MintLife columnist and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott is answering a question from a Mint.com user. Read on to see what he has to say about scammers that won’t take no for an answer, harass consumers, and even threaten them with their lives. It really does happen — see below.
Question: I’m constantly getting unsolicited phone calls, even though I’m on the “do not call” list.
They always begin with a robo-voice, “Hi, This is so-and-so from cardmember services…” or some variation of that.
They claim, based on some information they obviously don’t have, they can lower my interest rate.
There is an option to press “2″ to be removed from their list, but I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t receive a barrage of the same calls after pressing 2.
Pressing “1″ connects you with a person. If you ask to be removed at that time, the rep either chastises you (I’ve been called quite a few unspeakable names), or they simply hang up.
If you stay on the line, they want you to “verify” your card number. If you press them on which credit card, they say they represent “all of them” and just want the card with the highest balance.
Apparently the fraud happens if you give them the card number – they outright either sell the number or make fake charges against it, all supposedly under your authorization.
Their caller ID is spoofed; the phone numbers come from all area codes and some obviously fake ones (like 111).
I get these calls constantly – usually two a day and sometimes in the middle of the night. I can’t turn off my phone because I need to be on call for work.
Here’s my problem: Occasionally I’ve given them a fake card number (but a legit one belonging to an expired card) and eventually they get mad and usually hang up.
The last one, though, was interesting.
I gave the scammer a fake number, and after a couple tries, she literally tried getting Citi on the phone via a three-way call. Citi is the actual owner of my real card.
Once the Citi rep was on, I quickly told her that the lady calling us was a phishing scammer and asked if she could do anything. I thought maybe they could trace it or otherwise offer guidance.
The scammer immediately disconnected Citi and started harassing me, calling me a variety of the worst four-letter expletives out there.
I listened to it silently and after a minute or so, she hung up.
She called back immediately several times, each time calling me similar names.
Finally, she read my real name and address and said she was going to “kill” me. She repeated the threat again in a subsequent phone call.
This crossed the line.
My local police department can’t do anything without a phone trace, which my wireless provider says they can’t do without a police order (which the local police say they can’t do), and my attorney general can’t do anything.
The consumer is entirely powerless to stop not only the calls, but also the harassment and death threats.
Whatever company is making these calls needs to be taken to court and sued. It seems like something should be available to expose these frauds.
I do not fear taking them to civil court for no-call violations or pressing criminal charges, but I can’t.
I’ve written to elected officials, as well as the attorney general, and nobody seems to care. I’ve gotten one form letter in return that addresses something entirely different.
Is there anything you can recommend? — Chris, St. Louis
Answer: No one should have to live in fear that a scammer might try to “off” them.
You ought to be able to contact law enforcement officials and your phone company and get these threatening calls to stop immediately.
But as you’ve seen, there are various layers of jurisdiction and laws designed to protect your privacy that are actually protecting the bad guys.
I’ll get to that in a second, but before I do, I want to mention a few things you can do right now to make the calls stop.
Change Your Phone Number
Obviously, the phishers have your number. And I’m willing to bet it’s not just these murderous scammers, but also others that for some reason, continue to call you.
Regardless of what happens with this case, you need to consider changing your phone number. I know it’s a drastic solution, but it’s the only way to be sure.
Your phone company can’t trace the call without a court order.
Unfortunately, the same privacy laws designed to protect you are also shielding the identity and location of these criminals.
File a Complaint
I’m surprised your local law enforcement authorities or your congressional representative couldn’t point you in the right direction.
I would try filing a complaint with two Federal agencies. The first is the Federal Communications Commission.
The scammers are clearly violating the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, a law that prohibits any person or entity for transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.
You can contact the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at fcc.gov/complaints.
Since the scammers are also threatening you with bodily harm, you may want to go beyond your state attorney general to the Federal level, contacting the FBI with this issue.
I’m sure you know by now that you don’t want to play around with these criminals. If you ever get a call from someone with a “1-1-1” in a caller ID, don’t even pick it up.
I used to work for a certain media outlet that masqueraded its caller ID the same way and my advice remains unchanged: don’t answer the phone.
Finally, whatever you do — don’t wait.
It’s impossible for me to tell whether this scammer intends to kill you or not, but I wouldn’t take any chances.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.