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Beware of Suspicious Calls

Q: My mother, who is elderly, told me she recently received a call from someone at your office informing her that you had gotten a settlement from a sweepstakes company and that she was due a refund of $500. The catch was that she had to pay $295 up front in legal and processing fees.

In addition, she doesn’t remember filing a complaint with your office. The caller tried to get her credit card number from her. She refused to give it to the caller. Did your office really call her?

A: I can say, without hesitation, that no one from the Office of the Attorney General called your mother. I am very glad to hear that she refused to give the caller her credit card information. Otherwise, she might have lost a lot more than the $295 the caller was asking for.

The Office of the Attorney General does take action against businesses that violate the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. However, any legal action taken by this office is on behalf of the State of Texas, not private individuals.

In some cases, we receive restitution for individual consumers. But our notifications are always in writing. And we would never require a consumer to pay legal or processing fees. Your mother escaped being the victim of a scam.

Unfortunately, we get many calls from concerned citizens whose elderly parents have fallen prey to unscrupulous telemarketers or all-out con artists. And once a person says yes to one con artist or telemarketer, his or her name and number end up being sold on call lists to hundreds of others. It begins a vicious cycle that has left far too many senior citizens destitute and afraid to tell their families about what has happened.

Some tips everyone should remember when dealing with telemarketers:

•Never give your credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you know with whom you are dealing. This is especially true if the person called you. If you think the offer is legitimate, ask the caller to send you the information in writing, with a company name, address and contact number. A legitimate company or charity will have no problem providing this information.

•Watch out for high pressure sales pitches over the phone. Some telemarketers try to sell you something for a great price that is only available if you act now. A good deal should be available for longer than 15 minutes.

•Hang up! If the caller won’t take no for an answer, hang up the phone. It is your phone, after all, and the caller is taking up your time.

You can report suspicious calls to the Consumer Protection Division (CPD) of my office. There is an online complaint form available on our Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us. You can also request a CPD complaint form by calling us at (800) 252-8014 or file a complaint with the Public Utility Commission through its Web site at www.puc.state.tx.us.