Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says many telemarketing scammers have moved their operations to Canada, partly due to pioneering work done by Iowa investigators. Miller says just over a decade ago, someone in his office had an idea. Miller calls it “the most innovative enforcement technique to deal with telemarketing fraud.”
Miller says an investigator in his office named Ray Johnson was frustrated that an elderly Iowa woman was being repeatedly victimized by telemarketers, so he had the woman get a new phone number — and transfer her old number to Johnson’s desk in the Attorney General’s office. That meant the telemarketers would dial her old number, but an investigator would answer the phone.
“So this became our technique…and we recorded those calls as we had a right to do under Iowa state law,” Miller says. Criminal charges were filed against telemarketers who were calling elderly Iowans who had fallen victim to previous scams, and according to the Attorney General they had “strong evidence” to get convictions because of those taped conversations.
Miller says the investigators in his office “developed an appreciation of how nasty and vicious and condescending (the telemarketers) were to elderly Iowans, in addition to stealing their money.” Other states mimicked Iowa’s technique and eventually the F-B-I did a nationwide sting using the phone numbers of elderly Americans who got on “call lists” because they’d been scammed-by-phone before and were seen as easy targets.
Miller says as a result of those crackdowns, telemarketing fraud declined significantly but then the scam artists moved their operations to Canada because it’s more difficult to get those committing the crime in Canada back into U.S. courts to stand trial.
“That’s the dilemma,” Miller says. As a result, Miller says his office is employing a new technique to try to get at telemarketing fraud. They’re asking U.S. credit card companies, banks, Western Union and other financial agencies that transfer money to quit doing business with the Canadian companies that are scamming Iowans by telephone. Steve St. Clair, a lead investigator in the Iowa Department of Justice, says there recently has been “increased cooperation” from Canadian authorities to crack-down on telemarketing scams.
St. Clair says there’s “too much” telemarketing fraud committed by Canadian companies against Americans and Iowans that it’s now easier to target the U.S. companies that are helping out the scams. Earlier this month, the state of Iowa got a court to get an Arizona business that had been withdrawing money from Iowans’ bank accounts to stop funneling money to two Canadian company that were committing fraud.