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Crime on the Line: Telemarketing and the Changing Nature of Professional Crime

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 43 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 2003 Pages: 489-505
Date Published
17 pages

This study examined criminal telemarketing and the "vocational predators" who perpetrate it, comparing them with their predecessors of earlier eras.


Most of the data used were obtained from semistructured personal interviews with 47 telemarketing offenders convicted of Federal crimes. To ensure that the sample included sufficient numbers of persons with diverse telemarketing experiences, the researchers also interviewed 22 offenders under Federal probation supervision. The interviews explored a range of topics, including subjects' background and criminal history, their employment history, and the nature and circumstances of their initial and subsequent participation in telemarketing fraud. Overwhelmingly, the subjects indicated they were attracted to and persisted at telemarketing for "the money." Only one subject reported earnings of less than $1,000 weekly, and most reported that their annual earnings were in the range of $100,000 to $250,000. Although there were variations on the basic scheme of fraudulent telemarketing, typically a consumer received a phone call from the offender, who solicited funds or sold a product based on false assertions or enticing claims. Goods or services were either not delivered at all, or they were substantially inferior to what was promised. As career predators, they shared several important characteristics with the professional thieves of earlier generations. Like the latter, they pursued a hedonistic lifestyle that featured illicit drugs and conspicuous consumption, and they acquired and used an ideology of legitimation and defense that justified their actions as both moral and legitimate. The subjects typically found little significant financial rewards in legitimate pursuits and were attracted to telemarketing for the lucrative expectations. Telemarketing was the reason some dropped out of college. A significant number of the subjects had previous criminal records and were persistent users of alcohol and other drugs. Telemarketing fraudsters, unlike the professional thieves of previous generations, are likely to spend much of their time in recreational pursuits. Their earnings are spent on drugs, gambling, and fast-living. They earn a good return from crime, but few spend appreciable time in jails and prisons. 84 references

Date Published: January 1, 2003