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State officials warn consumers to beware of phone scams

FILE"” The Utah Division of Consumer Protection continues to receive reports from residents receiving automated telemarketing calls offering deals on hotel vacations, student loan debt relief and credit card offers, along with solar energy promotions.
FILE"” The Utah Division of Consumer Protection continues to receive reports from residents receiving automated telemarketing calls offering deals on hotel vacations, student loan debt relief and credit card offers, along with solar energy promotions.
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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Consumer Protection continues to receive reports from residents receiving automated telemarketing calls offering deals on hotel vacations, student loan debt relief and credit card offers, along with solar energy promotions.

While the Federal Trade Commission has taken various actions against companies since the enaction of the Telemarketing Sales Rule in September 2009, investigators nationwide are reporting a rapid rise in robocall complaints.

Officials contend that as telemarketing technology has become cheaper, millions of automated calls are easy to program and have become harder for investigators to trace. The Federal Communications Commission reports Americans received 29 billion unwanted prerecorded calls last year.

"All we can do is warn people not to pick up those calls," said Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. "Let it go to your answering machine. Nine times out of 10, those calls will not leave a message."

Giani advised Utah consumers to make sure their home and mobile phone numbers are listed on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry. While phone numbers on the registry never expire, officials recognize the registry is not an overall solution to fight all prerecorded pitches, she said.

“Telemarketers know persistence pays off and someone will eventually take the bait,” Giani said. “Bottom line: Don’t answer calls or texts from numbers you don’t recognize, and make sure your home and cell numbers are entered in the Do Not Call Registry.”

Sadly, many senior citizens do not have caller ID, putting them at higher risk for telemarketing scams, she noted.

Regulators point out that some prerecorded calls are allowable under existing telemarketing laws. For example, phone messages that pass on information such as outstanding debts, school closings, airline flight updates or doctor’s appointment reminders are permissible.

Additionally, political calls and messages from charities on their own behalf are also exempt from regulation. What is not allowed are businesses contacting you with the intent to sell you a product or services without your consent, Giani explained.

"We need to be more vigilant to try to stop some of this (fraud)," she said.

Consumers are also advised to be aware of telemarketing calls that use “spoofing” techniques to pose as a local phone number to deceive consumers into answering a sales call. The techniques are often used in imposter schemes where the caller poses as a government or business with threats of lawsuits, arrest warrants or other scams to coerce consumers into giving their account information over the phone or via text.

“Spoofing can happen to anyone,” said Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. "I received a call on my cellphone that looked like my number was calling me. Instead, it was another robocall."

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Consumer tips for robocalls

• Don’t answer calls or texts from numbers you don’t know. If you do answer the phone, don’t respond to the invitation to press a number to opt out of future calls. This action only verifies that yours is a working number and makes you a target for future contact.

• Register your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry online or by calling 888-382-1222.

• Contact your phone company. Companies such as T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have technology to help combat robocalls.

• Do not answer “yes” to any robocall or telemarketing questions. Some calls may try to trick consumers into agreeing to fees or charges by asking them if they can “hear me now."

• Be aware of imposter calls posing as government or known businesses. Some calls may use ambush threats to try to steal your personal account and identity over the phone. If you get a call that sounds alarming, hang up and contact the government agency or company directly to find out more information before acting.

Source: Utah Division of Consumer Protection