(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Polk County judge Tuesday ordered a Phoenix-based telemarketing company and its principals to permanently cease telephone sales to Iowans. The company’s telemarketers sold household products claiming the sales helped veterans and disabled workers.
Polk County Judge Douglas F. Staskal issued the order against Advanced Employment Solutions, LLC (AES), as well as its owner, Ann Marie Scott, and its general manager, Mila D. Sprague, both of Phoenix, Arizona.
The order, through a consent judgment, covers both telemarketing calls and charitable solicitations to Iowa residents. The order resolves a consumer fraud lawsuit that Attorney General Tom Miller filed in September.
Miller’s lawsuit alleged that the operation sold trash bags, kitchen items, Bibles and American flags using sales pitches in which callers falsely claim to be “handicapped veterans” or “disabled workers.” The suit alleged that these pitches were directed particularly to older Iowans.
“AES telemarketers repeatedly called a 92-year-old Iowa woman over a year, convincing her to pay $900 for the products they hawked in these calls,” Miller said. “Based on the solicitation practices we captured in undercover recordings, we think it’s likely the telemarketers used deception to induce this woman to place repeat orders, and the same goes for many other older Iowans who placed orders.”
Miller’s suit against AES included a recording of one of three AES sales pitches recorded on the Consumer Protection Division’s undercover phone line [click here for the audio]. The suit alleged that the recorded pitches and the company’s own scripts displayed a number of illegal features, including:
- The claim by one caller that he was a “handicapped veteran” of the Vietnam war, when in fact he had no disability and was born in 1980, long after the Vietnam war ended;
- Making groundless claims that a would-be donor’s deceased spouse had been a repeat supporter, and asking that another purchase be made in the spouse’s memory;
- Falsely claiming that as much as 50% of the operation’s proceeds goes to fight cancer;
- Misleading Iowans about which products cost the least, in order to prompt purchases that generate higher commissions;
- Telling consumers that they’ll be contacted only once a year to help, when in fact three to four calls a year was company policy.
According to Miller, the judgment also requires the defendants to make best efforts to refund Iowa consumers who request refunds. “We invite any Iowans who have purchased from this company, and who believe they may have been misled, to contact our office,” Miller said.
In addition to barring any future Iowa telemarketing or charitable solicitation, the consent judgment requires AES, Scott, and Sprague to refrain from collecting on any previous Iowa sales, and from making any future use of its list of Iowa customers, or even transferring the list to anyone else. In resolving the case through the consent judgment and agreeing to the Iowa ban, the defendants denied any wrongdoing.
How to handle phone calls asking for support
- Don’t be fooled by a sympathetic name. Many causes clearly deserve generous public support, including veterans, law enforcement, fire fighters, and people with disabilities, but some marginal operations claim connections with such groups yet provide them with very little support. Don’t be pressured into helping out until you have checked out a worthy-sounding organization.
- Show healthy skepticism. Be wary of claims that most of the money you send goes to a worthy cause, or that your donation will be used locally.
- Get it in writing. Check out the operation before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they insist on a pledge before they’ll send you information. Charities can be checked out at the national Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving” site – www.give.org.
- Don't give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone to someone you don't know.
- Give wisely. Giving to a charity you know and trust is often the best option.
There are many good charities soliciting contributions in Iowa, and the Office of the Attorney General upholds the integrity of our system of giving by stopping fundraising abuses. If you think you may have been cheated by a fundraising scheme, write to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590, toll free. The website is: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.