Consumer Fraud Task Force Warns: If A Call Seems Suspect, Disconnect

  
     
November 18, 2013
Consumer Fraud Task ForceSt. Louis, Mo., Nov. 14, 2013 – The Consumer Fraud Task Force has this advice for bistate residents taking calls from strangers asking for money or personal information: Just say “goodbye.”

Phones long have been important tools for scammers, the Task Force says. Thieves posing as debt collectors, sweepstakes representatives, charity solicitors and salespeople make thousands of calls each day in attempts to pry money and/or information from unwary consumers.

The Task Force recommends that consumers be skeptical when dealing with anyone they do not know – even if the callers claim to represent legitimate businesses or government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service or the FBI.

In recent weeks, consumers across the area have reported a variety of phone schemes:

  • A senior citizen from Chesterfield, Mo., says a caller notified her she had won $1.3 million in cash and a Mercedes Benz in a “Mega Millions” sweepstakes. The caller said that the prizes would be delivered with an FBI escort after the sweepstakes was reimbursed $5,000 in shipping and handling fees. The recipient realized she was the target of a scam and did not send the money.
  • A couple from west St. Louis County lost more than $10,000 after thieves phoned the woman claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service and Indian immigration and demanding past-due taxes. They convinced her to use Green Dot MoneyPak cards to transfer the cash to them.
  • Several seniors from across the St. Louis area said scammers called them claiming to be their grandchildren and pleading for money to help get them out of foreign jails.
  • Several banking customers in mid-Missouri said they received automated calls demanding personal information to unlock their debit cards.
  • Businesses in the region said they were tricked by “free trial offers” from phone solicitors, only to end up being charged for items they say they did not want.
  • The shipping and receiving department at Busch Stadium has been receiving calls from a scammer offering U.S. government grants to buy a car or remodel a home. The thief asked only for a token $200 application fee, to be paid using a difficult-to-trace Green Dot MoneyPak card.
Consumers might consider registering with a do-not-call program in their state or with the federal government, the Task Force says.

The Task Force reminds consumers that there are some legitimate businesses and charities that solicit by phone, but urges that they know who they are dealing with before providing any information. For example, if a caller claims to represent your credit card company, hang up and call back on the number on the back of your credit card. Look also for accurate numbers via the Internet or another source. If you are not familiar with a charity, demand time to research it before promising a donation.

Often, people may feel an obligation to be polite to strange callers, but understand that the longer you stay connected, the higher the likelihood that something bad will happen. If you are suspicious of a call, just hang up. There is no need to offer an explanation.  

The Federal Trade Commission has issued consumer guidelines on dealing with telemarketing scams and other questionable phone solicitations. Other schemes involve free or low cost travel packages, advance fee loans and business and investment opportunities. The full
FTC warning is available at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0076-telemarketing-scams.

The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.

The Task Force has issued prior alerts on a wide variety of questionable business practices including payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare reselling fraud, credit repair, bogus sweepstakes, Internet sweetheart scams, home remodeling and others.

To obtain information, or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:

Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois – (314) 645-3300; www.bbb.org.
Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); www.ftc.gov.
Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.
Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; www.ago.mo.gov.
U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov.
Better Business Bureau in Greater Kansas City – (816) 421-7800; www.bbb.org.

Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, mcorey@stlouisbbb.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), communications@stlouisbbb.org