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Cold calling (investment telemarketing)

What is a cold calling scam?

‘Cold calling’ is an unexpected or unsolicited telephone call offering investments or financial advice. The investments they offer usually guarantee high returns or encourage you to invest in overseas companies.

The scams sound professional and may have other resources to support their claims. Cold callers often claim to be stock-brokers or portfolio managers.

The investments that are offered by cold calling are usually share, mortgage or real estate 'investments', 'high-return' schemes, option trading or foreign currency trading. The scammers tend to operate from overseas as most of their activities are illegal in Australia.

Generally speaking, it is illegal for anyone to offer you financial advice or a financial product, such as shares, without an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence issued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) which runs the MoneySmart website.

These scams are effective because:

  • the cold callers work from a prepared, convincing script and sound professional
  • they promise high, quick returns on your investment for low or no risk
  • they claim that they are approved by a real government regulator or related to a genuine company in some way.

The scammers are very persistent, and people often surrender money because of the pressure placed on them.

Warning signs

  • The caller does not have an Australian Financial Services licence—or says that they do not need one.
  • The caller may ring you repeatedly and try to keep you on the phone for a long time, or say they will transfer you to a more senior person.
  • You may be told that you need to make a decision very soon and suggest that you will miss out if you are not quick to invest.
  • If you change your mind or want to sell, the scammer might suggest that you swap your current investment for a different one instead, or try to convince you that your investment will go up in value shortly.

Protect yourself from cold calling scams

Use your common sense: the offer may be a scam.

  • If you receive a phone call out of the blue, always ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and who they represent.
  • If someone offers you an investment or other financial service, ask for their Australian Financial Services Licence number: check this with ASIC.
  • Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about money or investments: always get independent financial advice.
  • Be wary of investments promising a high return with little or no risk.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Do your homework

If you are cold called, ask the caller these questions:

  • What is the name of your company?
  • Who owns your company?
  • What is your address?
  • Do you have an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence?
  • What is your AFS licence number?

If they try to avoid answering these questions, it's probably a scam so hang up the phone. If the caller does answer these questions, take the time to confirm their details by calling ASIC on 1300 300 630 or checking online at MoneySmart.

ASIC has a list of known unlicensed cold callers that you should avoid dealing with. Many people have checked this list, and saved themselves a lot of money. But do be careful, the names scammers use change all the time, so a licence check is your best bet.

Always investigate money-making schemes very carefully before parting with your money. Take time to seek independent professional or legal advice. Don’t rely on the cold-caller or anyone they recommend for advice.

Decide

Don't be pressured into making a decision on the phone. Make your own decision in your own time after doing some research and getting some independent advice. If you are not interested in their investment offer, simply hang up.

Report them

Please let ASIC know if you've been cold-called. Even if ASIC cannot prosecute them, it may be able to warn other people.  You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them. Cold calling frauds have cost Australians well over $400 million in the past seven years.

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What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

Similar scams:


Spam email or strange phone messages that urge you to buy shares in a thinly-traded company. The scammers wait until their victims invest before selling their own stock at a profit.

High-pressure sales in high-risk investment strategies. Scammers profit through attendance fees and by selling property and investments at inflated prices.

Expensive software packages that promise to predict the results of sporting events or share market movements. When they fail to work as promised, refunds are hard to come by.

You are offered early access to your superannuation (‘early release’), often through a self-managed super fund. The scammers take a large part of your super for themselves, and put you at risk for accessing your super in an illegal way.

There are a range of scams marketed as business opportunities. They promise success but usually only the promoter makes any money.

Scammers ‘guarantee’ you a job or certain level of income, tricking you into paying an up-front fee for a ‘business plan’ or materials.

Illegal schemes that always collapse when the supply of victims dries up, leaving nearly everyone involved much worse off.

You are promised huge rewards if you help someone transfer money out of their country by paying fees or giving them your bank account details.

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