American Greed

The Greed Report: Don’t Get Taken by Someone Like Me! A Telemarketer Tells All

Pile of US twenty five cent coins,
Sandra Baker | Getty Images

If there's one thing Tom Arnold knows how to do, it's separating people from their money — over the phone.

He figures he made $3 million as a telemarketer, selling supposedly rare coins through boiler room operations on Long Island.

Now, he's sharing his secrets exclusively with CNBC's "American Greed."

A pleasant, unassuming 38-year-old, Arnold certainly doesn't come off like a con artist. And that was at the top of his bag of tricks.

"The nicer you spoke to people, the better results you would get," he said.

Ciaran Griffin | Stockbyte | Getty Images

Arnold says he would make 1,000 in a typical day. That's right. A thousand calls. In an eight-hour day, that works out to about one call every 30 seconds.

"You would call 1,000 people because people would hang up on you sometimes and you just had to keep dialing," he said. "For every 100 calls you'd make, you'd probably get one sale."

That meant the few people who took his calls and actually stayed on the line would receive the utmost care.

"You had to be very sincere and soft-spoken and, you know, always agree with what they were saying," he said.


No money, broke, missing
Larry Washburn | Getty Images

Of course, getting the person to stay on the line, vital as that was, was just the start. Arnold's real strength was his ability to close a sale, getting total strangers to pay big money for coins, sight unseen. Sometimes he even got them to spend money they didn't have.

"You would encourage them to take out an equity loan or any type of way to get the money for the coins," he said.

Arnold was smooth. But he now admits he was just really good at following the script given to him by his employer.

"You would just become an actor and basically were just there to read the script and do the acting part."

The script included what are known in the business as "power closes" — carefully crafted lines to get someone on the fence to take the plunge and buy.


Image source: Inti St Clair | Blend Images | Getty Images

"American Greed" obtained some of the sample scripts.

"Look, I won't have the pieces next week. I have them NOW."

"I have opportunities on coins all the time. But I can't stress how important and worthwhile this opportunity is. I'm going to get the coins out to you. OK?"

"I know I'm a disembodied voice over the phone, and I'll always be that unless you give me that opportunity that I need to impress you. I promise I won't let you down, OK?"

Experts on telemarketing fraud have heard them all before. Fortunately, the National Telemarketing Victim Call Center — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group — has developed a script of its own, for you to use when a telemarketer calls:

Caller: "I'm the expert and I want to make money for you."

You: "Are you licensed? How much commission do you make?"

Caller: "This investment is better than the stock market."

You: "You need to give me a comprehensive plan, in writing."

Caller: "You need to jump on this now!"

You: "NO!"


The seal of the Federal Communications Commission at FCC headquarters in Washington.
Getty Images
The seal of the Federal Communications Commission at FCC headquarters in Washington.

Government authorities have been trying to crack down on telemarketing fraud for years, but it's an uphill battle. The Federal Communications Commission offers advice on its website. You can also register your phone number on the Federal Trade Commission's national Do-Not-Call list, but that doesn't guarantee that some calls won't get through. Learn more about protecting yourself from all kinds of mass marketing scams at www.stopfraud.gov.

Arnold, who eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is working on repaying his victims, says even if you start to think you can trust the salesperson, don't let your guard down.

"Always consult with your other family members about any relationships that you have with anybody on the phone," he said.

And, he added, never make a decision on the spot.

"Absolutely get a second and third opinion before you buy anything over the phone."

Or you could follow the sure-fire strategy used by the thousands of people Arnold didn't manage to scam.

They were the ones who simply hung up the phone.

Watch "American Greed," Thursdays at 10 pm ET/PT on CNBC Prime.