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What Is Telemarketing Fraud?
Telephones allow for direct communication by another caller from anywhere in the world. Using phone number spoofing programs, callers can be anonymous or even appear to be calling from legitimate companies. Criminals can use phones to contact unsuspecting victims to try and get passwords, bank account information, Social Security number, or credit card numbers. Fraud involving telephone communications is telemarketing fraud.
Under United States law, telemarketing involves using a phone call as part of a plan, program, promotion, or campaign to induce:
- Purchase of goods;
- Participation in a contest;
- Charitable contribution;
- Participation in a business opportunity;
- Commitment to a loan; or
- Participation in a fraudulent study.
It may be difficult to identify telemarketing fraud when the customer does receive something of value that may not be exactly what they expected. However, in most telemarketing and email fraud schemes, the alleged customer or investor receives nothing.
What Are Common Practices in Telemarketing Schemes?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are several red flags that may indicate possible fraud. Common practices that may be signs of telemarketing scams include offers that sound too good to be true, including:
- You won a free vacation but you need to pay processing money upfront
- Limited time investment opportunity and you “must act now”
- Payment requires using a gift card or having a courier pick up payment
- Warning you not to contact a lawyer or consumer protection division
These practices may increase the chances that people will report the unsolicited telemarketing calls to law enforcement.
Who Investigates Telemarketing Fraud
There may be a number of law enforcement and government agencies involved in a telemarketing fraud investigation. Investigators may be tipped off to possible fraud by a consumer complaint submitted to law enforcement. Suspicious financial transactions may also alert law enforcement to possible fraud. Telemarketing fraud is prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, other investigative agencies may include:
- Local law enforcement
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Federal Communications Commission
- State consumer protection agency
What Is the Sentence for Telemarketing Fraud?
Telemarketing fraud can be a state crime or a federal offense. As a federal crime, telemarketing fraud is a felony. When someone is charged with telemarketing fraud, they face criminal charges for the fraud offense and enhanced penalties because the crime was committed using the phone. Enhanced penalties include an additional 5-year term, in addition to any jail sentence for the underlying crime.
If the victim of telemarketing fraud was a targeted person over the age of 55, or 10 or more victims over the age of 55 were involved, the sentence may include up to a 10-year additional term of imprisonment, in addition to years in jail for the underlying offenses.
Will I Have to Pay Back Any Money?
In addition to any civil or criminal penalties, someone convicted of telemarketing fraud will have to pay restitution to all victims of the offense. Restitution is paying back any money fraudulently taken from the victims up to the full amount of the victim’s losses. The court may also recover any property or money gained through the fraud. The court can order the defendant to forfeit any:
- Real estate
- Personal property
- Equipment, software, or technology used to facilitate the offense
Are Political Calls Telemarketing Fraud?
Political campaign calls have different FTC rules. Generally, political campaign calls and text messages are exempt from the national Do Not Call Registry. However, some calls that claim to be for a political purpose may actually involve fraud. This includes misrepresentations in asking for donations.
When Should I Contact a Telemarketing Fraud Defense Lawyer?
Telemarketing fraud is a serious offense and a criminal conviction could result in years in federal prison. Charges could also expose you to civil liability, forfeiture of property, and restitution to any victims of the fraud. If you find out about a telemarketing fraud investigation, you should consider contacting a fraud defense lawyer for advice. Even if you believe you are innocent, cooperating with the investigation could make things worse.
If you are facing criminal charges, a criminal defense lawyer can represent you, challenge the evidence against you, and fight the charges in court. If the evidence against you was gathered in violation of your constitutional rights, Criminal defense attorneys can file a motion to keep the improper evidence out of court. Other criminal defense options may include:
- Communication did not involve a telephone or phone call
- Defendant had no intent to defraud
- False statements did not involve a material fact
- Fraud was committed under threat or duress
After a criminal conviction, telemarketing fraud will result in a criminal record and could make it more difficult to get a job after serving your sentence. Talk to a federal telemarketing fraud lawyer about the best legal defense strategies in your case.