Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them

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Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them

Phone scams are currently one of the biggest annoyances people face on a daily basis, not to mention a source of a lot of illegal activities. All it takes is one mistake, one slip up on the part of a consumer, and they will take advantage of you. Unfortunately, these scammers still find victims on the phone every day.

Let me put this into perspective for you. Has anyone ever walked up to you on the street, or even to your front door, and handed you 100’s or even 1000’s of dollars? No? Me neither. The likelihood of that happening is more likely than someone on the phone calling to offer me something that is a good deal for me, or even real! My home and cell phone numbers have been on the Do Not Call list for many years. However, our company’s phone line is published in many places, as one would expect a business phone line to be. So it a common target. Some of the offers are legitimate but unwanted and unsolicited by us. But we get our share of scammers as well.

Before you do anything else, make sure you have added your phone numbers to the National Do Not Call list. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Good. That will help some. Now, let me tell you a little story you will enjoy.

A while back, I had a Georgia phone number call, with a recorded message about how urgently they needed to talk to me about a debt. Normally, I would hang up, but since it was my business line, and I was sitting at my computer, the private investigator part of me kicked in. I pushed the button to talk to a representative, while I quickly traced the number, found a company name associated with the number, and then started digging up info on that company. Suddenly a live person came on the line, and I instantly recognized that the person I was talking to was the same person on the recording, as he had a distinctive voice. I concluded that this was a small, possibly one man operation. I started the conversation with the man, sounding like a cautious consumer, but keeping him on the hook. After a couple of minutes of explanations (which gave me time to find the info I needed), I address the man by a first name, which I suspected was his. His reaction, which was a long pause, told me I had struck gold. He fumbled a little, thrown off his script. I addressed him by his full name the second time. Suddenly, the tables were turned. He didn’t know who I was, but I knew who he was. Now flustered and somewhat angry, he asked me who I was and why I called him. “I didn’t call you, you called me. Unfortunately, you made the mistake of calling a private investigation office with your scam. I know your name, your company name, your registered agent and address. I would recommend you not call here again. In a few minutes I will have a package of information put together to forward to the Georgia Attorney General’s office.” He apologized (a first for me), told me he would delete my number from his list, and asked if there was anything else he could do for me. That’s when I hung up. He never called back.

No doubt, you would just once like to turn the tables on one of those callers. The truth is, they often know some of your personal information already, gathered by legal or sometimes illegal means. Their’s is a numbers game. If they make enough calls, they will stumble on a prospective victim.

If it’s a “robo call” the best bet is to simply hang up. Don’t press any buttons to speak to a person, or to be taken off the list. Both might work, but it’s more likely that you have just confirmed that you are a real person that will interact with these kind of calls, and your number goes on the perpetual list to be called by every scammer out there. You might consider reporting your experience to the FTC online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. 

If you are called by a live person, my personal advice is still to hang up. If I didn’t solicit the call, then I have no interest in doing business with them. If you are on the Do Not Call list they are violating the law, so I really don’t want to do business with law breakers. The following advice comes straight from the Federal Trade Commission’s website:

How to Handle an Unexpected Sales Call

Questions to Ask

When you get a call from a telemarketer, ask yourself:

  • Who’s calling… and why? The law says telemarketers must tell you it’s a sales call, the name of the seller and what they’re selling before they make their pitch. If you don’t hear this information, say “no thanks,” and get off the phone.
  • What’s the hurry? Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics could be hiding something. Take your time. Most legitimate businesses will give you time and written information about an offer before asking you to commit to a purchase.
  • If it’s free, why are they asking me to pay? Question fees you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift. Free is free. If you have to pay, it’s a purchase — not a prize or a gift.
  • Why am I “confirming” my account information — or giving it out? Some callers have your billing information before they call you. They’re trying to get you to say “okay” so they can claim you approved a charge.
  • What time is it? The law allows telemarketers to call only between 8 am and 9 pm. A seller calling earlier or later is ignoring the law.
  • Do I want more calls like this one? If you don’t want a business to call you again, say so and register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If they call back, they’re breaking the law.

Some Additional Guidelines

  • Resist pressure to make a decision immediately.
  • Keep your credit card, checking account, or Social Security numbers to yourself.
  • Don’t tell them to callers you don’t know — even if they ask you to “confirm” this information. That’s a trick.
  • Don’t pay for something just because you’ll get a “free gift.”
  • Get all information in writing before you agree to buy.
  • Check out a charity before you give. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask the caller to send you written informa­tion so you can make an informed decision without being pressured, rushed, or guilted into it.
  • If the offer is an investment, check with your state securities regulator to see if the offer — and the offeror — are properly registered.
  • Don’t send cash by messenger, overnight mail, or money transfer. If you use cash or a money transfer — rather than a credit card — you may lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges. The money will be gone.
  • Don’t agree to any offer for which you have to pay a “registration” or “shipping” fee to get a prize or a gift.
  • Research offers with your consumer protection agency or state Attorney General’s office before you agree to send money.
  • Beware of offers to “help” you recover money you have already lost. Callers that say they are law enforcement officers who will help you get your money back “for a fee” are scammers.
  • Report any caller who is rude or abusive, even if you already sent them money. They’ll want more. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit


If you want some more insight, here’s a link to the FBI’s tips on dealing with telemarketing fraud.

I hope you can avoid the scammers, but remember, you are in control of your phone. Hang up if you don’t like what’s happening on the phone!



Keith Owens is the owner and founder of Owens Investigations.
photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) via photopin cc

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  1. Brian Riley

    Thanks for the tip on putting the phone # on Do Not Call list. I get bombarded with those.

  2. I hope it helps! We have all of our personal phone numbers, land lines and cell phones, listed on the National Do Not Call registry, and it really has eliminated almost all of the legitimate telemarketers. If only there was a list to eliminate the political calls!

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