Utah Department of Commerce cautions over increased telemarketing scams

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Dani Jardine
BYU student Idongesit Ekpo talks about her experience with a telemarketing scam. “I used to get called multiple times a day, but when I stopped answering, it went down to once a week,” Ekpo said. (Dani Jardine)

The Utah Department of Commerce issued a media alert in response to increases in telemarketing and robot call scamming in the state.

According to Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, this release came about because she personally received around 20 calls in the three weeks leading up to the alert.

“I wasn’t just getting calls on my cell phone, but on my office phone as well,” Giani said. “This is absolutely crazy because I’m on the Do Not Call list.”

About 29 billion unwanted pre-recorded calls were made last year in the United States, according to the 2016 Federal Communications Commission Robocall Strike Force report.

Many of these calls are pre-recorded, but some are from actual telemarketers who try to get callers’ credit card or other personal information.

“These calls range anywhere from people offering solar services to hotel getaways to impersonating the IRS,” Giani said. “We have had hundreds of thousands of dollars leave the state of Utah on the IRS calls alone.”

Idongesit Ekpo, a BYU biochemistry student from Nigeria, said she received multiple telemarketer calls a day when she first arrived in the United States last year.

“I was brand new to the country, so it was weird that they had my number,” Ekpo said. “They said they just needed my credit card information.”

Ekpo didn’t give any information to the callers, saying it always felt awkward.

BYU accounting student Ryan Rippstein said he gets at least one telemarketing call every day. He said he has been asked for his credit card information, as well.

“They’ll ask you for your information, and then they’ll pester you,” Rippstein said. “They try to make it seem like they are feeling for you, that they just want you to be able to have this wonderful life.”

Rippstein said one of the reasons he picks up the phone is out of curiosity.

“I’m from Houston, and some of these people call in using a Houston number. I get curious, so I pick up,” Rippstein said. “If it’s a robocall, I hang up. But if it’s a real person, I usually listen for a minute.”

Giani said it is important to avoid answering calls from numbers you don’t know or recognize.

“We need to be wary,” Giani said.

Giani said there is a popular IRS scam in which telemarketers call individuals posing as the IRS, telling them they need to pay immediately. She said this is not how the IRS works in real life, and the IRS will never call you on the phone.

“If they tell you they are going to send police to your door, nobody is going to come,” Giani said.

She said it is a scare tactic the scammers use to threaten the people into paying them money.

Though Giani received calls even when she was on the National Do Not Call Registry, she said everyone should register every phone number they have to prevent additional calls.

“It’s not foolproof to never get the call, because obviously the bad guys are going to try and get your number and steal from you,” Giani said. “Getting all of your numbers on a Do Not Call list goes a long way in lessening the number of calls.”

Giani said another way to lessen the number of telemarketer calls, is not answering the phone.

Ekpo said she has seen the benefit of not answering calls from random numbers, even when she is waiting for important calls.

“I used to get called multiple times a day, but when I stopped answering, it went down to once a week,” Ekpo said.

Rippstein said he will typically stay on the line just long enough to tell them he’s not interested before hanging up.

“I feel like it’s super mean to just hang up, but I still don’t want to talk to them,” Rippstein said.

Even answering with the intent to later hang up can be dangerous, according to Giani.

Some calls use automated systems, and just saying “yes” may lead to the company claiming you agreed to buy something or have something shipped to you.

“We need to be a tiny bit rude because those people are trying to separate us from our money,” Giani said. “We should not be happy about that.”

Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry by visiting donotcall.gov.