The robotic voice on the telephone advised a Latina in Connecticut that she can lower her utility bill by switching to a third-party supplier, a type of call received at nauseum by many in this state.
But there was something different about this call. The message was in Spanish.
Robocalls and live telemarketing pitches delivered in Spanish or specifically targeting Latinos appear to be the outliers for now, according to several Latinos in Connecticut and state and federal consumer protection agencies contacted by CTlatinonews.com.
“Not yet” is how a West Hartford Latina replied when asked if she had received any robocalls in Spanish before expressing her annoyance with the number of calls she receives in English.
However, “yet” may be very soon, if not now for some Hispanics, especially during the holiday shopping season with telemarketers and robocallers ramp up their capability to target Hispanics in both English and Spanish as they seek a share of what has become a very lucrative market.
According to Statistica.com, Hispanic’s total spending is predicted to exceed $1.7 trillion in 2020.
Multicultural marketing has become more popular in recent years as American society has become more diverse. It also has become “increasingly profitable, when done properly,” according to the website of Dataman Group, a Florida-based third-party call center agency that sells Hispanic market lists to telemarketers.
The desire to do it right for bigger financial turn is a catalyst behind a growing trend toward customization and segmentation in telemarketing within ethnic communities. The Dataman Group states that communities are diverse and “one size fits all” no longer works and not every “Latino” speaks Spanish.
The call center company advertises it can focus on dialects of subgroups within an ethnic community. This includes recognizing there are “nuances in Mexican Spanish versus the Spanish language spoken in Puerto Rico.”
DRSI, a call center based in Puerto Rico, proclaims, “Our operators can seamlesly switch from English to Spanish and vice versa.”
The value of linguistic agility has some statistical support. Pew Hispanic Center, a prominent research agency, found that more than half (54 percent) of Spanish-dominant Hispanics tend to be more loyal to companies that show an appreciation for their culture by marketing in Spanish.
Pew also found that Hispanic millenials also are more likely to shop online than non-Hispanics and that 96 percent of Hispanics own cell phones, the same average as for whites and the general population.
“There are a lot of things going on,” said Sandra Arenas, special associate attorney general for constituent and consumer affairs in Connecticut. For example, she said, “extended auto warranty calls are rampant with some in Spanish.”
Another type of fraudulent call that Arenas cited offers to lower credit card interest rates. “When does that really happen,” she said.
“People need to check first before they open their wallet,” she said, suggesting a call to the number on a credit card or the account number on their utility bills.
Arenas is turning to Latino newspapers and Spanish-language radio to spread the message about robocalls and says that anyone with a complaint may contact her office at 860-808-5420.
In a press release from the state attorney general’s office, Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull recently said a “spoofed” call purporting to be from Eversource has proliferated. In some cases, the scammer may demand to install a new meter and threaten to shut off power if not immediately paid $300. In other cases, the scammer may also demand payment of an alleged overdue balance, and threaten immediate shut off, Seagull said.
In one of the most nefarious schemes, scammers claim to be from federal immigration authorities to shake down potential victims. “These calls are intended to scare people and are the lowest of the low,” said Catherine Blinder, chief of education and outreach for the Connecticut Department of Protection.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, calls started from fake charities asking for donations to help the survivors. “These are unconscionable and illegal,” Blinder
While the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer division says it is aware there are calls in Spanish targeting Latinos, according to a spokeman, the agency does not ask a complainer’s race, could not provide a breakdown on the number of complaints received from Hispanics and the amount of money allegedly lost.
What the FTC has found, however, is that Connecticut generates an inordinate share of consumer complaints about telemarketing and robocalls. The state ranked ninth nationally in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 with nearly 75,000 complaints to the FTC or 2091 per 100,000 population, the agency spokesperson said. In addition, 3,438 of the complaints from Connecticut were about fraud and the reported loss was about $3 million.
The likelihood that a telemarketing call will be a scam is supported by a study conducted by Truecaller, Sweden based company that provides an app for Caller ID, spam blocking and payments which it says is used daily by 150 million customers worldwide.
Truecaller found that in 2016 roughly 22.1 million Americans lost a total of $9.5 billion in robocall scams.
In addition, Truecaller determined that millennials, not elderly people attached to landlines, are now “the most targeted group and that among persons aged 18-34, men reported far more scam incidents than women, 33 percent versus 11 percent.
A group particularly vulnerable to telemarketing scams using foreign languages such as Spanish or Chinese, Blinder said, are individuals who are isolated either by location, especially the homebound. These potential targets sit by the phone all day and if it the call is in their native language they are most likely to make a deal, she said.
As to how to better protect consumers from robocall scams, Blinder said government agencies and do-no-call lists can only do so much. It really is up to the telecommunications company to provide solutions, she said.
Right now the scammers appear to have the upper hand. They can easily gather a “lot of information about potential victims, Arenas said. “If they look up your name (on the Internet) they can find out the name of family members,” she added.
Two years ago, Arenas was targeted by a scammer who asked her to accept a collect call from her grandmother in Mexico. “We are not Mexican and my grandmother is not in Mexico, so I hung up,” the state attorney said.
Still, her next phone bill included a seventy dollar charge as if she accepted the call. “I had to report it and to fight this bill,” Arenas said.
Sometimes, telemarketers misfire. Yolanda Negron, a Puerto Rican leader in Willimantic, said she has not received calls in Spanish but got one in Chinese.
“How did they know I took Chinese my first year at Eastern Connecticut State University, I have no idea,” Negron said. “Just as I have no idea what the woman was saying.”