News From Our Blog

How to avoid scams that appear to be from the government

Every day, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives numerous complaints from people who have been scammed.

Some of these complaints are from people who are encouraged to reveal information about their salary, benefits, tax rebate, or bank information.

In order to get this information, the criminals pose as Federal government representatives and make fake letters, e-mails, phone calls or websites that look real and official.

Protect yourself from scammers by following these recommendations:

Be wary of suspicious calls. Don’t reveal personal information like your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers to people who call and tell you they work for the government. No government agency will ever call you out of the blue and ask for personal data.

Sign up on the National Do Not Call Registry to stop telemarketers from contacting you.

Don’t pay money when applying for a free scholarship or grant. Government agencies will not ask for money upfront to process any grants or subsidies. These transactions are free and only official government agencies provide federal scholarships or grants.

Don’t believe false job offers. Many scammers use websites that look like they’re associated with the government to post jobs and offer guaranteed employment in exchange for money. Do not send money or reveal personal and confidential information to people who hand out brochures or study materials for job placement exams. Job applications in all government departments are free.

File a complaint

If you have been scammed or you suspect someone is committing fraud, register a complaint or get in touch with the FTC at 1-877-382-4357.

When filing a complaint you may be asked for the following information:

  • Date, time and phone number of the call you received
  • Name, website or email address of the organization that contacted you
  • The amount of money and form of payment that the scammer requested
  • Other pertinent details and information

Read this note in Spanish.

Answering Your Questions About Robocalls

There has been a lot of commentary about the July 23rd post regarding the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and robocalls, so we thought we would follow up with a bit more information.

First, we want to clarify the rules. The FTC has laws forbidding any sales robocall unless you’ve given your express written permission to receive it.

Some other types of robocalls are legal, such as informational calls from your doctor, calls from legitimate charities, and political messages. (In general, by the way, political robocalls are protected by the First Amendment.)

One commenter asked about calls from those claiming to be doing a research survey – the answer is that these calls are legal if the purpose of the call truly is to conduct a survey, but if the call is ultimately trying to sell you something, it’s illegal.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in calls from fraudsters who are apparently willing to both violate the laws against robocalls and ignore the Do Not Call Registry.

This is because over the past two years, new technologies have made it cheap and simple to send out millions of calls with just the click of a mouse. These technologies also make it easier to hide one’s location and evade law enforcement. With the combination of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, cloud computing, auto-dialing software, and other advances, it is now possible to make robocalls for 1 cent per call or less, while also obscuring one’s identity quite effectively.

In the face of these changes, the FTC has continued its aggressive law enforcement efforts against robodialers. The agency has brought 12 enforcement cases targeting illegal robocalls, and violators have paid $5.6 million in total penalties so far.

Since January 2010, the Federal Trade Commission has shut down the companies responsible for more than 2.6 billion illegal telemarketing robocalls. We continue to pursue this approach, targeting high volume offenders and focusing on “chokepoints” in the calling process to stop the largest number of illegal calls. We use consumer complaints to do our targeting, which is why it helps us if you report illegal robocalls to donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

In addition to these law enforcement activities, the FTC is pursuing technological solutions. We’ve been holding meetings and calls with engineers, technologists, and industry experts to discuss how we can better trace calls, combat caller ID spoofing, and stop illegal robocalls.

In addition, we’re hosting a public Summit in Washington, DC on October 18, 2012, which will bring together law enforcement, legitimate industry, consumer groups, and other stakeholders in pursuit of the same goal. Please visit ftc.gov/robocalls to look for up-to-date information about the different initiatives underway.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for your interest in this topic. Here at the FTC, we share your frustration and are doing everything in our power to stop illegal robocallers in their tracks.

How to Choose a Prepaid Telephone Card

Some cards have hidden fees that cost consumers minutes

When it comes to prepaid telephone cards, every minute counts.

That’s why the federal government is always taking steps to ensure that the companies that sell them provide the minutes promised and clearly disclose any hidden fees that might decrease the number of minutes available for calls.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently took legal action against Millennium Telecard Inc., a New Jersey-based company that sold prepaid telephone cards with such names as “Africa Magic,” “Viva Ecuador,” and “Hola Amigo.”

The FTC analyzed the cards and found that, on average, they delivered less than half of the minutes promised. At the request of the FTC, a court order was issued that temporarily halted the company’s deceptive advertising claims.

If you frequently purchase or use prepaid telephone cards, be aware of common fees that may decrease the value of a card. If you believe you’ve been mislead by a card provider you can also file a claim against that company.

Fees That Decrease the Value of the Card

Prepaid telephone cards are a practical way to make calls if you don’t have a long-distance calling plan with your mobile or home telephone provider. They also work well if you prefer to pay for these services in advance. Prices for the cards can vary from $2 to $20, and the number of minutes available depends on the rate for the place you’re calling.

The best way to use of these cards is by knowing exactly what you’re buying. That’s why you should always read the fine print and be aware of some of the most common types of fees, including:

  • Charges for ending a telephone call
  • Maintenance charges that kick in after activating the card
  • Charges for making calls from a public telephone
  • Charges for making calls to a mobile telephone

Not all cards have these fees. If you don’t want to pay these types of charges, the best thing to do is look for a card that does not have them.

Tips on How to Choose a Telephone Card

There are many different types of prepaid phone cards. Although some of them are well-established, others might be new to the market. The following tips will help you pick wisely:

  • Ask family members or friends about their experiences using prepaid telephone cards to find out which ones are the most reliable
  • If you are going to buy a new card, start with one with little value, say $2. Then try it out and see if it delivered on the minutes promised and whether it charged excessive fees
  • Make sure the card has a free customer service line that works
  • Look for cards with no expiration date

How to File a Complaint

Retailers are not liable for the services offered by the cards. Stores are responsible, however, for not promoting cards they know don’t deliver as advertised.

If you have been a victim of calling card fraud, you can always file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The easiest and fastest way to do it is by filling out an electronic form online. However, you can also file a complaint by calling (877) 382-4357.

Top FTC Complaints

Rank Category № of Complaints Percentage
1Identity Theft250,85419%
2Debt Collection144,15911%
3Internet Services65,5655%
4Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries64,0855%
5Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales60,2054%
6Imposter Scams60,1584%
7Internet Auctions56,1074%
8Foreign Money/Counterfeit Check Scams43,8663%
9Telephone and Mobile Services37,3883%
10Credit Cards33,2582%

Each year the Federal Trade Commission shares the list of the most common consumer complaints the agency receives.

For the 11th year in a row, identity theft has been the number one complaint.

You can read the full report (PDF) for more details on the complaints.