Toby Nixon recently contacted us about annoying robocalls from a company promising to lower his credit card rate. Here’s part of what Toby reports:
I’ve been receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls for several months on my cell phone, offering to “lower my credit card interest rate.” I have asked several times to be removed from their list – especially since it is a violation of federal law to make telemarketing calls to cell phones – but they have ignored me or hang up before I can even get the words “Please add me to your do not call list” out of my mouth...I continue to get these calls at least a couple of times a week.
Today, I finally got one of their agents to stay on the line long enough to give me some information. I offered them made-up information about my credit accounts, such as balances and interest rates, to sound like I was an attractive prospect. They then asked me for my credit card number, supposedly so they could talk to the credit card issuer to verify my credit standing (that my account was current and not over-limit, they said). Of course, I wouldn’t give my card number to someone who called me, and told them so. I said I wanted to look at their web site to verify that they are a legitimate company, and they told me it is www.cardmemberservices.com.
Let’s pause for a moment and point out a few things. First, Toby did everything right. Never give your personal financial or other information to random callers, no matter how legitimate they might sound. Second, the “Card Member Services” website is owned by First USA, a legitimate financial institution. A First USA representative tells me they are aware of, and frustrated by, those using their name to rip people off. But it’s not just First USA being drawn into this scam, when Toby asked the live agent for a phone number, she gave him a toll-free number for Discover cards.
Toby reveals these scammers are using contact information for both First USA and Discover. But here’s the deal: credit card companies don’t need your credit card number in order to “lower your interest rate.” When you apply for a credit card the bank runs a credit check, accessing a list of all your debts. That’s how they decide what products and rates to offer individual customers.
Shannon Smith, the AGO’s Consumer Protection Chief, also offers some personal experience with this very scam:
I’ve been called and I’ve stayed on the line to talk to an agent on a few occasions. They tell consumers they work with the banks to lower the interest rate. I don’t know what their ultimate purpose is – extracting personal information, charging the cards, or selling credit cards that will end up being more expensive for the consumer.
The last time I chatted with a live agent was Saturday. I said I was interested and she asked for my credit card number. I asked her to give me the credit card number she had for me and I would verify it because I didn’t like giving my card number over the phone. She said it was against policy and reassured me she was trying to help me. I said, OK, “Tell me my name. You must know my name.” She asked me to hold on and thanked me for my patience because the computer system was slow . . . after about a minute, we were disconnected.
Here are few additional pointers to avoid such scams:
- Never give out personal details like your social security number, mother’s maiden name, or account numbers to strangers who contact you via mail, Internet, and especially by phone. Thieves and scammers might impersonate bank representatives or government officials in order to steal your information. Real financial organizations would already have your information and would not ask for it by calling you. Regarding your credit card numbers, a good rule of thumb is to assume that anyone who calls and asks for your credit card number is going to charge your credit card.
- Remove yourself from contact lists by registering your number for Do Not Call lists; remove your address from marketing lists by making a request to the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service online at www.dmachoice.org; contact the three major credit bureaus and ask to “Opt Out” of pre-approved credit lists or fill out a form for this service at www.optoutprescreen.com; and contact your credit card companies to request no third party solicitations.
-Dan Sytman and AGO Volunteer Rachel Vinson-