An Older Iowans Advocate for the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General's office spoke to a large crowd at the Prime Time event in Storm Lake on Thursday, warning them about sweepstakes scams, offering advice on how to get off of mailing lists and sharing stories about people who mistakenly paid thousands of dollars to unscrupulous telemarketers.
Debra Moore, an expert on the subject of fraudulent business tactics, shared her knowledge on the topic in an hour-long presentation in the Storm Lake Middle School.
Moore said the topic was critical for elderly audiences such as one at Prime Time, as that age group is one of the most likely to be targeted by scam artists.
"It's something that is definitely a big concern for us, especially since there are so many elderly people living in Iowa," Moore said. "We've seen people come to us with losses of $70,000, $100,000 and even $600,000. We've made strides over the last few years, but we've still got work to do, and that's why being able to get the information out to as many people as possible is so important."
Moore said Iowa has been the national leader in fighting scam artists, particularly in the telemarketing industry, as the state has set up a unique program to help catch the perpetrators of fraudulent claims. After victims come to the Iowa Attorney General's office looking for help, the state gives them a new telephone number and then routes calls to the old number to their office, where they tape-record the sales pitches, many of them threatening and misleading.
The state has been able to prosecute and sentence more than 35 people this way.
"We've sent warning letters to companies telling them to not call Iowa, and the program's worked really well," Moore said. "We've seen a significant decrease in the number of calls that come to Iowa."
A woman in Waukee lost $600,000 to telemarketers. Other victims may be unwilling to come forward and seek help because of fear of public ridicule.
"The scope of the problem is still unknown... some of these cases go unreported," Moore said.
Tips to prevent seniors from being victimized:
* Ask credit reporting agencies not to give your name to solicitors. Credit reporting agencies sell lists of names to credit card marketers and others who will then call you for other services. Call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). An oral request will remove your name for two years, or you can follow the prompts for a written form to request permanent removal.
* Tell phone solicitors, "Please do not call me again." When you make this request, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires the caller to enter your name on a "do-not-call" list.
* Take your social security number off of your checks and driver's license.
* Avoid giving out financial or other unnecessary personal information on things like prize offers or sweepstakes. The information may be sold.
* Make sure there is a mailing address for online businesses. If there is only an e-mail address listed, there is no way to know where the business is from or if it is even a reputable business at all. Having a mailing address also ensures that you will be able to track them down later.