Friday, September 30, 2011

Heather, Rachel, Michelle, Casey, Ann or Tiffany from Account Services or Cardholder Services

Update: David Lazarus at the Los Angeles Times has written two recent articles about this issue, with some news and interesting ideas:--

From phonespam.blogspot.com:

Hello. This is Heather at account services. And we're calling in reference to your current credit card account. There's no problems currently with your account. It is urgent however that you contact us concerning your eligibility for lowering your interest rate. Your eligibility expires shortly. So please consider this your final notice. Please press one now on your phone to speak with a live operator and lower your interest rate. Or press two to discontinue further notices. Thank you and have a great day.
I've been roused from sleep by these unsolicited, automated phone calls, all having to do with card member services, or account services, relating to your credit card debt, lowering your interest rates across all lines of credit, repairing your credit, financial services counseling, or debt negotiation. Fraudsters, con men, whatever you want to call them, ultimately, they're looking to get your money. These robocalls piss me off, and if you want to do something more than just hang up, you can get even. I've pressed '1' to get connected to a live agent. The people who get paid by the telephone marketing scammers have learned to be wary of giving out too much information, especially to an angry caller, because they know if too many people complain, the money will stop coming in. However, if you have a little time, you can employ the following strategy to make yourself some money fighting crime, and help bring down these organizations who try to scam people. The next time you get one of these calls, here's what you should do:
  1. Pretend that you are interested. The first two things the representative may ask you are your name and how much credit card debt you have. You can use a variant of your name, or create a new name for yourself (in order to not arouse suspicion, try to make your new name similar to your real name, so that it's easier to remember, such as starting with the same sound or letter. If your name is Mike, then Mark or Malcolm. If John, Jerry or Jesus). Tell the representative you have credit card debt of $16,000 (which is about the national average), so that he or she will get excited about possibly doing a balance transfer with you over the phone, or getting your credit card number so he or she can bill your credit card for "services".
  2. Do not give out any of your personal information, such as your credit card number. Inform the representative that you have some discomfort doing business over the phone, and you would like to do some research before you go forward. Tell the telemarketer, "I have a fear of scams, and would like to make sure this is a legitimate business", and "I would like to take advantage of that 4 to 8% rate, but before I do, can you tell me what is your company's name and physical location?" To lull the scammer into thinking you are sincere, I might go so far as to give out my ZIP code and the toll-free number of my credit card company (Craig in the comments below prudently advises retaining your expired credit card for just this occasion, or perhaps switching around the last four digits of an old credit card), but when you are prompted for your credit card number, stall them until they give you some kind of traceable information, such as an official company name, their callback phone number, and of course their physical location.
  3. Ask for, and record, the company's name, the name of the person you are talking to, get a call-back number and an address, and note the time and the date of the call.
  4. Report the call and any of the information you have to the authorities.
Enough people who complained were finally able to identify and bring down three telephone scammer companies, including Mutual Consolidated Services in Tacoma, Washington, and multiple companies in Florida:

http://blogs2.startribune.com/blogs/whistleblower/2009/06/26/hunt-for-rachel-from-cardholder-services-takes-me-to-a-company-in-florida-but-she-wasnt-there/
http://www.kirotv.com/money/18910460/detail.html
http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/07/mutualconsol.shtm
http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0923190/index.shtm

These are three URLs I've used to lodge complaints about the calls:

https://esupport.fcc.gov/ccmsforms/form1088.action
https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx
https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

Depending on your state, you can possibly make yourself some extra cash by suing the telemarketing company in small claims court if you are on the "do not call" registry:According to the California Attorney General:
In order to file a complaint, you must know either the name or the phone number of the company that called you. Our office cannot trace the phone call you received and obtain this information on your behalf. You also must provide the date that the company called you and your registered phone number. You may provide your name and address, but it's not required for you to submit a complaint.
According to the FCC:
Some states permit you to file law suits in state court against persons or entities violating the do-not-call rules. You may be awarded $500 in damages or actual monetary loss, whichever is greater. The amount may be tripled if you are able to show that the caller violated the rules willfully and knowingly. Filing a complaint with the FCC does not prevent you from also bringing a suit in state court.
States also can bring a civil law suit against any person or entity that engages in a pattern or practice of violating the TCPA or FCC rules. You can contact your state Attorney General’s office or consumer protection agency with particular complaints, or to encourage such suits.
Happy hunting!

Update: Some new variants of this automated robocall telephone scam start out with:

  1. This is Visa Mastercard member services. Congratulations, you now qualify for a lower interest rate on all your credit card accounts. Press the number 2 to speak to a customer service agent, or press 3 to decline this offer.
  2. "Hi, this is Tiffany with Account Services, calling in reference..."
  3. "We have closed the file on your annual credit card review, and you should have received mail..."
  4. "This is an important message from cardmember services..."
  5. "Hi, this is Anne with Account Services with some good news!"

6 comments:

  1. Thanks- The situation and experience you describe has been my situation for months. Verizon, my carrier makes excuses and say there is nothing they can do except block the number. Several days later, they are at it again. This has been going on for months. Thanks for the URLS

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  2. One wrinkle these scammers have been using is to Google your phone number in order to get your name-- so be aware if your phone number is publicly listed they can look up your name & address. As much as I like wasting their time, this development makes me uncomfortable with staying on too long, as they will verify your identity if they think they have a 'live one'.

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  3. The callers who called me had all of my statement information. Could they still be scammers?

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    Replies
    1. Amanda, They are definitely scammers. Never trust them or give them any acct information.

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  4. I suggest a slight variation on the above.

    First, you do have to act interested, and even when you do they hang up easily if they have any suspicion.

    Things that make them really suspicious are you asking questions about their names and numbers, so don't - they'll just give you lies anyway. I've had them give me their 'direct number' several times and it's always a phony.

    Instead of giving them a phony name, I see no harm in giving them your real name, which they might have anyway.

    The test they like to use is to read them the customer service number from the back of your card - so use a real bank and card from that bank, so you can read them that number. The important thing is not to give them the real number.

    The first 4 digits are for identifying the bank, so give the real ones - they're checking. I like to give them a real credit card number up to the last 4 digits - those I switch around to make a phony number. This fools them fine for a minute.

    They might come back saying they can't find the number - you've already wasted plenty of their time at that point.

    If you want to waste even more, start by saying you don't have the card handy or you only have the old expired one.

    What I find helps add to the story is to say I have two accounts, one with a more modest rate, say 7.9%, and one with a higher rate, say 11.9%. Having a total balance in the $15,000 range seems to work fine - I think their requirement might be $6,000.

    You'd think they'd like people who ask 'sincere questions', but they don't - the first person you talk to is just the screener. If they 'confirm' your information you get on to the actual scam person who will discuss terms, the screener isn't wanting to give you any information.

    I usually just waste a few minutes of the screener time - after which I can just hang up or tell them I wasted their time.

    If you really want to get to the scammer to waste their time, it's a bit trickier. One option might be to use an expired account and see if that gets through, and act surprised you only have the expired card - oops, tell them it is current.

    They can try various things to 'confirm' your information - like wanting to put through a $1 charge to make sure it works. Don't do that - that's when they can do whatever they want to your account, and you have to go through the hassle of getting the charge reversed. Even if it is, you might have just caused them to make a lot of money as your bank eats the charge.

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  5. I am glad to find amazing information from the blog.
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    ReplyDelete