published Friday, September 21st, 2012

Biz Bulletin: Voters should be wary of election robocall scams

By Jim Winsett
  • photo
    BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Q. I keep getting political rRobocalls on my telephone that I am sure are scams. What other election scams do we need to protect ourselves against this election season?

A. Scammers are already gearing up for this year’s presidential election, from robocalls offering a “free cruise” for taking a political survey, to promises that President Obama will pay your utility bill. Better Business Bureau is advising voters to be on the lookout for the growing number of scams that are likely to continue leading up to the presidential election.

Be advised that scammers use incentives based on what they think voters want to hear. Hot topics like health care, economic recovery and unemployment, are sure to be the alluring topics this election season, but it can be anything in the news that makes the pitch sound more realistic.

Here are just a few of the election-related scams BBB is hearing about.

1) There will not be a “free cruise” at the end of the voting survey. This public opinion poll scam typically involves a recorded announcement offering a “free cruise” in exchange for participating in a telephone survey. At the end of the call consumers are asked for a debit or credit card number to cover “port fees” and taxes. Consumers who hesitate or ask if they can call back in order to verify the caller’s identity are subject to high-pressure tactics, such as being told that the offer “is only good right now,” and that if they hang up they will be disqualified.

2) President Obama is not going to pay your utility bill. As nice as that would be, it is not going to happen. Consumers have been contacted through fliers, social media, text messages, and even door-to-door with claims that President Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills. Scammers claim they need the consumers’ Social Security and bank routing numbers to arrange the payments. In return, customers are given a phony bank routing number that will supposedly pay their utility bills. In reality, there is no money, and customers believe they have paid their bills when in fact they have not. Worse, they have just given away everything needed for identity fraud.

3) Fundraising calls for political donations may not be real. Consumers have reported calls from organizations that sound legitimate, but may not really be related to either the Obama or Romney campaigns. If you are not sure, do not donate over the phone. If you would like to contribute to a political campaign or party, locate contact information yourself rather than giving out financial information to a caller. Requesting a callback number is no guarantee you will be connected with a legitimate campaign fundraising committee. Call or visit candidates’ websites to obtain contact information to make donation.

4) No one will check your eligibility to vote. Your voter registration record is with your state and no one is going to call or email you to verify your eligibility. What do these callers claim they need to check? They want your credit card or Social Security number. Under no circumstances provide this information.

5) Do not fall for these scams. Legitimate polling companies will never offer prizes for participating in a telephone survey, nor ask for a credit card number. Never provide your Social Security number, credit card number or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident with whom you are speaking. Do not give in to high pressure tactics, whether over the phone or in person.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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