Inspection Service Seal   Frequently Asked Questions About the 'Dialing for Dollars' Campaign and Telemarketing Fraud

Q: What is "Dialing for Dollars?"
A: "Dialing for Dollars" is a campaign to raise awareness about investment fraud and help consumers avoid becoming victims of fraud. Through newspaper and magazine ads, press releases, and media events, Postal Inspectors hope to educate older Americans and their families about telemarketing fraud and mail fraud schemes.

The cornerstone of our campaign is a new DVD, "Dialing for Dollars." This short film features an investment scheme that targets older Americans. It concludes with prevention tips for consumers.

Q: What is the role of the Postal Inspection Service in consumer protection?
A: Part of the mission of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is to protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse. Our consumer protection mission dates back more than 130 years, to 1872, when Congress enacted the Mail Fraud Statute to combat a post-Civil War outbreak of swindles using the mail. We know the American public trusts the mail, and we want to protect that trust.

Q: Why is the Postal Inspection Service involved in telemarketing fraud investigations and prevention?
A: No law enforcement agency has done more to investigate crooked telemarketing operations than the Postal Inspection Service. Our expertise, built on nearly 125 years of enforcing the Mail Fraud Statute, serves us well.

By definition, telemarketing involves use of the phone. But calls may be preceded or followed by postcards or letters. Most business transactions involve the mail from in some way. Con artists who try to circumvent the mail by using private services, such as UPS or FedEx, are no longer exempt from the law, as the 1994 Crime Bill amended the Mail Fraud Statute to include them.

Q: Who else is involved in this consumer protection effort?
A: A number of agencies are working together to educate older Americans about fraud schemes. They include these groups:

  • The U.S. Congress is planning a congressional resolution proclaiming October 2004 as "Protecting Older Americans from Fraud" month.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice is involved in the criminal prosecution of fraudulent telemarketers.
  • The Federal Trade Commission is providing a phone number you can call to report complaints and will have staff available to handle inquiries and take requests for information packets.
  • Call For Action is an international, non-profit network of consumer hot lines affiliated with broadcast media to help individuals and small businesses resolve consumer-related problems. Free and confidential mediation assistance is provided by 1,200 trained professionals.
  • Other consumer and older American advocate groups, such as the Better Business Bureau and AARP, work to get fraud prevention messages to the American public.

Q: How has the Postal Inspection Service been involved in other consumer fraud prevention efforts?
A: The Postal Inspection Service has developed and sponsored several highly successful consumer-awareness campaigns:

  • During Project Know Fraud, the largest consumer-protection effort in history, we mailed postcards to every home in America offering telemarketing fraud prevention tips.
  • A consumer protection project in 2002 was aimed at helping older Americans. Postal Inspectors partnered with the Senior Action Coalition in the campaign, which featured actress Betty White as the spokesperson.
  • Last year, actor Jerry Orbach served as spokesperson for an aggressive Postal Inspection Service campaign designed to increase awareness of identity theft and provide tips on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Q: Tell me more about the DVD.
A: "Delivering Justice: Dialing for Dollars," is a story about an older man who considers investing in what his daughter, a U.S. Postal Inspector, thinks might be a shady investment scheme. The DVD illustrates that even people with financial sophistication can be dazzled by skilled scammers. The story offers practical advice on how to spot scams and avoid losing money to investment fraud.

Q: Are all telemarketers shady?
A: No! According to the Direct Marketing Association, the overwhelming majority of telemarketers are honest and offer legitimate products and services through the convenience of phone calls. The problem comes when a few scam artists damage the reputation of honest telemarketers. That's why fraud awareness is so important. Using common sense and prevention tips, you can protect yourself from the few unscrupulous operators and enjoy the convenience offered by honest telemarketers.

Q: Who would fall for a phony telemarketer's pitch?
A: Anyone can be dazzled by the carefully scripted, aggressive pitch of a skilled scam artist. Unfortunately, older Americans continue to be disproportionately targeted by, and lose money to, dishonest fraudsters. As a group, older Americans control much of the individual wealth in this country; they've had a whole lifetime to build their fortunes, and scammers go where the money is. Since many older Americans live on fixed incomes and must cope with the rising costs of medical care, and even basic daily necessities, they may be vulnerable to "opportunities" to increase their income.

Q: Why can't you just arrest the people who commit fraud?
A: The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, as well as other law enforcement agencies, arrests hundreds of criminal telemarketers every year. But it's more efficient to promote awareness and prevention than to rely solely on law enforcement groups to eliminate or reduce fraud. Further, many schemes are operated by people outside the United States. The complexities of international law enforcement groups can make arrests and prosecutions difficult. Worse, it's unlikely that a victim's money can be recovered.

Fraud is one of the few crimes in which the victim can actively decline to participate. If we can educate the public to be aware of, and avoid, shady schemes, we can reduce the number of victims and their losses far more effectively than by only seeking criminal prosecution.

Q: How can I stop unsolicited telemarketing calls?
A: Visit the FTC's Web site and follow the instructions, or call the FTC at 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236). You should call from the number that you wish to register.

Q: I may have been a victim of telemarketing fraud. How do I report it?
A: Find your nearest local office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by visiting our Web site or, in the United States, call the FTC at 1-877-987-3728, or file a complaint online at the FTC's Web site.

Q: If people can put their names on a "no call" list, why all the emphasis on this campaign?
A: Some people, particularly older Americans, continue to be targeted by unscrupulous, fast talking, high pressure telephone schemes. Others aren't comfortable registering their phones on a "no call" list. New schemes constantly pop up, and new victims enticed into participation. It's important we keep public awareness at a high level.

Q: How big is the telemarketing fraud problem? How much money is lost?
A: Different sources will cite different numbers, but it's thought that fraud costs the American public upwards of $40 billion a year.

Q: How would I recognize a phony telemarketing scheme?
A: There are a number of characteristics that, while not positive proof of fraud, should raise some "red flags" in your mind:

  • Promises of unusually large returns on your initial investment.
  • Pressure to make up your mind quickly (they may cite "limited availability").
  • Is the price of the investment or other opportunity lower than fair value? It may be artificially low to entice you to buy and "get in on the ground floor." Don't do it!
  • Does the solicitor have a snappy answer to your every question? Good solicitors know their products, but if their answers seem too quick, too smooth, or "too good to be true," you need to exercise extra caution.

Q: I'm not yet an "older American," but my parents are. What can I do to help them?
A: First, talk to them. Point out the risks of "buying into" every offer of unbelievable returns for minimal investments. Look for telltale signs, such as excessive mail from investment brokers or financial institutions. Fraudulent operators often keep their victims on the hook by exaggerating the worth of their investments.

Offer to balance their checkbook and see if they've been writing numerous small checks, or checks for large amounts, to investment brokers or other financial institutions. When you visit older family members, do you notice that their telephone rings a lot, and that it's not their friends or other relatives calling? It could be fraudulent telemarketers.

Q: Can you summarize some consumer prevention tips?

  • Take your time in making a decision to invest-don't rush into accepting "high profit, low risk" offers.
  • Get all information in writing before you consider investing.
  • Check out the firm by calling or going to the Web site of the Better Business Bureau, state Attorney General, or consumer protection agency.
  • List your phone number on the National Do Not Call registry at 1-888-382-1222, or at www.donotcall.gov.
  • For more information on fraud and to receive "Dialing for Dollars," a free DVD on investment fraud from the Postal Inspection Service, call toll-free 1-877-987-3728, or visit the Postal Inspection Service Web site.