Iowa has joined federal and multi-national agencies in "Operation Roaming Charge" - a concerted campaign against telemarketing fraud originating both in the U.S. and abroad.
"This is a very important development in the long-running battle against telemarketing fraud, because so many operations have moved out of the U.S. but are still going strong in Canada and some other countries," said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. "We can't reach them on our own."
"Operation Roaming Charge" was announced this afternoon by officials of the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice and other U.S. agencies, joined by the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Financial Crime Division and others.
The FTC says telemarketing fraud accounted for about one-fifth of all consumer fraud complaints the FTC received in 2003 and the first half of 2004 - and that it cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Telemarketing fraud continues to plague especially older consumers," Miller said. "That means it remains a big problem for Iowa."
The Iowa Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division continues to pioneer strategies to thwart telemarketing fraud - including going after U.S. companies that "assist and facilitate" fraudulent companies operating out of Canada. Miller's office has seized thousands of pieces of mail coming to Iowa commercial mail "drop-box" sites, mail allegedly used by con-artists to build lists of persons vulnerable to telemarketing schemes -- most often older persons.
Last month, Miller's office filed a lawsuit alleging a Phoenix company "facilitated consumer fraud" by enabling deceptive telemarketers to automatically withdraw money from people's bank accounts without the victims' permission or approval. Bank account debiting is the preferred method for fraudulent telemarketers to obtain people's money, according to FTC complaint data for the first half of this year. Almost half of FTC telemarketing complaints (46 percent) reported payments taken by bank account debit, compared to 18 percent by credit card, the next highest category. The Iowa lawsuit against "Teledraft, Inc." was filed in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.
"We are doing our part here to fight back," Miller said. "It is very encouraging to have U.S. and international agencies focusing on the cross-border problem of telemarketing fraud."
Miller encouraged any telemarketing fraud victims to contact the Iowa Consumer Protection Division by calling 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (toll-free), or by writing to the Division at the Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
Miller said his office is aware of many Iowans who have lost tens of thousands of dollars to telemarketing fraud, and some who lost life savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Miller offered several basic tips to help people avoid telemarketing fraud:
- Just hang up. Don't be so polite if you suspect a scam.
- Resist high pressure. Con-artists want you to send money before you think.
- Take your time. Insist on written information in advance. Avoid promotions that demand immediate payment, especially by cashier's check, courier service, or wiring money.
- Never pay for a "prize." Phony prizes are the number one hook for scams.
- Keep your accounts private. Don't give out bank account or credit card numbers unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Check your bank account statements every month, and notify your bank of any unauthorized or suspicious charges.
- Register for the "Do Not Call" list at 1-888-382-1222, or at www.donotcall.gov.
U.S. officials said today in Washington that "Operation Roaming Charge" has resulted in the arrest of more than 100 persons in the U.S. and 35 arrests in other countries. The project involved coordination among many state attorneys general; the Postal Inspection Service; U.S. Attorneys' offices nationwide; criminal, civil and tax divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice; many FBI field divisions; the Federal Trade Commission; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and many other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
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