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Ten tips

By LAURA T. COFFEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

Protect yourself from telemarketing fraud

According to the National Fraud Information Center, consumers lose an estimated $40-billion a year through telemarketing fraud. What's more, the FBI estimates that 14,000 illegal telephone sales operations are running in the United States. The following tips can help you avoid the most common forms of fraud.

* * *

1. Work-at-home schemes. If you receive a pitch to do envelope-stuffing work at home, it's likely an illegal pyramid scheme that will entice more and more people to spend money in order to find out how to make money. Never pay upfront for information about working from home.

2. Prizes and sweepstakes. Fraudulent telemarketers often say you've won a prize, then ask you to pay upfront fees or buy something before you can collect. Others ask for your credit card number, bank account information, Social Security number or money to cover "taxes," something only the government collects.

3. Advance-fee loans. Many companies claim they can "guarantee" loans for people with credit problems. Consumers who respond often are asked to pay upfront fees ranging from $100 to several hundred dollars to secure a loan. Such schemes are scams.

4. Magazine subscription deals. If you receive a magazine subscription pitch and you're not careful, you could be tricked into paying hundreds of dollars for multiyear subscriptions. Before buying anything, get a copy of the contract in writing.

5. Telephone slamming. Victims of "slamming" have their long-distance telephone service changed to another company without their permission. Examine your telephone bill carefully. If you spot a change, call your local phone company and insist that you be switched back to your original service at no cost.

6. Buyers clubs. Unless you really want to pay for it, don't agree to "try" a buyers club that promises access to travel services or merchandise at reduced rates. You may be charged for membership during the trial period, and it may be difficult to cancel. Get details in writing before agreeing to join.

7. Credit card loss protection plans. Again, request details in writing before joining. You may have such coverage through your credit card company, and federal law provides considerable protection anyway. Such a pitch may be a ruse to get your credit card number by asking you to "verify" it.

8. Nigerian money offers. Such scams involve requests for help in transferring millions of dollars of excess money out of Nigeria. People who agree to help are promised a percentage of the total. They inevitably end up paying large administrative and insurance fees, and they never receive a dime.

9. Telephone pay-per-call services. You can be tricked into paying for calling an 800 number by following instructions to dial "personal activation codes" that are access codes to "pay-per-call" numbers, such as 900 numbers.

10. If you've been victimized. Report the company to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (800-HELP-FLA), the Better Business Bureau (800-955-5100) and the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060).

-- Sources: National Fraud Information Center and the Better Business Bureau.

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