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Telemarketing Scams – Do Not Call Registry

Unwanted sales calls can be a nuisance.

Even worse, some telemarketers call to try to steal your money or your identity.

Telemarketing Scams

While some telemarketers call to sell you something, other telemarketers want to steal your money or your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that fraudulent telemarketers scam as much as $40 billion a year from U.S. consumers. Watch Dialing for Dollars, an excerpt from our consumer protection video Standing Up, Fighting Back, to learn how to avoid telemarketing scams.

To make sure you don’t fall victim to telemarketing scams, follow these tips:

  • You never have to make a purchase or pay taxes, fees or other expenses in advance to receive a prize. Anyone who demands an upfront fee for a prize is trying to scam you.
  • Never make an advance payment for a loan or credit card. It is illegal under state and federal law to require payment in advance in order to receive a loan or credit card, or to be referred to someone who’ll issue you a loan or credit card.
  • Telemarketers who pitch lottery tickets over the phone are trying to cheat you. It’s illegal to offer lottery tickets over the phone or through the mail.
  • Never give your bank account, credit card or Social Security number to someone you don’t know who calls you on the phone.
  • Unless you are familiar with the company, do not respond to mailings and email messages concerning sweepstakes or lottery prizes.  Doing so can get you on a list of potential targets that is purchased by fraudulent telemarketers around the world.
  • Watch out for that check!  Telephone con artists will send you checks to cover taxes or fees on your prize or award.  They direct you to deposit the check in your bank account and then wire them cash.  The check may look real enough to fool your bank, but it is a counterfeit check  and the money you wire will end up coming out of your own funds.
  • Watch out for your senior citizen friends and family. Be especially vigilant about seniors who suffer from early stage Alzheimer’s Disease, other forms of memory loss or depression.
  • Crooks frequently use reloadable debit cards like Green Dot MoneyPaks as a method to get money from victims. Once money has been loaded onto the card, the scammer gets the card’s account number from the victim and quickly empties the account through an electronic transaction that can’t be traced.
  • Frequent trips to Western Union or Moneygram or frequent pick-ups by overnight courier services can be signs that someone is a victim of telemarketing fraud. Once a fraudulent telemarketer discovers a victim, that victim’s name will be sold to hundreds of other scammers.
  • Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry to cut down on telemarketing sales calls. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll know that many telemarketers who call are probably out to scam you.

Telemarketing con artists are creative, coming up with new tricks every day to scam unsuspecting North Carolina residents.The callers prey on anyone who answers a phone, but especially seniors and others who have responded to phony sweepstakes or other scams before.These examples of scams we know have been successful for fraudulent telemarketers give you an idea of the tricks they play.

Common Telemarketing Tricks

Counterfeit Checks From Phony Lottery & Sweepstakes Companies

You receive a check for $2,000 to $5,000 that appears to be from an International Lottery. Then you receive a phone call from overseas saying that you have won a million dollar lottery or sweepstakes prize in Canada, Australia or some other country. The scammer tells you that the check was sent to cover fees, taxes or insurance on the award. You are instructed to deposit the check and then wire the money to pay those fees. Ultimately your bank determines that the check is counterfeit, but you have already wired money to the overseas scammers—money that came out of your own funds.

A common variation of this scam involves a counterfeit check and a cover letter announcing that you have won an award. The letter provides a toll-free number and invites you to call for further instructions. When you call, the scam proceeds as described above: you are instructed to deposit the check and then wire the money to cover fees, insurance and taxes on the award. But the check is counterfeit and the scammer keeps the money that you send.

International Lotteries

A caller offers to enroll you in the best overseas lottery opportunity each week. As a convenience to you, the caller proposes to charge the cost of this service to your credit card or checking account. You are typically charged $10 to $100 a week for months. Occasionally, the scammer may offer a special opportunity on a sure bet lottery package for $5,000 – $10,000. The scammer will pay out small sums in “winnings” from time to time to keep you interested, but the scammer is not really enrolling you in any lotteries. Learn more about sweepstakes and lotteries and counterfeit checks.

Payment Processor or “Money Mule” Scam

You are invited to earn money by providing international payment processing services. If you sign up, you will start to receive cash, checks and wire transfers from across the United States. Your job will be to forward the funds overseas immediately via wire transfers, after deducting a 10% commission for yourself. In reality, the money you receive comes from elderly fraud victims and you will be wiring it to the scammers who defrauded those victims. In many cases this scam, which makes the victim an accessory to fraud, is targeted at individuals who have themselves lost a lot of money to these same overseas scammers.

