What to know about those annoying calls to lower your interest rates
By STEPHANIE ZIMMERMANN firstname.lastname@example.org March 29, 2012 6:10PM
THE FIXER HAS SAVED YOU
Updated: May 1, 2012 8:25AM
D ear Fixer: Please tell me how to stop all those calls I receive during the day and early evenings to lower my interest rates on my credit cards. I get at least three a week and when I press the key to tell them I want to be taken off their list, they hang up.
I only carry a balance on one of my cards, which is through a credit union. On the rest of my cards, I carry a zero balance.
One caller told me I gave permission for these calls when I signed on for a credit card. Is this true? Is there any action I can take to eliminate these calls?
Dear Gloria: These callers are annoying — and prolific. In a recent case against an illegal California “robocall” operation, the Federal Trade Commission found the scammers made approximately 2.6 billion (yes, billion!) calls to consumers over a 20-month period. More than 12 million people were tricked into talking with a sales agent who claimed to be calling about credit card interest rates or auto warranties.
We showed your letter to Steve Baker, the regional director of the FTC here in Chicago. Steve said he’s gotten these calls himself, so he shares your frustration. His agency has already brought several big cases against robocall operations for violating the law by making pre-recorded sales calls to people without their written permission and calling people on the National Do Not Call registry.
He offered this info:
◆ First, if you haven’t already done so, register your number at donotcall.gov.
◆ Beware of urgent calls from “Rachel,” “Heather” or another innocuous-sounding name calling from “card services” or “financial services.” These are pre-recorded calls which then transfer consumers to a sales agent.
◆ The sales agents convince consumers to pay a hefty fee up front — anywhere from $500 to $1,500 — with a promise to lower their interest rate. Typically, all the consumer gets is a three-way call with the scammer calling the customer service number on the back of the credit card. The scammer asks the bank to lower the interest rate, the bank predictably says “no” and the consumer still has to pay a fee for this “service.”
◆ The calls seem to be placed randomly — so no, you did not authorize them when you filled out a credit card application. Steve says many people with perfectly good credit have been hit with these calls.
◆ If you get one of these calls, please complain. You can file online by going to FTC.gov and clicking on “file a complaint.” It’s easy to fill out the online form, and it helps the FTC find patterns of activity and build law enforcement cases.
Dear Fixer: I applied on Craigslist for a driving job and received an offer from a Phil Meyer who told me he was coming to Chicago with his wife and two sons on a six-month sabbatical. He emailed me and we corresponded a few times and I told him how much I wanted per hour, which came out to $600 per week.
Today, I received an envelope with a check for $2,100, which I deposited in my bank account. I became leery as to why a stranger would send another stranger that amount of money. He told me to put the check in my account and when the check cleared, I was to contact his real estate agent and give them the other portion of the money after I’ve taken out my $600.
I am convinced something is not right. I checked online at the university where he’s supposed to be teaching, but I can’t find any evidence of this individual anywhere. What should I do?
Thomas McKee, Chicago
Dear Thomas: Your intuition is right — this has “scam” written all over it. This con artist — most likely working overseas with accomplices in the United States — is counting on your bank to make the funds “available” right away, before it becomes apparent that the check is a fake. By then, he hopes you will already have sent $1,500 to the supposed real estate agent, who, we assume, is in on the scam.
We’ve advised you to complain to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Illinois Attorney General and the Chicago office of the FBI. You’ve also notified your bank. You were smart to not fall for this.
Getting the runaround over a consumer problem? Tell it to The Fixer at suntimes.com/fixer , where you’ll find a simple form to fill out. You’ll also find a list of consumer contacts and tips. Because of the large volume of submissions, The Fixer can’t personally reply to every problem. Letters are edited for length and clarity.