Criminal Law

Telemarketing Fraud

Everyone seems to hate telemarketers. These companies call your house in the middle of dinner or interrupt a meeting with a recording about your car's warranty. Unfortunately, marketing phone calls work, so there will always be a business calling up random people to sell a product — or to scam people.

Telemarketing is selling a product or service by telephone. Fraudulent selling over the phone is telemarketing fraud. Telemarketing fraud is an increasing problem for consumers in the United States, and law enforcement is cracking down on people accused of phone scams.

Unfortunately, some employees are making these phone calls without knowing they are part of a telemarketing scheme. If you are being investigated for telemarketing fraud, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help.

What Is Telemarketing Fraud?

Telemarketing fraud involves fraud over the phone. This could include collecting payments for a fake or worthless service or product. Other telemarketing fraud could include getting personally identifying information from someone to commit identity theft. There are many types of telemarketing fraud, including:

  • Advance fee fraud
  • Pyramid schemes
  • Overpayment fraud
  • Office supply scams
  • Magazine subscription fraud
  • Charity fraud
  • Fake bail calls
  • Medical bill fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Warranty scams

Telemarketing scams may be underreported because the victims may be too ashamed that they were taken advantage of to ever tell anyone about it. When someone falls victim to one phone scam, they may be targeted by other telemarketers who see them as an easy target.

The victims are often older adults who may be more trusting when talking to a person over the phone. For example, a common phone scam involves calling someone up and telling them their grandchild got in trouble when traveling in a foreign country and they need to send money to get them out of jail or to get an emergency operation.

The advance-fee scam is one of the most common types of telemarketing fraud. The caller will tell the victim they have won an award, a lottery prize, or inherited some money. However, before the victim can get the money, they have to pay some kind of service fee or finder's fee. Instead, the scammer takes the payment and the victim gets nothing.

Telemarketing fraud may also involve computer crimes. Tech support scams usually start with a phone call warning the victim that they have a virus on their computer. The victim may be asked to download some software or give the fake Microsoft tech worker remote access to the computer. The scammer may then lock the computer or install malware. The scammer will claim to only be able to remove the virus if the victim pays them for software or a service fee.

Federal Telemarketing Fraud Laws

Telemarketing fraud, email marketing fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud are all federal offenses. Under the law telemarketing fraud can include a plan or campaign to induce:

  • Purchases of goods or services
  • Participation in a contest or sweepstakes
  • A charitable contribution, donation, or gift of money or any other thing of value
  • Investment for financial profit
  • Participation in a business opportunity
  • Commitment to a loan
  • Participation in a fraudulent medical study, research study, or pilot study

Warning Signs of Phone Scams

According to the FBI, there are possible warning signs that a phone call may be a scam, including:

  • Urging you to act now because there is a limited time
  • You won a free gift, vacation, or prize, but have to pay postage or service charges
  • You have to send money or buy a gift card
  • Warning you not to speak to family, friends, or others about the business
  • Offering high profits and no risks without documentation

If law enforcement is accusing you of telemarketing fraud, they will likely look to see whether you made any statements related to the warning signs above.

Criminal Penalties

Criminal penalties for telemarketing fraud may depend on a number of factors, including the extent of the fraud, the number of victims, the age of the victim, and your prior criminal history. Telemarketing is a felony, which can result in five or more years in prison and substantial fines. When the victim is an older adult, aged 55 or older, a fraud conviction could mean an additional five-year term in prison.

In addition to jail time and fines, the court could order someone convicted of telemarketing fraud charges to pay restitution to the victims. The court can also seize any property involved in the fraud, including equipment, cars, and property.

Telemarketing Fraud Defense

If you are accused of telemarketing fraud, you may be facing years in prison. An experienced defense lawyer with an understanding of white-collar crimes can inform you of your rights and help you build a strong defense. You should not face federal criminal charges because of a mistake or because of someone else's bad actions. Talk to a criminal defense attorney for help.