“Grandma/Grandpa, It’s Me!”

A young caller begins their conversation, “Grandma (or Grandpa), it’s me! Don’t you know who this is?” If you volunteer the name of a grandchild, the caller adopts that name and then pretends to need assistance. The caller begs “please don’t tell my parents” because they say they’ve been arrested, hospitalized, had a car wreck or gotten in trouble. The fake grandchild then sends a friend to your home to pick up cash or a check or asks you to wire them money. Losses can range from $200 to $20,000. If you wire money, another scammer may call pretending to be a jailer or attorney, requesting more money for bail or fines.

Recent victims of this scam have stated that the callers knew detailed information about their grandchildren or other family members, information possibly shared by family members on websites such as Facebook. This scam is frequently used against seniors.

Guaranteed Government Grants

A caller says you appear to be qualified for a free, guaranteed government grant because of your age, employment status, or where you live. The caller asks a few questions, such as, “Have you ever been delinquent on your taxes or been convicted of a felony?” When you say “no” the caller says you definitely will receive the grant. The caller then requests your bank account information in order to deposit the grant money. But instead of putting money in, the scammer withdraws money and you don’t receive any grants. Victims often lose several hundred dollars. Another version of this scam lures you into paying thousands of dollars for help applying for grants. Learn more about grant scams.

Sweetheart Scams (Internet and Telephone)

You are contacted by someone (often from overseas) who has seen the personal information you posted on a social networking or dating website. The “sweetheart” uses email and phone conversations to strike up a friendship which eventually blooms into a romance. Once you are sufficiently smitten, your new love interest pretends to be in the hospital or in jail overseas and asks you to wire money to them, often repeatedly. Learn more about sweetheart scams.

Advance Fee Loan Scams

You call the toll-free number from a classified ad in a local newspaper or shopping guide that guarantees a loan or credit card to people with no credit, poor credit, prior bankruptcies or inadequate incomes. The person who answers your call confirms that you will receive the loan or credit card, after you pay a fee. The fee is said to cover processing, credit insurance, a security deposit or the first and last month’s payments.

Scammers who are based in Canada often pressure you to wire the fee to them. Other scammers, usually based in Florida or California, ask for your checking account number so they can draft the account for the fee. The Canadian scammers send nothing after receiving your money, while the U.S.-based scammers may send you lists of banks that offer credit cards. Sometimes they send catalogs of over-priced merchandise and a plastic card, which is good only for charging part of the price of items listed in the catalog. Typical losses from advanced fee scams range from $199 to $2,000.

North Carolina ranks high in the number of victims of this scam. Frequent targets are enlisted military personnel and blue collar workers. In some instances, the scammers call the consumers directly after purchasing their credit information from banks which have turned them down for loans or credit cards.

Telemarketers are also purchasing the names and numbers of consumers with poor credit. They call and say that for a few hundred dollars, they can fix your credit by removing negative items on your credit report regardless of whether they are accurate. However, accurate items on credit reports cannot be removed and consumers can get truly erroneous information removed from a credit report at no cost. Learn more about advance fee scams and credit repair scams.

Credit Card or Identity Theft Insurance

A caller claims to be able to protect you from identity theft and from thieves who might steal your credit card numbers using the Internet. The caller warns that thieves will run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts in your name, and that you will be liable unless you purchase protection for $200-$600. In fact, federal law already protects you from liability for such theft and for misuse of your credit card numbers.

Secret Shopper Scam

You are invited to become a “secret shopper,” someone who gets paid for conducting business with a company and then evaluating its performance. You receive detailed instructions on how to test the Western Union or MoneyGram wire transfer system, along with a check for several thousand dollars. You are told to deposit the check into your account, wire 90 percent of the funds to a person located overseas, and then immediately fill out an online questionnaire about your experience. Days after you deposit the check and wire the funds overseas, your bank says that the check was counterfeit and that your account has been debited in the amount of the check.

Utility Company Cut-off Scam

You are contacted by an individual who presents himself as a utility company employee. The phony utility agent claims that your water, gas or electric bill is past due and that your service is about to be cut off. You can prevent disconnection by paying your bill and late charges. If the scammer is standing at your front door, he will accept cash or a check. If he has called you on the telephone, you can pay by providing your checking account or credit card number. This scam is frequently used against seniors.

