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Telemarketing fraud is fraudulent selling conducted over the telephone. The term is also used for telephone fraud not involving selling.

Telemarketing fraud is one of the most persuasive deceptions identified by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[1] Telemarketing fraud often involves some sort of victim compliance whether it involves the victim initiating contact with the perpetrator or voluntarily providing their private information to the offender; thus, fraud victims may experience feelings of shame and embarrassment that may prevent them from reporting their victimization.[2]

Older people are disproportionately targeted by fraudulent telemarketers and make up 80% of victims affected by telemarketing scams alone. Older people may be targeted more because the scammer assumes they may be more trusting, too polite to hang up, or have a nest egg.[3] Many older people have money to invest and are in need of profit. Also, they are less likely to report the fraud because they don't believe that consumer complaints would be solved.[4]

Types of fraud

Telemarketing fraud tools

Scam Identification and blocking software

Scam Likely[26] is a term used for scam call identification, the term was originally coined by T-Mobile for the scam ID technology created by First Orion.[27] First Orion's scam blocking technology uses a combination of known bad actors, AI powered blocking including neighborhood spoofing and unusual calling pattern. Scam Identification is a feature of the T-Mobile and Metro carrier network which can be controlled by the app Scam Shield,[28] customer care or dialing the short code #664 to turn on or off scam blocking.[29]

There are a number of phone apps which try to identify, screen, send to voicemail or otherwise deter telemarketing calls with most major carriers providing some level of free scam call screening."Call Blocking". Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved 2021-08-04. Additionally both iOS [30] and Android[31] operating systems offer scam screening options. In addition phone carriers may provide caller authentication using STIR/SHAKEN a caller authentication protocol designed to stop caller id spoofing by exchanging tokens between cellular carriers.[32]

Popular scams

Grandparent scam

A telephone call is made to an elderly person with a family member who is supposedly in some kind of trouble, usually claiming to be a grandson or granddaughter. These calls are often placed late at night or early in the morning when most people are not thinking as clearly. Callers assume that their targets have grandchildren and will usually have several other people in on the scam, such as a bail bondsman, the arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person.[33] The first voice on the phone is usually by the scammer pretending to be the grandchild sounding upset and typically stating that there are only a few moments to talk. The caller may say that they have a cold if the victim does not recognize their voice. Their story generally follows a familiar line: they were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release.[34] The caller does not want anyone told about the incident, especially not family. Before the victim can ask too much about the situation the phony child will hand the phone over to the accomplice who will then request money to be transferred to release the grandchild from jail. While this is commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.[33]

Microsoft scam

See also: Tech support scam

A telephone call is made saying typically that virus activity has been detected on the victim's computer; the overseas caller then states they are from Microsoft or a Microsoft certified technician. Callers assume that the victim has a computer running a Microsoft Windows operating system (users of other operating systems, such as Linux, are a minority and are likely to be technically knowledgeable). They will get the computer owner to give the caller remote access using a genuine networking service or website like or TeamViewer. They will use the ‘Event Viewer’ tool on the computer to highlight the Red-X Errors and Yellow Warnings which are supposedly signs of an infection,[9] when in fact these are normal and harmless logs[35] They also encrypt the owner's password database, preventing access to the computer without the scammers' password, essentially locking the victim out of their own computer and ensuring that they themselves will be paid. At this stage the caller then has complete control over the computer, and can display further alarming displays, as well as installing malware. The cold caller will then offer to remove the viruses and malicious malware (some of which they have installed themselves) and install security software and provide an ongoing support service costing up to $500.[36] The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reported a huge crackdown on tech support scams and ordered a halt to several alleged tech support scams.[37]


  1. ^ Varney, Christine (3 March 1998). "Prepared Remarks of Federal Trade Commissioner Christine A. Varney" (PDF). FTC. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  2. ^ "Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities: Introduction". Retrieved 2021-09-05.
  3. ^ Reed, Tim (March 25, 2013). "Elder Abuse: Financial Scams Against Our Seniors". brigantinepolice. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  4. ^ Alves, Linda; Wilson, Steve (2008-02-22). "The Effects of Loneliness on Telemarketing Fraud Vulnerability Among Older Adults". Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect. 20 (1): 63–85. doi:10.1300/j084v20n01_04. ISSN 0894-6566. PMID 18551907. S2CID 6749119.
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  25. ^ "Telemarketing Fraud". Georgia Department of Law. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  26. ^ "Screen your calls before you answer them". USA Today. January 21, 2019.
  27. ^ "Who is Scam Likely and why are they calling me". 24 June 2019.
  28. ^ "T-Mobile's Scam Shield app will cut down on those 'scam likely' calls. Here's how". CNET.
  29. ^ "Self Service short codes".
  30. ^ "Apple Support".
  31. ^ "Screen your calls before you answer them".
  32. ^ "Combating Spoofed Robocalls with Caller ID Authentication". 13 February 2019.
  33. ^ a b "The Grandparent Scam Don't Let It Happen to You". 2 April 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  34. ^ Schneider, Alex (December 2015). "How Could They Know That? Behind the Data that Facilitates Scams Against Vulnerable Americans". Virginia Journal of Law and Technology.
  35. ^ "Event View Scam". Microsoft. June 11, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  36. ^ "Microsoft NZ and NetSafe issue warning about phone scammers". Microsoft. September 14, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  37. ^ "FTC Halts Massive Tech Support Scams". Federal Trade Commission. 2012-10-03. Retrieved 2018-07-10.

Additional sources