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February 13, 2018

Attorney General Files Consumer Fraud Lawsuit against Seller of Government Benefits Advice

Lawsuit alleges Nashua-based company and owner deceptively claimed authority to provide veterans’ benefits assistance

(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller Monday filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against a Chickasaw County business and its owner, alleging they deceptively claimed authority to provide paid veterans’ benefits assistance.

The lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, alleges Sonya Ackerson, of Nashua, and her business, Advocate 4 the Aging LLC, charged fees for veterans’ benefits assistance without being federally accredited.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accredits those authorized to act as an agent, attorney, or representative of a VA-recognized veterans’ service organization to assist in preparing, presenting, or processing VA benefits claims. According to VA records, neither Ackerson nor her business is an accredited representative.

Alleged Unlicensed Estate Planning Advice
The lawsuit also alleges Ackerson and her business failed to disclose to consumers that they are not licensed or registered to provide estate planning advice.

Alleged Door-to-Door Sales Act Violations
Additionally, according to the lawsuit, Ackerson and Advocate 4 the Aging violated Iowa’s Door-to-Door Sales Act. Ackerson and her company allegedly finalized business contracts at consumers’ homes, requiring sellers to comply with the state’s door-to-door sales law. The law applies if a seller completes a sale at a location other than their place of business, and if goods or services exceeding $25 will be used for personal, family or household purposes. Under the law, sellers must provide consumers with a written and oral notice that they have three business days to cancel a purchase, and they must tell consumers how they can cancel.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction and an unspecified judgment.

General Consumer Advice on Veterans Service Representatives and Organizations
Accredited veteran service representatives and veteran service organizations (VSOs) are trained to help veterans, as well as their families and advocates, understand and apply for any VA benefits they may be entitled to including compensation, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, home loans, life insurance, pension, health care, and burial benefits. Additionally, they can help gather needed evidence for a VA claim and submit it.

Applying for veterans’ benefits is free, and neither veterans nor their families should pay for forms. The VA prohibits accredited advisers from charging fees to complete and submit VA paperwork.

VA-accredited claims agents and attorneys may charge a fee for their services, but only after the VA has issued a decision on a claim, a notice of disagreement has been filed, and the attorney or agent has filed a power of attorney and fee agreement with the VA.

The VA maintains a list of VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited people authorized to assist in the preparation, presentation and prosecution of VA benefit claims at www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp

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