Check Processing & Check Overpayment Scams

You receive a letter, telephone call, or email from someone who claims that they have received a check for several thousand dollars that they cannot cash in their own country. In this variation of the overseas money transfer scam and the sweepstakes scam, the scammer asks for your help cashing the check. The scammer endorses the check and sends it to you, asking you to deposit it and keep 20 percent while sending them the other 80 percent. The check appears to be from a U.S. car dealership, computer company or some other legitimate business, and it bears a valid account number for that business. Days after your money is wired overseas, your bank reports that the check is counterfeit and will not be honored. Learn more about counterfeit check scams.

Overseas Money Transfers (Nigerian Scams)

Via fax, email, or regular mail, you receive an impassioned plea from someone who claims to live in Nigeria or another developing country. They may present themselves as a former high government official, or perhaps a relative of a former dictator. They claim to need to transfer several million dollars into the U.S. and offer to pay you a 25 percent commission to use your account to make the transfer. The person requests absolute secrecy, and suggests the funds may not have been obtained legitimately. They may also ask for several thousand dollars, supposedly to bribe a foreign government official who is blocking transfer of the millions into your account. In recent variations of this old scam, the fax, email or letter will claim that the smuggled money is intended for orphans or a religious ministry. These are ploys to acquire your bank account number and then drain the account of funds. Learn more about Nigerian scams.

“Your Distant Relative Has Died in our Country”

In this variation of the overseas money transfer scam, you receive a message from someone who claims that you are the sole heir of a distant relative who died in a foreign country and left an estate worth millions of dollars. The estate needs to be wrapped up quickly or it will be forfeited to the government. You are asked to wire funds to help pay for some aspect of the transaction (taxes, insurance, estate administration costs, money to bribe crooked officials, etc.). After each payment the scammer comes up with another reason for you to send more money.

Alarming Message From the Bank (Phishing and Vishing Scams)

You receive an email that appears to be from your bank. Because of a problem with the bank’s computer or security system, the email says, you need to provide important account information immediately. The email may contain a link to a web page where the account information can be entered. But the web page, which may appear legitimate, is phony. The information you provided is used to steal money from your account. This is called a phishing scam because crooks use bait (a message that appears to come from a trusted source) to lure you into providing confidential information. Phishing scammers pose as banks or other financial institutions, insurance companies, social networking sites, online payment vendors, online auction websites, or even the Internal Revenue Service.Another variation of this scam, called vishing (voice phishing) starts with an email or text message that asks you to call a telephone number to provide your account information. The scammers set up an automated call menu where you enter your personal bank account numbers and other financial information using your telephone. Learn more about phishing scams.

Predatory Mortgage Lending

An unscrupulous mortgage lender offers you a loan to consolidate your debts, help your grandchildren go to college, or pay for home improvements. But the loan is a bad deal for you because it includes a high interest rate, expensive fees for unnecessary options like credit life insurance or disability insurance, brokerage commissions, “points” and origination costs.

Your loan terms may also include a balloon payment so that the entire amount of the mortgage loan is due after just a few years. At that point the lender may offer to refinance the loan, claiming this will lower payments. Instead, more fees get tacked on to the loan.

The end result is that you can quickly lose most of the equity in your home (a process known as equity stripping) while continuing to face high payments for what might have originally been a modest mortgage loan. Predatory mortgage loans often target seniors whose home mortgages have already been paid off. This scam is frequently used against seniors. Learn more about predatory lending.

Future Church Member Scam

Your church receives a call from someone claiming to be a priest or pastor in another state. The phony clergyman claims that a valued female member of their church is moving to North Carolina with her children and intends to join your church or parish. They provide the names of the family members and the date they will arrive in your town. On that date, which is usually a Friday or Saturday, a woman claiming to be the future church member calls to say that her car has broken down and she and her children are stranded in Maryland or Virginia. She says that the mechanic will not accept her out-of-state check, and if funds (usually $500-$800) can be wired to her, she can get the car repaired and arrive in time for the Sunday service. She apologizes for the imposition and promises to repay the money. But after the money is sent, the supposed new member of the church and her former pastor are never heard from again.

Sound-alike Charities and Law Enforcement Groups

Some questionable charities try to deceive you by using names that are similar to well-known, legitimate charities. They often adopt names that sound like law enforcement agencies because they know people generally support law enforcement, and because some people may be intimidated by a call from someone who claims to be with a police organization. Ask the caller to send you information by mail so you can check out the organization before contributing to them. If you want to support a particular group, such as your local police or schools, contact them directly to find out the best way to do so.

Professional Charitable Solicitors

You are contacted by a professional fundraiser on behalf of a legitimate charity or community group. Unless you ask, fundraisers do not have to tell you how much of your donation they will keep. Some keep as much as 90 percent, so ask how much of your contribution would go to the worthy cause and how much would go toward fundraising. You can also ask to receive written information about the charity’s fundraising. Instead of responding to individual solicitations, you may want to contribute directly to your favorite legitimate charities. Learn more about giving to charity and charity scams.

