“Hey, are you really from customer service?” How to avoid phone scams (part 2)

When to pay

If anyone is asking for money, don’t even consider paying them until you something in writing from them.  It should either be a contract; a letter confirming the terms; a letter describing the transaction…something.  Not just an e-mail. As we already know, anyone with electricity in Minsk can send you an e-mail and make it look very legit.  Yes, letters can be mocked up. But, letters have return addresses and give you something to hold on to when you are doing follow-up research on them.  Many scam artists are just looking for the quickest buck. 

It would be easy for them to print off a letter.  But, the real crooks will just slide over to the sucker who will let them take the easy way out.  We at the “Casa del Consumer Courage” have a rule: the phrase “we can keep our costs down by NOT sending you a letter” is a magic phrase that we interpret as “Please hang up now.  I mean you harm.” 

And, don’t be in a hurry.  Many a scam have been avoided by the consumer who says “You know what, I’d like to sleep on this.  Let’s talk tomorrow.”  Call it “delayed reasoning.”  Whatever blocked you from realizing that you were going to spend $5,000.00 on an electric dog polisher disappears when you hang up the phone.  Trust us: if a deal is there today, it’ll be there tomorrow.  Take what the person is saying on the other end of the line as a clue.  Are they getting more aggressive right after you tell them you need to think about it?  Do they keep talking about how this deal is going to be gone tomorrow?  That should make you want to sleep on it even more.   

How to pay:

Credit card that’s how.

If you’re making a payment over the phone or on the net, use your credit card.  Not only does it make the folks you’re paying more legit, it protects you much better.  Credit card companies keep track where your money is going and if you get scammed, most of them will put a hold on your payment and make the company you paid prove that they’re on the up-and-up.  (not to mention the fact that your credit card company has to follow the Fair Credit Billing Act, which is very consumer friendly)

Take note: there is a difference between credit cards and debit cards. They may look the same. But, a debit card is more like a check card.  It acts more like a portable ATM and when the vendor charges you for the purchase, the cash is gone.  Debit cards very rarely (if at all) have the fraud-protection that a credit cards have. 

How NOT to pay:

Debit card, green dot card, iTunes card, check by phone.  Scam artists want you to pay with these cards because they act just like cash. Meaning to say: they want funds that can’t be traced to them; won’t give the company that issues the card their name & address and won’t give you the chance to dispute the charge.

These cards all do a very good job of transferring funds – but a lousy job of protecting you.  Anybody who suggests that you “buy a green dot card, iTunes card or any loadable debt card” is bad news. If they say this, you should hear “Run away! Run away!” and hang up the phone (or X-out the website you’re on).

Check by phone payments are also like cash and don’t protect your near as much as credit card payments.  You should really only be using a check by phone to pay a bill to a company that you’ve dealt with before and trust.  

Protect yourself

    • “If you didn’t start the call…..don’t pay them anything at all” – just before you say “YES, take my money” ask yourself if you started the call.  If you didn’t, maybe you should worry.
    • “Can I call you back?” – Scam artists will resist giving you any kind of identifying information.  If you get their number, you can look it up on the web and (maybe) see if they’re bad news.  Even if you can’t, calling them back will give you the chance to think twice, slow down and figure out if they are a legitimate business. 
    • “What’s your name, address & phone number?” – You’re giving them your money, why shouldn’t you get some basic info from them?  Anyone who refuses to give you this information is bad news.  If you asked the guy selling stereos from the trunk of his car for his name and address and he said “You see. I can keep my costs down by not associating my operation with any particular address,” would it make you feel better? 
    • Robo calls….Just Hang up – The Consumer Courage family has a saying in our house “if they don’t care enough to put a human on the line, they don’t get to talk to us.” 

Editor’s confession: Actually, this is my saying. Mrs. Consumer Courage will talk to anybody…and apologize to the robot who dialed us because she’s about to hang up.  It’s cute, actually. 

How do you tell if it’s a robo-call?  When you answer, you know how there’s sometime a two second pause followed by someone who mispronounces your name?  THAT’S how you know it’s a robo-call.  If this happens, say “I’m sorry he’s not here.”  Works every time. 

    • Never ever pay anybody with a green-dot card, debit card or other kind of card you have to “run out and put money on.” (did we say NEVER?)
    • Don’t be in a Hurry – hurrying is the bad guy’s friend.  The quicker you go, the more likely you are to forget everything we’ve told you and make a mistake.  Nothing has to be paid for RIGHT NOW!
    • It’s NOT the government on the line – one of the most popular scams right now happens when the scam artists call and pretend that they’re the IRS. Everybody’s afraid of getting dinged for a tax bill. Did the IRS call you?  If the answer is YES: 1. Thank them; 2. Hang up; and 3. TOMORROW, call the IRS on your own and ask what’s going on.  (Call your local “Taxpayer Advocate,” they’re very nice )
    • Either it’s free or it’s not – Free means you don’t have to pay for it. If someone tells you it’s free and then asks for money, tell them that they need to go find a dictionary so they can look up what the word FREE actually means and that their mother would be very disappointed with how their life turned out.

Don’t make your next phone or internet payment be your last. 

Posted by: Mark Wiseman (who would’ve hyperlinked a longer clip from the Holy Grail, but forgot exactly how aggressive that rabbit really was)