Regardless of how legitimate the sales pitch may be, the vast majority of U.S. consumers almost always assume a telemarketing call is a scam, new research shows.
A study by the Consumer Federation of America revealed that nearly 90 percent of U.S. adults mistrust telemarketing calls they receive from companies with which they've never done business, feeling these calls might be scams. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters think that it's hard for most consumers to tell if a sales call is legitimate or not.
Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America, believes understanding current laws and regulations surrounding telemarketing calls is the quickest way to decipher what is and isn't a con.
"Knowing your rights can help you tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing offers and scams," Grant said.
A great many of those surveyed had put their names on the National Do Not Call Registry, but the system's rules proved confusing to most. Specifically, just 34 percent of consumers knew that telemarketers are allowed to call people on the Do Not Call Registry if the company has recently done business with the person.
In addition, more than 40 percent of consumers didn't know that telemarketers must stop calling if they are told not to call again, even if the consumer's number is not listed on the registry.
"Simple things such as understanding when companies are violating your Do Not Call rights, and when they're not, can help consumers detect possible fraud, because legitimate companies usually follow the rules. Scammers don't," Grant said. "Consumers who put their numbers on the Do Not Call Registry should be very wary of sales calls from unfamiliar companies, because those companies shouldn't be calling."
Robocalls and caller ID rules also cause significant confusion. The research discovered that just one-quarter of adults know the regulations regarding robocalls, which employ pre-recorded messages rather than live speakers. When used for sales purposes, robocalls may only contact a home or smartphone if the telemarketer has been given written permission to do so.
The research also shows that more than 55 percent of those surveyed didn't know the rules regarding caller ID displays. Specifically, when telemarketers call on behalf of another company, the callers do not have to display their own numbers. They can instead use that company's number.
"We want consumers to ask themselves, 'Should this company be calling me? Why am I getting a recorded sales pitch when I never gave this company written permission to make them to me? Why doesn't the company's phone number show on my Caller ID?' And to hang up if they think that something is wrong," Grant said.
Consumers should look for other clues, as well, Grant said, including telemarketers asking for upfront payment for helping you settle your debts, "and whether they only accept payment using a money-transfer service or a prepaid card product."
The study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 U.S. adults.