Borderline Scams

June 1996 FTC Consumer Alert!

Thousands of Americans are losing money every day to scam artists operating beyond the boundaries of the United States. In many cases, these international crooks are sitting across the border in Canada -- just far enough away from U.S. laws and jurisdiction to reduce the chances that American victims will ever recover their money.

Through telemarketing and print ads, cross-border scam artists offer advance-fee loans, lucrative sounding investment opportunities, and bogus prize promotions.

Foreign lottery ticket resales also lure Americans to buy phony "low-risk" chances in supposed high-stakes lotteries. Victims of these scams not only lose their money, but also risk violating federal law, which generally prohibits playing lotteries by mail or phone.

Cross-border scams seem to be a growth industry. According to the National Fraud Information Center (NFIC), a project of the National Consumer League, British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario now rank 8th, 9th, and 11th among states and provinces as a geographic source of fraudulent telemarketing activity.

Indeed, police in Montreal, Quebec, recently identified more than 200 Canada-based companies that target U.S. residents exclusively. U.S. law enforcement agents say that con artists may be setting up shop in neighboring countries to avoid prosecution under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which has been in effect since Dec. 31, 1995. The law sets operating standards for legitimate telemarketers, spells out stiff penalties for fraudulent ones, and for the first time, gives state law enforcement agents the power to prosecute across state lines.

Although the Federal Trade Commission and state governments have joined forces to present a united front in the fight against telephone fraud by sharing information and resources, consumers still are in the best position to spot -- and stop -- these kinds of scams.

When it comes to identifying cross-border fraud, that can be daunting. The reasons: con artists based in Canada often give a "mail drop" address in a U.S. city. In addition, Canada and most Caribbean island nations use telephone area codes that are integrated with the U.S. phone system and accessible by direct dialing, without long, cumbersome, and obvious foreign "country-codes."

Here's how you can stop telephone fraud, whether it's cross-border or cross-town:

  • Don't fall for a promise. Telephone solicitations that require an up-front fee for advance-fee loans, unidentified investment opportunities or prize promotions are against U.S. law.
  • Ignore offers to buy tickets in a foreign-based lottery, no matter how tempting they are. Except for legitimate state lotteries, it is a violation of U.S. law to purchase lottery tickets by phone or mail.
  • Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Don't tell them to anyone who asks during an unsolicited sales pitch.
  • If you don't recognize a telephone area code, check it out in your telephone directory. Keep this list of Canadian and Caribbean area codes near your telephone book for reference:
    • Canada
      • 204 Manitoba
      • 306 Saskatchewan
      • 403 Alberta
      • 416 Toronto
      • 418 Quebec
      • 506 New Brunswick
      • 514 Montreal
      • 604 British Columbia
      • 613 Ottawa
      • 706 Ontario
      • 709 Newfoundland
      • 807 Ontario
      • 819 Quebec
      • 902 Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island
      • 906 Ontario

    • Caribbian
      • 809 Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Virgin Isand and other Caribbian Islands

To report telemarketing fraud, contact your state Attorney General.

For more information about telephone fraud and your rights under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, write to the Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580, or contact the National Fraud Information Center, 1-800-876-7060.

The information on this page is from the FTC Consumer Alerts page , which contains a number of excellent articles on consumer fraud and concerns.