Telemarketing fraud is an estimated $40 billion industry that victimizes about 12 percent of adults every year. Many scams now are perpetrated over the Internet and through email.
The Federal Trade Commission reported (PDF) that of the 1.3 million consumer complaints it received in 2010, identity theft, lotteries and sweepstakes, and impostor scams — such as when someone poses as a relative or friend in trouble and calls and asks for emergency money — were among the most common.
Other frequent frauds involve bogus investments, business opportunities, prescription drug deals and advance loan fees.
Shadel said Americans are more vulnerable to fraud in a bad economy like the current one, due to fears about unemployment, home foreclosures, and investment losses. Indeed, Charles Harwood, deputy director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said his agency has focused its civil enforcement efforts for the past year on schemes that bilk desperate people out of their last dollars by offering them phony credit assistance or work-at-home opportunities.
To avoid becoming a fraud victim, Shadel urges people to avoid getting involved in risky sales situations and emotional persuasion tactics. He offers these tips:
- Stay away from free lunch seminars and don't respond to junk mail.
- To discourage telemarketers, sign up for the national Do Not Call list.
- Check references and business licenses before buying or investing.
- Wait 24 hours after a sales pitch to make a decision.
- Develop a polite "refusal script" to end a telemarketer's call, such as: "This isn't a good time to talk."
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Harris Meyer is a freelance writer based in Yakima, Wash.