Telling scam from reality: From cell phones to weight loss, consumers should bookmark FTC site
NEW YORK -- I got a rather strange email the other day from a trusted friend, a former colleague and IT manager at a major U.S. firm. I trusted the source, but not the message. Here's what it said: "Cell-phone numbers going public tomorrow. REMINDER: all cell-phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies tomorrow and you will start to receive sale calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS. To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: (888) 382-1222.
"It is the national DO NOT CALL list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years. You must call from the cell-phone number you want to have blocked. You cannot call from a different number.
"HELP OTHERS BY PASSING THIS ON TO ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS."
Naturally, my defense mechanisms went into full alert. Why? First, I hadn't heard anything about this in the news media. Second, my research on the do-not-call topic for a June article told me that cell phones were immune. Third, the owner of the "888" phone number wasn't identified. Fourth, the strong appeal to pass it on to your friends. Read more.
I took 15 minutes to check this one out -- safely.
The truth be told
I called the "888" number not from a cell phone but from a land line already blocked, fearing the very activation on some phone list I would be trying to prevent. Turns out it's the legitimate do-not-call sign-up number provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
That surprised me. I really expected this to be a come-on. It isn't. And the facts about how to activate a cell-phone number are correct. But the "fact" that you have to in the first place is wholly incorrect; there is still no need to sign up your cell phone.
Apparently there have been several similar email campaigns, some probably less wholesome than this. I searched "cell phone do not call" on Google and came up with a right-on-target FTC memo dated February 2006. Upshot: cell phones are still immune from telemarketers. If interested, here are the facts straight from the memo:
Just out of curiosity, I browsed the FTC site, specifically the "consumer information" portion. Like many Federal government sites, this site is becoming easier to read, easier to use and more relevant. Have a look.
I was surprised at the range of topics -- from credit rights to ID theft, as you might suspect, into newer territory like diet and weight-loss programs, energy-savings programs and even indoor tanning. Short, crisp articles explain your rights and what to watch out for in each area.
If you get a message touting something you don't quite trust -- by phone, by friend or by email -- a 15-minute FTC check is a darned good idea.
Meanwhile, I'd like someone to explain why someone would send such email misinformation in the first place.