitimate, take down callback numbers, ask the caller to mail additional information, and ask for references.
The following tips will also help protect your savings:
- If you don't remember entering a contest you have supposedly won, be skeptical and demand more information.
- Canadians cannot win out-of-country lotteries. If you are told you've won one, hang up immediately.
- If a caller tells you that you need to pay for the delivery, taxes or processing of a prize, be cautious. Sometimes, telemarketers will ask their victims to send cash or money orders, as they cannot be traced.
- Ask for more literature to be mailed to you along with references before you agree to purchase a service or a product.
- If a person is calling on behalf of a charity, ask them to call back after you've done some research. Check Revenue Canada's database to ensure it is a registered charity.
Robertson said people who do surrender personal financial information over the phone are at risk of losing money and their identities.
"Not only will you be a telemarketing victim, you are a potential ID-theft victim, next week, next month, next year, in five years, don't know, but you will be put on the list and that list will be posted on the internet eventually," he said.
To avoid getting entangled in a long and involved pitch, people should just end suspicious calls, Robertson said.
"Hang up because they're not scared of us," he said. "With the new technology, it's so easy to set up a boiler room."
People can now choose their own telephone numbers and area codes, making it difficult to trace calls, Robertson said.
Consumers should also be alert to common manipulation techniques. Scammers will try to sell limited-time offers, encouraging people to sign up for a special deal before they've had a chance to do any research. Keep in mind that reasonable businesses will give their consumers a callback number and some time to consider special sales or deals.Fraud artists also prey on people who are lonely by striking up a false friendship. A caller may use your first name and ask personal questions to create a profile and build some common ground. Be firm, and hang up on any suspicious callers.
"They are professional phone callers," Robertson said, noting they will try to cajole and convince with pleasantries and sweet voices.
Alternately, some scam experts may try to use positions of authority to manipulate their victims. The caller may purport to be a government official, a bank manager or a lawyer as an intimidation technique. If you are concerned about a potential problem, ask for a callback number and contact a lawyer or a trusted third party to respond.
A scam in January 2007 saw people pose as Canada Revenue Agency workers. Callers were asked to provide personal bank account information. The federal agency warned it never asks people to deposit money into bank accounts registered to an individual, noting all tax debts are payable only to the Receiver General for Canada.
What to do if you've been scammed
Many people who have been scammed are embarrassed or figure it's too much bother to do anything about it. A poll conducted in 2006 by the Strategic Counsel for the Competition Bureau of Canada found that four in ten respondents said they "did nothing" to resolve incidents of marketing fraud. The top two reasons respondents gave for their inaction was that they assumed it would be too arduous a process and the amount of money stolen was not worth reporting.
But police warn that if you have surrendered information or money, you may be added to a "sucker list" — a database of potential victims that is traded among fraud artists. PhoneBusters notes that telephone fraudsters who have succeeded once will continue to pursue their victims.
Authorities say consumers should also call their local police, banks, PhoneBusters, or the Competition Bureau. Online complaints can also be logged on the RECOL (Reporting Economic Crime On-Line) website (www.recol.ca). Complaints are filed, prioritized, and directed, where appropriate, to partners, including PhoneBusters, the RCMP and the U.S. Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
For computer automated calls coming from mysterious numbers, consumers should go online and check databases for telephone numbers and company information.
Robertson urged people to take the time, no matter how small the amount.
"If you lose $40, are you going to take the time to call your local police and be on the phone here for 15 minutes?" he asked. "But if the bad guy hits 400 people at $50, at the end of the line, it is a fairly large amount of money."
External Links: Telemarketing fraud
- Telephone: 1-888-495-8501
- The Competition Bureau
- Telephone: 1-800-348-5358
- Revenue Canada: Registered charity database
- Telephone: 1-800-267-2384
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