Telemarketing Fraud - Never Give Personal Information to Unknown Callers
The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
Telemarketing Fraud - Never Give Personal Information to Unknown Callers
Telemarketing Fraud Limited Only by Criminal's Imagination
The stories change over time but the purpose and result of the call to the victim remains the same. The thief gains the victim's confidence and the victim divulges personal information. Victims are ashamed they fell for the bait and often do not report the crime to law enforcement, family, or even friends. Meanwhile, the thief uses the personal information to drain the victim's bank account, obtain credit in the victim's name, or commit some other crime.
Thieves frequently relay a sense of urgency, pretending to be bank or credit card officials, government employees, law enforcement, or other trusted professionals to fool victims into providing information. A few of the recent schemes used to lure information from victims include a story that the personal information is necessary for any of the following reasons:
- to conduct a survey on your satisfaction after purchasing or receiving a government service;
- to protect the call recipient from becoming the victim of fraud;
- to claim a shopping spree or valuable gasoline coupons in return for a minimal processing charge to be debited directly from your bank account or a pre-paid credit card;
- to qualify for a new government program or to continue in a current government program like Medicare or Social Security;
- to claim a prize or to be eligible for a pre-approved credit card, loan, or government grant;
- to dispute the victim's failure to report for jury duty, the consequence of which is being arrested;
- to qualify for discount programs;
- to promote a program or charity tied to recent news events or tragedies;
- to pay to help a loved one in a medical or legal emergency;
- to pay off a (bogus) past due payday loan debt, or face threatened legal action;
- to obtain an auto warranty or lower credit card interest rates.
There are even reports that criminals have become so bold that they call and report personal information is necessary because of a recent family tragedy. For instance, money is needed to rush a family member to emergency medical care or your personal information is necessary before you can get more information about a family member in crisis.
The Attorney General warns that in the face of negative publicity the scam artists often change the name of the company involved and modify the pitch, but the purpose -- to steal personal information -- remains constant.
Never Give Personal Information to Someone Who Calls
Con artists will lie, cheat, steal, and make up plausible stories to convince you to divulge sensitive information. The callers are often professional criminals who are skillfully able to get personal information before the victim has time to properly assess the situation.
In a recent twist on an old scam, con artists are using automated calls to "warn" consumers that they may be victims of fraud and need to confirm some information. The recorded message instructs consumers to call a toll-free number. When consumers call the toll-free number, they are greeted by another automated message. This time, the consumers are instructed to input their personal financial information.
The information requested may seem minimal -- for instance just the numbers off the bottom of your check or your pre-paid credit card number. Armed with these numbers, however, thieves can drain the funds from your bank account or pre-paid credit card. Your Social Security number will allow a crook to obtain credit and charge thousands of dollars to your good name. Even information as simple as your maiden name or birthday can be used to rob you. And in this age of high tech scams, the crooks can literally be anywhere in the world when they obtain your personal financial information, making it extremely difficult to track the perpetrators.
Thieves Choose Numbers They Want to Appear on Caller ID
Technology available for purchase on the Internet allows crooks to use a fake caller ID to make bogus phone calls look like they are coming from a legitimate and trustworthy source to gain access to a victim's valuable personal information.
False caller ID numbers have been reported in connection with fraudulent calls claiming the potential victim missed jury duty and to avoid arrest or a fine must "verify" their Social Security number or other personal information. The calls may seem legitimate because the telephone number of the local courthouse shows up on the caller ID.
Con artists may also use false caller ID numbers to pose as debt collectors, sweepstakes officials, and utility company representatives. In each case, scammers call consumers to request payment of outstanding fees. To submit these fees, consumers are instructed to purchase a pre-paid credit card, load it with funds, and provide the card number to the caller. Upon consumers’ submission of the number, their funds are immediately transferred to the scammer’s account of choice, and cardholders often never see their money again.
Demand Drafts -- Why Providing Bank Information is a Problem
When providing checking account numbers and bank routing numbers (numbers reproduced at the bottom of the check) over the phone, you are giving the caller the opportunity to withdraw money from your account as if you had written a check. In most states, including Michigan, you can pre-authorize a draft from your checking account. This occurs when you provide your checking account and bank routing numbers and authorize a certain amount of money to be withdrawn from your account. Your signature is not required for money to be drawn out of a checking account in this manner. Demand drafts closely resemble checks and are processed through the check clearing system, which handles millions of items daily.
Once you provide your account information to another person, you cannot control how that person uses the information. Accounts may easily be accessed by unauthorized demand drafts or for larger amounts than authorized.
If You Hear a Story You Believe ...
