DES MOINES, Iowa -- Attorney General Tom Miller today filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against a New Jersey man for his role in sweepstakes-related mail solicitations that allegedly misled and cheated elderly Iowans.
The lawsuit alleged that the “deceptive handiwork” of Robert C. Schneider, dba SchneiderCreative, of Englewood, enabled scammers to cheat susceptible Iowans on fixed incomes who could not easily absorb the losses. The lawsuit alleges that one elderly Iowa man was victimized repeatedly with these deceptive mailings, and was known to have lost at least $175 in a matter of months.
According to Miller, Consumer Protection Division investigators were led to Schneider after learning of a 91-year-old eastern Iowa widow whose savings were being depleted as she sent check after check in response to personalized mail solicitations from scammers.
Deceptive Mailings Imply Winnings, Seek Advance Payment
Many of the mailings, including those which the lawsuit alleges Schneider designed, appeared to notify recipients that they had been selected to receive a large cash sweepstakes prize, which would be delivered upon payment of a $25 processing fee. In fact, according to Miller, recipients had won nothing, and the $25 simply bought a virtually worthless list of publicly-advertised sweepstakes that anyone could enter.
One mailing, titled “important advisory,” appeared as a specially-authorized $1,150,000 “prize account balance” notification. The mailing appeared to confirm that the prize money would be released to the consumer upon submission of the proper “transfer” documents, including an “acquisition form” and payment of the $25 “research fee.”
The back of the mailing included a disclosure that “you have not won any money,” which was embedded in dense blocks of capital letters. Miller alleges the disclosure was insufficient to overcome the overall misleading impact.
“We allege that the mailings Schneider designed were slick and artfully misleading, inducing payments from many vulnerable Iowans,” said Miller. “We further allege that Schneider provided these design services to many different con-artists, multiplying the losses suffered by elderly consumers in Iowa and elsewhere.”
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Schneider from designing deceptive solicitations directed to Iowans, and to require payment of restitution to Iowa victims, civil penalties of up to $40,000 per legal violation, and the state’s costs and attorney fees.
Miller cautions Iowans to be wary of official-looking, personalized mailings trumpeting prize winnings. In particular, caregivers of older Iowans should look out for predatory mailing or telemarketing campaigns making too-good-to-be-true promises.
“Once scam operations identify a susceptible person, the person’s name appears on victims lists that get bought and sold,” Miller warns. “A sort of feeding frenzy can develop, as a pool of especially vulnerable people is the focus of repeated efforts to cheat them.”
Miller adds that legitimate contests don’t make you pay a “processing” or “research” fee to collect winnings. Consumers should also not provide financial account or credit card information in response to a prize or sweepstakes promotion.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 1-888-777-4590.