How to Avoid… Phone Scams

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Money Down The Drain

How many times a day does this scenario happen to you? The phone rings and you drop whatever you were doing to pick it up, only to hear a familiar pause, and then a mechanical voice reeling off a script.

“I’m not interested, thank you”. You hang up and sigh. Bloody telemarketers.

At home, we even get telemarketing calls in Chinese, because the phone line is registered under Feng’s name. I take it as an opportunity to practice my language skills—it’s just too bad that there are no clear negation words like “no” in Chinese.

Telemarketing is a pain. Most people would love to reduce the number of unsolicited calls they receive or even eliminate telemarketing calls altogether. Tips and tricks exist but they were not 100% effective:

  • You can register your phone number to the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) for free. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations are still allowed to call you, including registered charities, political parties, newspapers and organizations with whom you had a business relationship within the past 18 months (!).
  • You may tell the telemarketers you want to be placed on their “do not call” lists. However, some organizations will just ignore that and continue to call.

But keep in mind that:

Telemarketers have “suckers lists”, lists of people who have previously been successfully solicited for something, such as a donation. Even if you’ve made sure not to give out your phone number to anyone, you can still receive unwanted calls: remember my “personal stalker” who drove me crazy for months?

Worse, a lot of unsolicited phone calls are just scams. For instance, false charities have been known to call out-of-the-blue to pressure or even threaten people to contribute immediately. Companies can get fooled by seemingly good deals offered by illegitimate office supply dealers.

One of the most common scams is the prize pitch call, where you are told you won a big prize (usually a holiday, a car or a large amount of money). You can’t remember entering any contest but hey, it’s a prize, right? But in order to receive your prize, you will have to buy a product first. Of course, you will never receive your prize.

If you were victim of a prize pitch call, be prepare to be called for the prize recovery scam, a tricky follow-up. The caller usually claims he is from a law enforcement bureau and wants to help you recover the money you lost… for a small fee. You can see a sample of a fraudulent document here.

Be sure to read these tips to learn to recognize phone scams. There is also a comprehensive article on 16 Ways You Can Be Phone Scammed.

Finally, I’m a big fan of this free reverse phone number lookup, built by users. Simply enter the number that keeps on calling you at ungodly hours and see if others have the same issue. That’s how I was able to track my personal stalker!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I had a friend who kept getting phoned 30 times a day from a telemarketer with an 800 number. 800 numbers are such that every time you call them, they have to pay for the call. So he called them every night after hours (their voice mail came on) and on weekends and racked up their phone bills. They stopped calling him after that.

  2. Susan and I have accidentally found a fine solution to spammers. Both of us have cell phones and for several reasons preferred that people would use our cell phones. We started to cancel our house phone then got a better idea.

    Our service was with the cable company we use for internet service. For $7 per month we changed our service to “low-use”. We can receive calls on the house phone but have a limited number of outgoing calls. There are no taxes on this service. We have an answering machine on the house phone. It answers after 2 rings and a recorded message tells the caller that we do not use this phone any more and gives our cell numbers.

    Rather quickly legitimate callers start using our cell phones. Almost zero spammers have bothered to listen to the message and call the new numbers. They either hang up quickly or launch into a sales pitch for the benefit of our answering machine. It works.

    • That’s actually a great way to deal with unsollicited calls! I’m not surprised telemarketers and scammers don’t bother listening to the voice message. I sure hope they won’t catch your cell phone numbers though!

  3. Salut Zhu,

    I rarely answer any number that I don’t recognize. Right off, we have our small call list and anything outside this is subject to “scrutiny” Our answering machine works hard for us. I have received machine type telemarketing and also the tendancy here in France is for telemarketing calls from foreign call centers(Morocco,Algeria,etc).

    • We don’t actually have caller ID at home, our phone is old and we don’t really see the point in subscribing in another service we won’t use. We are not phone people anyway… so any call in the evening is “suspicious”!

  4. One thing that has worked for me is to increase the number of rings on my phone to something like 6, 8 or more. That way, if someone really, really wants to reach me, they’ll stay on the line for however many rings and even leave a message if I’m not available. Otherwise, most telemarketing-type calls are dropped after a few rings because it costs them money to tie up a line that could be used to try and scam somebody else.

  5. Once we received a call and the person at the other end said we’ve won a prize and read our address to us and asked if it was correct – we said yes. He probably got it from the phone book.

    Then he gave us an address and said we have to come there with our passport and driver’s license (weird). We questioned why he wanted that and all of a sudden he lost his professional attitude.

    Meanwhile I google the address and the phone number. The address was some suburban industrial location and phone number turned up many results where people had complained about getting calls from the same number with the same type of scam (won prize, meet us here with passport/ID to claim it). I would hate to be the one to fall for that.

    • You were smart to Google it! I would have been very suspicious of a place that asks me to bring my passport… why would you need it?

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