Driveway Paving Scam

A paving contractor knocks on your door. He says his crew just finished paving another driveway in the neighborhood. He claims to have some leftover paving material and offers an excellent deal on paving your driveway. The driveway is coated with an oily substance or a very thin layer of asphalt. Not long after you pay $3,000 – $6,000 for your driveway, the new surface crumbles or washes away. This scam is perpetrated by roving contractors who strike an area and move on quickly, and is frequently used against seniors. Learn more about home repair scams.

Telemarketing Fraud

Telemarketing fraud isn’t just annoying, it’s criminal. Smooth-talking telemarketers trick unsuspecting victims into sending money, or telling their bank account or credit card numbers.

The scams frequently promise lottery winnings if you forward cash to pay foreign “taxes,” or pretend to be legitimate charities asking for contributions.

We’re fighting these criminals and shutting them down. If you have been a victim of telemarketing fraud, file a complaint so we can try to help. And watch Dialing for Dollars, an excerpt from our consumer protection video Standing Up, Fighting Back, to learn how to avoid telemarketing scams.

With the public’s help, the private sector and law enforcement agencies can defeat this menace.

The NC Telemarketing Fraud Prevention Project

The project, funded by the Governor’s Crime Commission and a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, fights telemarketing fraud through public-private initiatives that enhance the investigation and prosecution of telemarketing fraud rings.

These sophisticated rings, most of which operate outside the state or outside the country, target North Carolina because of our high number of retirees, enlisted military personnel and low-income workers.

We fight back by increasing public awareness of telemarketing fraud, alerting consumers to the signs of frauds in progress and asking for help in thwarting fraud attempts.

The project has brought a number of enforcement actions against telemarketing fraudsters to shut them down.

How the Project Fights Fraud

The multi-billion dollar North American fraud industry succeeds because its members network to share criminal skills and likely victims. Through similar networking by the public and private sectors, we can combat telemarketing fraud.

Here’s how we do it. An investigator with specialized knowledge investigates and brings cases, and assists prosecutors as they work cases involving NC victims. We help with trial work and the maintenance of a specialized law enforcement database.We collaborate with Canadian, British and other foreign law enforcement agencies, the FBI, US Customs, US Postal Inspection Service, US Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement in other states to increase criminal and civil enforcement actions against fraudulent telemarketers.

We work with the more than 40 agencies and organizations in the North Carolina Senior Consumer Fraud Task Force to collect information on fraud incidents and share the latest information on fraud techniques.

Public and media appearances by the Attorney General and his staff around the state warn consumers. We hold “Scam Jams,” sponsored by the Better Business Bureaus, AARP, local police and others around the state.We work with financial institutions, money transmitters (“wire transfer”) companies, overnight couriers, telephone companies and others to obtain intelligence on the fraud industry’s activities and to keep their services from being employed by the criminals.

Stop Telemarketers

Stop unwanted phone calls by signing up for the Do Not Call Registry. It’s fast, free and effective. Telemarketers must stop calling your home phone or cell phone numbers in most cases if you add your numbers to the Do Not Call list.

How To Join the Do Not Call Registry

Call toll free (888) 382-1222 to add your numbers or join by email at

What If Telemarketers Keep Calling?

Stop telemarketers who keep calling you by filing a complaint with Attorney General Josh Stein.
If a telemarketer who shouldn’t call does anyway, they’ll hear from us. We’ve taken action against dozens of companies that have broken Do Not Call laws, winning more than $1 million from violators.

Telemarketing Fraud

Some telemarketers aren’t just a bother, they’re criminals out to steal your money and your personal information. If you or someone you know has been scammed by phone, let us know. We work to shut down telemarketing fraud rings, and sometimes we can get your money back.You can also read about common telemarketing scams, and watch Dialing for Dollars (an excerpt from our consumer protection video Standing Up, Fighting Back), to learn how to avoid telemarketing scams.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a telemarketing scam, contact us for help or call toll free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.  We’ll work to stop wire transfers or bank drafts by the scammers and help you avoid future scams.

If the call appears to come from Canada or mentions Canada, also contact the Canadian telemarketing fraud task force Operation PhoneBusters at (888) 495-8501.

If you’ve signed up for the Do Not Call Registry but still get telemarketing calls, let us know about it. Your complaints help us take action against telemarketers that violate the law.