Rachel is back after a brief absence. She offers to reduce interest due on credit cards. I am surprised Rachel has not changed her name because she no doubt has a file of stolen identities to choose from.
If you never pay interest on a credit card, it should not be hard to recognize Rachel as a scam. Credit card interest is not a scam because it is disclosed and legal, but it is the highest of all interest rates and should be avoided at all costs.
Telemarketing is not illegal but it is infested with scam artists. If you receive an unsolicited call from a stranger for a product or service not requested, you should suspect a scam. If you are not interested in the product or service, the easiest action is to just hang up and say nothing. The telemarketer has interrupted you, so you owe them no courtesy.
Television ads offering to cure all ailments known to mankind, or offering other services, and invite you to call a telephone number may lead to the same thing. Before dialing the number, it is good to check the authenticity of the product or service with a trusted doctor, pharmacist or trusted adviser in the field advertised.
If you have any interest in the product or service, the best thing to do is ask for the identity of the caller and a street address, not a P.O. Box. An evasive answer or an attempt to change the subject or ask questions about you is an indication of a scam.
Scam artists will try to lure you into a conversation to obtain your trust, and often do not ask for anything until the second or third conversation.
Repeated requests for this information will cause some scam artists to hang up. Do not under any circumstance send an advance payment for anything you have not requested or received. You are not likely to see your money again. Do not under any circumstances give out personal information, a Social Security number, bank information or even where you live.
If you would prefer not to bother with this or suspect you might be gullible to a high-pressure sales pitch, you can shut out a lot of telemarketing by simply asking to be put on the Do Not Call list for both your landline and cellphone by calling 888-382-1222. Be aware, however, that this does not screen out solicitations from charities, and some other calls may slip though.
A slightly more difficult call to deal with is one purporting to be from a recognized legitimate entity, government agency, bank, utility or legitimate businesses.
To begin with, most organizations of this nature do not connect with customers through telemarketers, so you should respond with suspicion. One can often detect a scam by requesting the identity and business address of the caller. You can then ask to verify that information by calling the organization — not the number given by the telemarketer, but the number in your local telephone book. No representative of a legitimate organization should object to this.
An example of this type of scam would be FedEx asking for an advance payment for delivering a package. Normally the sender pays to send the package. Another example might be a utility calling with a friendly suggestion on how to reduce your bill. These offers are usually received by mail with a verifiable address. The rule against making advance payments for any product or service you did not order is universal.
Finally, scam artists are skilled at high-pressure salesmanship. Beware of any offer that will go away unless accepted immediately. Take time to think the offer over.
These are common-sense suggestions that you have no doubt heard before.
However, the reason there are so many successful scams is because the victim acts emotionally rather than rationally. Scam artists are experts in creating a state of mind in which the victim does not act rationally.
Peter T. Hoss is a retired lawyer and an adviser to Legal Services for Seniors.