Marketing goods or services to potential customers over the telephone, internet or fax is called “telemarketing.” If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it is a “robocall.” Increasingly, telemarketing is being done using robocall technology which can be intrusive and sometimes illegal.
Because many reputable companies use telemarketing to conduct business using live-call telemarketers and automated robocalls, criminals will also use this method of direct marketing to grab credit card and personal information to steal from their victims. These scams regularly top the list of complaints reported to the Michigan Attorney General Consumer Protection Team.
Telemarketing is a legal and useful tool for for all kinds of businesses, if used properly. It may include a variety of activities such as surveying, appointment-setting, telesales, database maintenance, and merchandise or service sales. The process is also used for political and charitable calls as well as debt collection calls.
Telemarketing calls are not just annoying, they are frequently used for illegal purposes which can be dangerous if you don’t know what to look for. Telemarketing scams are prevalent because victims often find it difficult to distinguish between reputable telemarketers and scam artists. But like all scams, regardless of what they are selling, the fraudsters rely on common tactics to get payment or personal information. Traditional scam warning signs include:
Pressure to act now or the offer will no longer be good.
Claims that “You have won a free gift, vacation, or prize” but you must pay for postage, handling, or other fees.
Request to send money, give credit card or bank account information or even a pre-loaded money card.
Encourages you to not share this call with family or friends
Claims to be an accredited or legitimate business ensuring you there is no need to research the company.
The caller might also claim to be from a government or law enforcement agency seeking money or personal information, or calling to “fix a problem” with your account, computer, or benefits. Finally, they may demand payment from a non-traceable payment source. These are all indicators of a scam. Don’t be fooled – hang up the phone.
Under Michigan law, a robocall is simply a telephone call with a recorded message, in whole or in part. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it is a robocall. If you get multiple robocalls trying to sell you something, odds are the calls are illegal.
A few types of robocalls are allowed under the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) without your permission. These include calls from a person or business:
Whom you have given prior permission to contact you.
Whom you are already a customer.
Who requests a face-to-face meeting to sell you something.
A legitimate charitable organization requesting money.
Signs of an illegal robocall are when the caller:
Does not provide their full name or who they are calling on behalf of.
Speaks broken English and may have poor grammer
Threatens arrest if money or personal information is not provided.
Claims to be from the IRS, Social Security Adminstration, FBI, law enforcement or other government agency
The caller is rude and aggressive.
Pushes a service on you like an auto warranty or a healthcare plan that you have not inquired about.
Asks for payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or third-party mobile app payment such as Venmo.
Caller ID has forced scammers to be creative in making calls. Unfortunately, the same technology that allows us to identify a caller has also provided scammers a way of deceiving us by hiding their true identity.
Caller identification information is no longer reliable due to Caller ID Spoofing Infographics and Automated Dialing Software. This software allows callers to:
Prerecord messages and make millions of calls over the internet phone lines in minutes,
Randomly select any phone number to display on your Caller ID. The number displayed could be a local number or even your own number.
Make call from anywhere in the world and lead you to believe it is local caller.
For more information on autodialing see Anatomy of a Robocall.
Do NOT trust your Caller ID and do not answer a call from an unknown phone number. If you do anwer the phone and determine it is illegal or just plain annoying, simply hang up. If it is a legitimate caller, they will leave a detailed message (for example,Covid Contact Tracing).
To reduce the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls, place your number on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry (DNC). You can register numbers for both mobile phones and landlines. Placing your number on the DNC registry will help reduce the number of robocalls, however you may still receive calls from charities, political groups, debt collectors and businesses you have estalished a relationship with.
The DNC is designed to stop sales calls from real companies that follow the law. Scammers don’t care if you are on the DNC registry and will call you regardless. View Michigan Telemarketing Laws/Do Not Call List for more information on the FTC’s DNC registry.
Here are a few ways to help you avoid falling victim to a phone scam:
Place your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Don’t trust your Caller ID to identify the caller.
Do not answer calls from unrecognized numbers or callers. Answering unsolicited calls or pressing numbers only verifies a working phone number and a live person to answer, which results in more calls.
Use call-blocking software and talk to your service provider about your options.
If you do happen to answer the phone, remember the following:
It is OK to hang up.
If you think the call is real but you are still concerned, search for the company’s phone number on their website and call that number instead of the number provided by the robocaller.
Most importantly, NEVER give out any money or personal information including address, birthdate, social security number, insurance numbers, account numbers, passwords, or PIN numbers.
If you unintentionally provided financial account information to a suspicious caller, take the following steps immediately:
Contact your financial institution and ask to block unauthorized withdrawals.
Work with your financial institution to close the compromised account and open a new one with a different account number.
If the money has already been withdrawn, immediately ask your financial institution to credit your account as the debit was not authorized.
Follow up with a visit to the bank and provide written notice of the incident and request. Keep copies of all documents and communications.
Check future financial statements and report unauthorized payments or withdrawals as soon as they are detected.
If the information you provided is specific to a personal account, immediately call the fraud department for that company. Follow up in writing by certified mail return receipt requested and include copies (not originals) of supporting documents, and close the account to prevent further unauthorized activity.
Anytime you mistakenly provide personal information to somebody who calls, you should immediatly take the following steps:
Place a fraud alert on your credit report for at least 90 days.
Obtain your free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies. For more information on your right to obtain one free credit report see Free Annual Credit Reports: What Consumers Should Know available on the Attorney General's website.
Report the call to the FTC.
File a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team.
Don’t wait to report the incident, take the necessary steps immediatley to reduce the chance of someone else using your identity to open credit accounts, make large purchases, file taxes, or obtain a service or utility.
It is important to note: Identity Theft is a crime so you should also contact your local law enforcement agency. While authorities may not be able to do much, they can take reports and be on the alert for suspicious behavior that could involve your name or address.
For more information on Identity Theft, see the Attorney General’s Identity Theft Prevention and Identity Theft Recovery consumer alerts. Just remember, it requires little of your time and effort to prevent identity theft from happening in the first place than the amount of time and effort required by you to repair the damage after it has happened.
For more information on specific scams, see the Attorney General’s list of current Consumer Alerts.
To report fraud or if you have a general consumer complaint, contact the Michigan Attorney General:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form