If you receive a call that convinces you divulging personal information is necessary, STOP! If you feel you must divulge information, take the following steps:
Confirm the identity of the caller (your bank, credit card company, governmental agency, police department, etc. . .);
Go to a reliable source for the phone number of the caller (a statement, a bill, or your phone book -- do not rely on the number the caller or any automated message provides);
Call the identified source to confirm whether the prior call you received was legitimate;
If it was not legitimate, report the attempted fraud to the Attorney General's office so we can investigate and update our consumer warnings.
Traditional Warning Signs
A caller may tell you:
- Your personal information or account has been compromised, and they need to confirm your personal financial information so they can protect you.
- You've won a "free" gift, vacation, or prize. But you have to pay for "postage and handling," "shipping," "taxes," "insurance," or other charges with a credit card. If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
- You must act "now" or the offer will expire.
- You must mail or wire transfer money, provide a credit card, bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.
- You don't need to check out our company, the offer is "guaranteed" and "risk-free."
- You can't afford to miss this "high-profit, no-risk" offer.
If you hear these (or similar) pitches just say "NO" and hang up the phone.
Additional Tips to Avoid Telemarketing Fraud
It's very difficult to get your money back if you've been cheated over the phone. Before you buy anything by telephone, or provide any personal financial information, remember:
- Don't buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
- Always ask for, and wait until you receive, written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But, unfortunately, you still must be cautious as even the written material may not be true.
- If you insist on purchasing over the phone, obtain a salesperson's name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, telephone numbers, addresses, and business license numbers. Verify the accuracy of these items and use a credit card so you can dispute the charge if necessary.
- Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
- Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question, "What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?"
- Do not respond to a call, text, or email, or visit requesting payment by wire transfer or PayPal.
- Do not pay in advance for services. Pay for services only after they are delivered.
- Some criminals will send a messenger to your home to pick up money, claiming it is part of their service to you. In reality, they are taking your money without leaving any trace of who they are or where they can be reached.
- Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.
- It's never rude to wait and think about an offer. Be sure to talk over big investments offered by telephone salespeople with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor.
What to Do if You Fall Victim
Bank Account Information
If you mistakenly provide bank account information to a suspicious caller, take the following steps immediately:
- Call your bank, explain the circumstances, and tell them you want to take all necessary steps to block unauthorized withdrawals. Follow up your call with a visit to the bank and written notification. Keep a copy of the written notification. Your bank will likely charge you a fee for stopping the payment.
- If the money has already been withdrawn, immediately ask the bank to credit your account because the debit was not authorized. To get this credit, you may need to submit a sworn statement to your bank that the debit was unauthorized. This statement is called a "Written Statement Under Penalty of Perjury," and you may get a copy from your bank.
As a precaution, always check your bank statements to make sure that there are no unauthorized payments. Report any unauthorized payments to the bank as soon as you detect them. In the case of unauthorized demand drafts, you may also wish to close the account to avoid any further unauthorized withdrawals by persons who have gained access to your account information. Be aware that con artists may sell your information to other bad actors.
Pre-paid Credit Card Information
If you mistakenly provide your pre-paid credit card number to a suspicious caller, try the following options to obtain restitution:
- If the scam was perpetrated by a con artist posing as a debt collector or utility company representative, contact the utility company or debt collection agency directly and describe what happened.
- Contact your local police department.
- File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Click File a Complaint Online to submit a claim electronically. You can also call 877-765-8388 to speak to a Complaint Specialist or submit a claim by surface mail to the following address: Consumer Protection Division, P.O. Box 30213, Lansing, MI 48909.
- Report the scammers to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-382-4357.
- Alert the pre-paid card provider.
Other Personal Information
If the information you provided is specific to an account, immediately call the security or fraud department of that company. Follow up in writing by certified mail return receipt requested and include copies (not originals) of supporting documents. You may wish to close the relevant account.
In addition, anytime you mistakenly provide personal information to somebody who calls, you should immediately place an initial fraud alert on your credit report for at least 90 days. When you place an initial fraud alert on your credit report, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
You can place the initial fraud alert by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report too.
Equifax: 800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Once you get your free credit report, review it carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that personal information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. For instructions, see the "Resolving Specific Problems", "Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports" section of the Federal Trade Commission's booklet, "Taking Charge: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen" available at or by calling toll free 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338); TTY: 866-653-4261.
Free Annual Credit Reports
For more information on your right to obtain annually one free credit report from each credit reporting agency, regardless of circumstances, see the Attorney General's alert "Free Annual Credit Reports - What Consumers Should Know" available on the Attorney General's website or by using the contact information provided below. Free annual reports are available by calling toll free 877-322-8228.
Reduce Telemarketing Calls
To reduce telemarketing calls, consumers should put their phone number on the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry. Register by phone toll free (888-382-1222; TTY 866-290-4236 from the phone number you want to put on the registry) or online at https://www.donotcall.gov/.
Report Telemarketing Fraud
Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388