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Money September 2012

Dollar Sense

Phone Ringing Off the Hook With People You Don’t Know? Scams and More Scams

By Teresa Ambord

Charities solicit donations by phone. Political groups and candidates solicit by phone, especially now in the run-up to a national election. And survey takers are always around. These exceptions are the rocks under which thieves and scammers hide.

Has this happened to you? You dash to the phone to catch it before it stops ringing, trip over the dog, only to pick up the receiver and find an automated message? These are called robocalls, or prerecorded messages that go out in huge blasts. Many people don’t bother to pick up the phone, or if they do, they hang up quickly. But the robocallers don’t give up, because if they are successful even one percent of the time, it’s worth it. In some cases, your caller ID might read all zeroes, 000-000-0000 (known as “spoofing.”).

According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly all sales robocalls have been illegal since September 1, 2009, when a ban took effect. The only legal sales robocalls are those which you have specifically agreed to receive, in writing. But there are other robocalls that are not covered by the ban, including survey calls, charity calls, and political calls.

Charities solicit donations by phone. Political groups and candidates solicit by phone, especially now in the run-up to a national election. And survey takers are always around. These exceptions are the rocks under which thieves and scammers hide.


Charity Related

Many legitimate charities do solicit donations over the phone. But if you get a call from someone claiming to be collecting for victims of the latest disaster, beware. Disaster relief is generally the turf of the Red Cross, and the Red Cross warns, they do not solicit by phone.

Your phone may ring, you pick it up, hear a heartbreaking plea describing a disaster that you’re probably aware of, and then you are asked to press the pound key (or some other key) to connect to a live operator.

Stop right there, and hang up.

Even if you talk to a live operator but do not donate, information has been collected on you. Scammers are looking for real telephone numbers, with live bodies that will pick up the phone, and they record what time of day someone is likely to be at home in your house. If you answer, even if you do not donate, the calls are likely to increase.

After the recent fires in the Waldo Canyon, Colorado, the state’s Deputy Attorney General for Consumer Protection, Jan Zavislan said people started getting calls, seeking donations. The callers claimed to be from the Red Cross, seeking relief for the victims. Again, Zavislan reminds us, that is a sure sign of a scam, because the Red Cross will not call you for a donation. Zavislan added that scammers hide behind charity donation calls because donors don’t check or don’t have a way to check on what happened to their money. They just rest easy, believing they’ve done a good thing. When a consumer is scammed into buying a product, they may complain to the state Attorney General’s office if the product is inferior or doesn’t arrive. Not so with charities.

This explains why scammers stay on top of the news. They listen for word of a new disaster and in just minutes they can change their message and send out calls again, pleading for donations.


Political Opinions

Political opinion surveys are kind of a hybrid of political calls and survey calls, both of which slip through the robocall ban, though some may be initiated by a live operator. The caller says he or she is from a survey group such as Political Opinions of America, or something similar. All you have to do, they say, is take a short 30-second survey, giving your political opinions. And who doesn’t want to spout off about politics, especially in these heated political times? But wait! It gets better. To thank you for your time, you will be given a free two-day cruise for two, to the Bahamas.

Answering the survey is done by pushing a few buttons. Then you are connected to a live operator who will assist you in getting your free trip. Some consumers report that in the process of being transferred, they were put on hold and eventually the call was dropped. Oops! Sorry no free trip.

Actually, that might be a good thing. Because other consumers report that the trip was free if they paid certain taxes, by giving them your credit card number. Once you’ve done that, there will likely be a high pressure push to get you to upgrade to a better, longer trip for more money of course. Consumers who complained said the customer service was downright rude, and in spite of assurances that you can change your mind and get your money back, such a request is met with hostility. Some who actually did take these trips said the purpose seemed to be more of an intense timeshare pitch than a vacation. So … ask yourself if this is worth the aggravation? The bottom line seems to be this is a timeshare salesgroup that has found a way to bypass the ban on sales robocalls, by using the cover of political opinion surveys. Do they care about or use your opinions? Who knows? But do you really want people like this to have your credit card number?


What Not to Do

The FTC says, if you answer one of these calls, even to ask to be put on their do-not-call list, the result will be even more calls. Here are their three short tips if you answer:

  1. Hang up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list.
  2. Consider blocking the number.
  3. Report it at

The FTC has successfully shut down companies responsible for more than 2.6 billion robocalls. But enforcement is very hard because the perpetrators flaunt the laws, including the Do Not Call Registry. That means you are your own best defense. Follow the FTC tips above, and when you get or hear of a phone scam, be an alert consumer and spread the word.

For more information go to and type in “robocall.”


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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