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Don't become the next victim

July 23, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The FBI estimates that telemarketers bilk $40 billion a year from American consumers, according to Steve Mehlman, a fraud prevention expert for the American Association of Retired Persons in Atlanta.

An estimated one in every 10 solicitations is fraudulent, said Mehlman, who spoke at a seminar on fraud prevention in Martinsburg on Wednesday.

How you deal with phone solicitors is key to protecting yourself, he said.

First and foremost, you need to have a plan for what you'll do when you get a fraudulent call, Mehlman said.

You want to get off the phone as quickly as possible, he said. The longer the telemarketer has you, the more vulnerable you are to being taken.

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For the many people incapable of just hanging up on someone, Mehlman advises:

- Tell them "No thank you. I'm not interested," and hang up.

- Say you don't do business on the telephone and ask for the information in writing.

- Ask the caller to spell his or her first and last name, the name of the company and for its address. Ask them to repeat it. Keep asking for specific information. They'll hang up.

- Say "Excuse me. Someone's at the door," and walk away. Time is money. They won't hang on.

- Say you're busy and ask for a number where you can return the call. If they tell you it's not allowed by the company, ask for a home number. After all, they called you at home.

- When they ask you how you are, start nagging them about your maladies. Don't let them get down to business.

When you hang up from a call you believe was fraudulent, call police or the attorney general's office to report the incident.

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