What is telemarketing?
Telemarketing: defined as the marketing of typically unsolicited goods and/or services via telephone to potential consumers. Many younger people who grew up in the “information age” probably never heard of this practice – but it’s still alive and well.
In today’s society, telemarketers tend to target the elderly, if only because they are the one demographic that still predominantly use “land line” telephone service. The sad but true fact is that elderly people are the top targets for sleazy and often criminal telemarketers. Often these telemarketing schemes don’t even offer a legitimate service, but rather, are merely scams whose only purpose is to rip people off.
Battling these criminal telemarketers has not been an easy task for law enforcement and the courts. Many of these entities have made an art out of quickly closing up shop and reopening in a different location. Understanding the potential for such abuse, the U.S. congress passed the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act in 1993 and was signed into laws by President Clinton in 1994.
This “Telemarketing Act” strengthened the authority of the FTC to protect consumers against telemarketers. Congress acted, in part, because these calls can be made across state lines without any direct contact with the consumer. The FTC was instructed to clearly define and set rules in regards to deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices. This included the times of day for which these calls are permissible, as well as mandating the telemarketer to clearly state their purpose, which is to sell goods and service.
Last week the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York brought criminal charges against six people allegedly involved in a telemarketing scheme targeting elderly consumers. The targets of this scam were solicited with “business opportunities” requiring a cash investment. Of course, big returns on their investment were promised. After making the “investment” the victims were bombarded with further calls offering other services, including tax preparation and business coaching. None of the alleged victims ever received any return on their initial investment, as was promised.
The charges against the six telemarketers were based on alleged violations of the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act. Often, telemarketers who run afoul of the act are typically sanctioned with cease and desist orders, lifetime bans and stiff fines. However, criminal charges filed against these six telemarketers, which include wire fraud and money laundering, carry potential minimum prison sentences of 20 years per offense.
Regardless of the result of these charges, there will always be people out there who will continue to target people, be it via telephone, email, or any other way they can. The reality is that many, if not most, will probably never face criminal charges. This is why I have always preached education, awareness and vigilance on the part of the consumer. YOU are the the first, and often the only, line of defense between criminals and your money. And if you have elderly parents, relatives, or friends, you need to warn and educate them about the potential scammers who attempt to prey on them.
Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groups, Google+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.