How to Spot a Telephone Scam

Americans lose an estimated $40 billion each year to telephone scams. The simple fact is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam. There are many forms of telephone fraud but here are a few of the most common.

Travel Offers

Travel offers by telephone are a major area for consumer telephone scams. It involves a company calling consumers and falsely informing them they have been personally selected to receive a special offer. In reality, the consumer hasn’t won anything but was randomly called by an autodialing system in most cases. The so-called offer is usually a discount travel package, travel club membership, or timeshare. These offers are not prizes but are actually solicitations. Additionally, these telephone scam travel offers are never actually a good value. They include exorbitant hidden fees and costs and often require you to sit through long-winded sales presentations for over-priced and under-valued travel packages.

Free Prize Notifications

Telephone scams often involve fake prize notifications to obtain money and information from consumers. The telephone scam works like this. The company calls consumers randomly to inform the consumer they have won a prize. They then require a payment of fees from the consumer for shipping, handling, membership, or some other nonsense. Some of these con artists are stealing the fees outright while others use the credit card or banking information fraudulently to steal even larger amounts. Many of these prize notification scams are also framed as travel offers as discussed above.


It is unconscionable that anyone would steal money from consumers under the guise of soliciting charitable donations but the simple fact is that it happens every day. Many calls you receive are actually from charities with legitimate needs but never pay them by telephone unless you know exactly who they are through some independent means. For example, Friends of MS calls my home four or five times every year but we know exactly with whom we are dealing. The same caller, whom we now know by name, calls us each time and never even asks for money by telephone. Instead, they want clothing donations left on our doorstep. In contrast, the people committing telephone scams won’t want clothing, they will want cash or credit card information by telephone and they will want it right now.

Under Utah Law legitimate charities are required to obtain registration from the state and provide you with their permit number and what percentage of your donation will go toward the charitable purpose. You can check these permits at the Utah Division of Consumer Protection website.

Fraudulent Debt Collections

Some telephone scam artists will call you to collect a debt you do not owe. Venerable consumers sometimes make a payment over the telephone just to escape the uncomfortable pressure exerted by these crooks. If a company calls to collect a debt always ask for written validation of the debt but do not provide them with your address. If the debt is actually yours they already have your contact information. If they then fail to send written proof of the debt and their identity and you don’t recognize the debt as yours they are probably scamming you.

Advance Fee Loans

Some telephone scam companies will call to offer you a loan. To do so they will require a payment from you in advance. These companies are either stealing from you outright by using the information for that advance fee to access and drain your account or they are planning to deny your loan while keeping the non-refundable advance fee. Either way, it is a scam. Use banks or credit unions if you need a legitimate loan.

Investment Fraud

Investment advice is never reliable when obtained through a telephone call you did not initiate. Nonetheless, many consumers fall victim to investment telephone scams when they think they are privy to inside information about an investment. These con artists will use every high-pressure sales technique in the book and even instruct you to keep your involvement secret as if you are somehow invited into an inner circle of investment gurus. The truth is that actual investment advisors never cold call potential investors and request money over the phone.


The best advice to avoid being ripped off by a telephone scam artist is to never buy anything from a company or person calling you cold. If they won’t provide you with written notification of a prize, travel offer, debt collection, or other solicitation then they are scamming you. Legitimate companies will always openly and willingly provide you with written information about themselves and their services and products and a telephone scam company usually won’t.

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