Avoid a Telephone Scam: Look for Common Sense!
I reported a telephone scam to the Federal Trade Commission this afternoon after some company attempted to “lower my credit card interest rates.”
I’m not a genius.
But I’m fairly adept at detecting blatant falsehoods when I see or hear them. And I’m pretty good at being able to step back and look for the common sense angle that’s easily forgotten in the heat of the moment all too often.
This morning, I received a telephone call from a number with a 281 area code. That’s Dallas, Texas. I answered the call, not sure why anyone in Dallas might be calling me.
What I heard on the other end was a robocall. It began something like this:
Hello. This is a call from your credit card company’s cardmember services with an important message about your account. There is no problem, but you may be able to lower your interest rate. Press 1 to be connected to an operator that can help you. This is your last chance to lower your rate so Press 1 now.
That last part about it being the “last chance” is a cute little ploy, but since I’ve received this robocall numerous times over the years, it was easy not to fall for that claim.
There was conveniently no option to remove myself from the call list.
So I hung up. I’m sure, in a few months from now, they’ll call back again with the same urgent “time is running out” message.
About two hours later, the same number called my work cell phone. I answered and this time I pressed 1.
I was connected to an operator with a not-quite-familiar accent who said he was ready to help me lower my interest rate on my credit cards — Visa and “Master.” He told me that I was clearly someone who took my credit seriously, and he could see that I had been paying my bills without any late payments and often paying more than the minimum amount due.
That’s true, but I imagine it’s true, to some degree, for most people. Since he carefully crafted sentences to make them sound plausible without referring to anything specific, I decided to play along for a moment.
I asked him what bank he represented. He said there was no bank.
I asked how he could then have any connection to credit card accounts. He told me this “Cardmember Services” thing he worked for was the company that printed my credit card bills each month. Apparently, he wanted me to believe my credit cards kept running totals of my balances, but then hired this third-party company to send me the bill.
Hmm. An interesting idea. I suppose it’s possible that this could happen. But that doesn’t change an important question: if he represents a third-party company that only prints the bills and is not connected to a bank, how could he possibly lower my credit card interest rates? It’s not like the billing agency would be able to magically change numbers on the monthly statements…I suspect the credit card company that supposedly hired them would have quite a lot to say about that.
When he didn’t give a clear explanation, I dropped the bombshell on him.
“Well, here’s what has happened: you’ve called my work cell phone number, which is brand new, and is not connected in any way to any credit card account I have. This number isn’t listed on any of my accounts. So you can’t know my credit history if all you have is this telephone number. And, this work cell phone number you’ve called happens to belong to a TV journalist. So I’d like to ask a few more questions about you and the organization you represent.”
I was not surprised to find that the line had suddenly gone dead.
That’s when I called the FTC to report what I’m sure is some sort of scam, and give them the phone number that called me.
If enough people report that this is happening, they’ll be able to dig further and take some sort of action.
I’m sure there are those who are looking hard enough for lower interest rates that they’d go along with whatever a caller promising them might say.
But staying skeptical and asking logical questions might just keep you from becoming the next victim of a telephone scam.