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Beware the Telemarketer


9 things to be wary of when the phone rings:

1. High-pressure sales tactics. The call may not begin that way, but if the swindler senses you're not going to be an easy sale, he or she may shift to a hard sell. This is in contrast to legitimate businesses, most of which respect an individual's right to be "not interested."

High-pressure sales tactics take a variety of forms but the common denominator is usually a stubborn reluctance to accept "no" as an answer. Some callers may resort to insult and argument, questioning the prospect's intelligence or ability to make a decision, often ending with a warning that "you're going to be very sorry if you don't do such and such." Or, "you'll never get rich if you don't take a chance."

2. Insistence on an immediate decision. If it's an investment, the caller may say something like, "the market is starting to move even as we talk." For a product or service, the urgency pitch may be that "there are only a few left" or "the offer is about to expire." The bottom line is that swindlers often insist that you should (or must) make your decision right now. And they always give a reason.

3. The offer sounds too good to be true. The oldest advice around is still the best: "An offer that sounds too good to be true probably is." Having said this, however, you should be aware that some phone swindlers are becoming more sophisticated. They may make statements that sound just reasonable enough (if only barely) to keep you from hanging up. Or they may make three or four statements you know to be true so that when they spring the big lie for what they're selling, you'll be more likely to believe that, too. That's where the verbal camouflage comes in.

4. A request for your credit card number for any purpose other than to make a purchase. A swindler may ask you for your credit card number -- or, in the most brash cases, several credit card numbers -- for "identification," or "verification" that you have won something, or merely as an "expression of good faith" on your part. Whatever the ploy, once a swindler has your card number it is likely that unauthorized charges will appear on your account.

5. An offer to send someone to your home or office to pick up the money, or some other method such as overnight mail to get your funds more quickly. This is likely to be part of their "urgency" pitch. It could be an effort to avoid mail fraud charges by bypassing postal authorities or simply a way of getting your money before you change your mind.

6. A statement that something is "free," followed by a requirement that you pay for something. While honest firms may promote free phone offers to attract customers, the difference with swindlers is that you generally have to pay in some way to get whatever it is that's "free." The cost may be labeled as a handling or shipping charge, or as payment for an item in addition to the "prize." Whatever you receive "free" -- if anything -- most likely will be worth much less than what you've paid.

7. An investment that's "without risk." Except for obligations of the U.S. Government, all investments have some degree of risk. And if there were any such thing as a risk-free investment with big profits assured, the caller certainly wouldn't have to dial through the phone book to find investors!

8. Unwillingness to provide written information or references (such as a bank or names of satisfied customers in your area) that you can contact. Swindlers generally have a long list of reasons: "There isn't time for that," or "it's a brand new offer and printed material isn't available yet," or "customer references would violate someone's privacy." Even with references, be cautious, some swindlers pay off a few customers to serve as references.

The caller may also be reluctant to answer questions by phone -- such as inquiries about the firm or even how and where you can contact the firm. The swindler may insist on contacting you "for your convenience."

9. A suggestion that you should make a purchase or investment on the basis of "trust." Trust is a laudable trait, but it shouldn't be dispensed indiscriminately -- certainly not to unknown persons calling on the phone and asking that you send them money. Even so, "trust me" is a pitch that swindlers sometimes employ when all else fails.