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Telephone Scams Hook Thousands
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- It happens to 10 Americans a minute, so chances are good that a telemarketing scam will hit home.
Consumer knowledge is the best protection against falling victim to fraud. But telemarketing scams are very prevalent and many people lose large amounts of money to them.
Dr. Beverly Howell, Mississippi State University extension family economics specialist, said telemarketing fraud costs consumers $40 billion a year. People over age 60 are the most common targets.
"Many times consumers are caught off guard by a telephone call and make mistakes or decisions they normally would not if they had been able to think through the process," Howell said.
With the telephone an important tool of business, telemarketing has become one of the most popular methods of soliciting customers. But along with its legitimate uses are those who use telemarketing to defraud consumers.
"There's no way to tell over the phone if an organization or business is legitimate," Howell said. "Scam artists will have an answer for any question you might ask."
Because of this, Howell cautioned consumers to always get written information before making a decision. And never allow yourself to be pressured into making a rushed decision.
"If they are a legitimate business, they won't mind mailing you information," Howell said.
Read the information carefully and check with the organization's home state Attorney General's office and the home town's Better Business Bureau.
"If it's a business you've never heard of, that calls for further investigation," Howell said. "Be extra careful until you determine it's legitimate."
Other tips to prevent falling victim to telephone fraud include: * If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is;
- Don't give credit card, bank account or other important information over the phone;
- Wait at least 24 hours to make a decision. If it's a good offer today, it will still be a good offer tomorrow;
- Be very wary if a telemarketer wants to come to your door immediately to collect money.
- Don't be intimidated into accepting an offer. Hang up the phone if the situation feels wrong.
Popular scams involve "free prizes" that cost to collect, bargain-priced travel offers with hidden costs, investment fraud, "900" numbers, loan offers with advance fees, bogus long distance phone companies, insurance scams and illegitimate health care product sales.
Howell said another popular scheme offers to "clean up" a flaw in a consumer's credit, for a fee. However, consumers can correct legitimate mistake on their credit report at no cost, and true credit problems are only corrected with time.
With care, consumers can protect themselves from becoming the latest victim of telemarketing fraud. But if a consumer feels they have become a victim of fraud, they should contact their state Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and maybe local police or telephone company.
"Unless you initiated the call, think twice before you do business over the phone," Howell said.