Telephone fraud may come to a halt

Tuesday's sweep is being called "Operation Tele-PHONEY" and the number of victims in this case is simply staggering.

Craig Stafford of Los Gatos knows the sting of being deceived by a telemarketer. He says his daughter was told by a solicitor that her magazine subscription would cost her $29 -- the bill came out to $540.

"I said 'I'm not paying any of it. She was told $29.' So, I asked to talk to somebody further. They were pretty belligerent and basically hung up," says Stafford.

Stafford is one of an estimated 500,000 customers of the 13 companies named in Tuesday's action.

They were bilked for more than $100 million.

"Fraud is one of the worst poisons to commerce, and telemarketing fraud is one of its worst manifestations," says William Kovacic of the Federal Trade Commission.

The range of complaints included offers for credit cards and free gifts to telemarketers billing for items never received.

A trade group representing telemarketers says it supports today's action and called for aggressive enforcement of existing laws.

In the meantime, Consumer Action in San Francisco ranks telemarketing fraud as one of the biggest problems facing consumers.

"Telemarketing fraud is definitely within the top five scams that we hear about. It's a widespread problem and this new case goes to show how many people can get ripped off by just a few companies," says Joe Ridout of Consumer Action.

For some, the solution is simple.

"Just say no and hang up. It isn't rude. It's smart," says Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasdent.

For Craig Stafford of Los Gatos, Tuesday's action couldn't come soon enough.

"I was not surprised. And I was pretty elated they were filed and actually surprised they weren't filed a while back."


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