Tags: Phone | Scams: | 'Whole | World | Sucker | Lists'

Phone Scams: 'Whole World on Sucker Lists'

Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM

What started out in earnest in California in the early 1970s has burgeoned into a criminal juggernaut of massive proportions that recognizes no national boundaries.

The prime target of crooked telemarketing, however, is the lucrative United States-Canadian market.

Canada, which took the early lead in educating its citizenry and cracking down hard on theft-by-phone, is now registering enviable results in reducing the number of victims north of the U.S. border.

At the heart of the Canadian anti-telemarketing scams is a single-minded agency of the Ontario Provincial Police known by the colorful appellation of PhoneBusters.

Its coordinator, Barry Elliott, points with pride to Canada's record in fighting phone swindles within its borders – a reduction in the number of reported victims by more than 90 percent during the past five years.

That doesn't stop him from being apprehensive about the growing success of criminal telemarketing on a global scale.

"The whole world is being set up on sucker lists," he told NewsMax.com in a recent interview from Ontario.

As reported on the PhoneBusters Web site, www.phonebusters.com, Canadians have been bilked by phone calls out of some $40 million since 1995.

But the U.S. "market" for phone swindlers "must be 20 times the size of Canada's," Elliott said. That would put the U.S. "take" in excess of $800 million during that period.

It's not surprising, he said, since telemarketing sales in Canada alone come to half a trillion dollars each year – the vast majority of which are legitimate.

If telemarketing sales in the United States are only half as big as Elliott estimates, that could put the annual combined U.S.-Canadian take at something approaching $6 trillion.

The whole worldwide market exposed to telemarketing criminals defies calculation.

With a potential market that immense, PhoneBusters estimates just one unscrupulous telemarketer acting alone can extort as much as several hundred thousand dollars a year from unsuspecting victims.

"One of the hottest pitches going now," Elliott said, "is the low-interest-rate credit card – which swindlers offer to provide for an advance fee, usually $299 to $399."

The victim is persuaded to send cash or a money order, and that's the last he or she hears from it.

Not only does the swindler steal the victim's money, but he also talks the victim into giving out credit-card and Social Security numbers over the phone. Those numbers are used in turn for further identity-fraud schemes.

Elliott said a current spin-off from the credit-card scam is the low-interest-rate loan. The victim is told over the phone that such a loan may be had for a cash fee paid in advance.

The victim never receives the loan. Embarrassed at being played for a sucker, he or she will often not report the swindle, Elliott said.

To make matters even worse, a confederate of the original con artist will later phone that victim and pose as a law-enforcement or other government official, offering to recover the advance fee – for yet another fee.

Those victims who fall for this follow-on scam are put on prime sucker lists, which are sold to a series of other telemarketing crooks to exploit still further.

Then, there is the identity-protection racket.

Elliott said some victims are so easily conned that they can actually be sweet-talked into giving out their credit-card and Social Security numbers to be used "to prevent their being listed on the Internet."

The PhoneBusters site says swindlers have learned not to waste time on random calls, but instead "maximize their profits by focusing on vulnerable target groups.

"Victims are not chosen at random, but rather are methodically selected because they have savings or assets and are perceived to be susceptible.

"Fraudulent telemarketers often prey on seniors on the assumption that they may be more trusting and polite toward strangers. Offenders have told police their ideal target is an elderly person, home alone, with little or no contact with family members.

"Some have lost their life savings, and have been forced to sell their homes."

While telemarketing scams have multiplied around the world in recent years, so have cooperative efforts to combat them.

PhoneBusters is the designated police agency coordinating efforts against telemarketing crime within Canada. Among its partners are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, law-enforcement agencies in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and a number of major credit-card companies.

Americans as well as Canadians who want to report telemarketing swindles they suspect may have originated in Canada are encouraged to call Phone-Busters toll free at 1-888-495-8501.

Taking a maple leaf from the PhoneBusters book of success, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has set up a similar clearing house of telemarketing-scam information with its Consumer Sentinel Web site, www.consumer.gov/sentinel. Its toll-free identity-theft hotline is 1-877-438-4338.

Further bad news for telemarketer crooks is that 13 nations have joined forces to offer help in protecting their citizens from phone fraud: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States.

This cross-borders Web site is www.econsumer.gov.

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What started out in earnest in California in the early 1970s has burgeoned into a criminal juggernaut of massive proportions that recognizes no national boundaries. The prime target of crooked telemarketing, however, is the lucrative United States-Canadian market. Canada,...
Phone,Scams:,'Whole,World,Sucker,Lists'
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2001-00-24
Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM
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