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January 16, 2007

Iowa's attorney general and the Iowa Lottery warned consumers Tuesday about a lottery check scheme that resulted in Iowans wiring cash in attempt to claim lottery or sweepstakes prizes.

Victims receive fraudulent checks for amounts up to $100,000 informing them that they have won the lottery.

The victims are told they have to pay upfront costs before they get the prize for what the scammers say covers taxes and administration fees. Then the victim gets the fraudulent check, and when the bank figures it out they don't get the money.

A northern Iowa woman who wired $3,500 for "processing fees and taxes" to try to collect a $175,000 "lottery prize," and an eastern Iowa man lost $2,900 in "taxes and administration fees" in an attempt collect a supposed $50,000 prize, a news release said.

In both cases, the money was sent to "lottery award agencies" supposedly based in Canada.  Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said his office has been receiving four or five calls a day about the scheme. The counterfeit checking scheme also involves the use of names of real lotteries and well-known logos such as that for the Powerball game.

"Remember that the only lottery legally authorized to operate in Iowa is the Iowa Lottery," said Iowa Lottery CEO Ed Stanek in a statement. "You have to buy a ticket or enter one of our promotions to win, and the Iowa Lottery will never charge you to claim a prize."

The Iowa Attorney General's Office and the Iowa Lottery offered tips on avoiding lottery and sweepstakes scams:

     ·  Never wire funds from a check you've received to pay "taxes or fees" for a promised lottery or sweepstakes prize.

      ·  Reject any kind of scheme that sends you a check and asks you to wire money back.

      ·  Legitimate lotteries do not guarantee that you will win a prize and do not require people to join prize pools to play.

       ·  Never pay processing fees, insurance or commissions to claim a lottery prize. Legitimate lotteries do no require winners to pay anything up front to receive a prize.

       ·  Keep your Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers private.


February 2007                          By Attorney General Tom Miller 

Take the Scare Out of Auto Repair!

           Car-repair complaints always rank high in Iowa, even though most repair shops treat customers fairly.  The most common complaints are that a repair shop charged more than the estimate, or that the shop did work the customer had not authorized.  Today's cars are computerized and complex machines, so doing our own diagnosis and repair is out of the question for most of us.  Here are some things consumers can do to reassure themselves -- and protect themselves against being cheated in auto repairs.

             The most important step is to find the right repair shop and technician:

  • Ask for recommendations from friends, family members, and others.  Word-of- mouth is often the most reliable way to find a good shop or technician.
  • Find a trusted shop and keep going back to it.
  • For expensive or complicated repairs, get a "second opinion" and cost estimate.
  • Be skeptical of advertisements for low-price maintenance work.  Consumers sometimes pay for unnecessary repairs after shops do the advertised maintenance.

            Know your rights under Iowa's Motor Vehicle Service Trade Practices Act.  These rights can help consumers avoid higher-than-expected repair charges:

  • You have the right to receive a written or oral estimate for any repair that costs more than $50, and shops must notify you of this right.
  • The shop may not charge you a price more than 10% over the estimate -- unless it contacts you with a higher estimate, and you approve the additional cost.
  • The repair shop may not charge you for any repairs that are unnecessary or that you did not authorize.

            Disputes may come up even if you follow these tips.  Try to resolve your problem directly with the repair shop.  You will have a much better chance of success if you document your complaint, so keep copies of all estimates and invoices.

            For more information, or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, IA 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or toll-free at 888-777-4590.  The e-mail address is  GOTOBUTTON BM_1_
 On the Web:  GOTOBUTTON BM_2_ .

Consumer Protection Division ! Hoover Building ! Des Moines, Iowa 50319 ! 515/281-5926




From: Moore, Debra [AG] [] 
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 10:30 AM
Subject: Rapid Tax-Refund Loans Consumer Advisory

Attached is a "Consumer Advisory" bulletin or column from Attorney General Tom Miller on the subject, "Rapid Tax Refund Loans." It's tax season, and tax preparers may invite consumers to get a "Refund Anticipation Loan" (RAL, a loan borrowed against the expected tax refund.  Rapid tax-refund loans are a costly way to gain just a few days on tax refunds.

Please let us know if your e-mail address is changing. Otherwise, your Emailed Advisory kicks back to us. Also, alert us if you are receiving duplicate copies of the Advisory in "snail" mail and e-mail. If so,
please tell us the exact name of the individual or organization to be deleted.  

The Consumer Advisory is attached in the following formats:  Word, Word Perfect, Plain Text and pdf(For the pdf version you need to have installed the free Adobe Acrobat reader.  You can get the free reader at
this site:

Consumer Advisories are available on our Web site.  You may print this and other Advisories off at Click on "Protecting Consumers." The email address is:

We really appreciate your cooperation in keeping people informed. 

Debra Moore, Executive Officer
Consumer Protection Division
Iowa Attorney General's Office
1305 E. Walnut, Hoover Building
Des Moines, IA 50309
515-281-6771 (fax)

March 2006
 Rapid Tax-Refund Loans
           A very costly way to gain just a few days on tax refunds It's tax season, and tax preparers may invite you to get a
"Refund Anticipation Loan" or "RAL" - a loan borrowed against the expected tax refund.  Such a loan may come a few days faster than the refund but you pay extremely high fees to borrow your own money.

        Remember, a "Refund Anticipation Loan" is just that - a very
short-term loan, secured by your expected tax refund, arranged by a tax
preparer through a bank.  You pay finance charges (and, most often,
tax-preparation charges as well.)  The loan is repaid when the IRS sends
your full refund to the bank.

        Refund anticipation loans are expensive.  According to a report
this year by the Consumer Federation of America and the National
Consumer Law Center, the loans cost about $29 to $120, depending on the
size of the refund.  That means the interest rate on "RAL" loans could
range from about 40% to over 700% APR (annual percentage rate of
interest.)  That's a bad bargain for an "advance" of just 7 to10 days.

        Consumers need to ask tough questions:
        "How much will I pay for the loan?"  An average refund is about
$2150, with a typical finance charge of $100 for a refund anticipation
loan -- a 178% APR.  Fees for tax preparation, electronic filing, or
check-cashing can double or triple that cost.

        "What does the fee buy me?"  An RAL loan gets your refund to you
in 1-4 days, compared to just 7-10 days if by ordinary electronic refund
deposit to your bank. 

        The Consumer Federation/Consumer Law Center report notes that
about 56% of those who get refund anticipation loans are filing for
"earned income tax credits" - payments under the federal program that
entitles some low-income workers to a payment even when they don't owe
income taxes.  The report indicated that almost $317 is subtracted from
the average earned income tax credit refund when all fees are added for
tax preparation, electronic filing, check cashing and the loan fee.
That's a lot to pay for a payment that comes just a few days faster.
The best bet?  Avoid high costs -- get free help from organizations that
assist low-income filers.  For a "Volunteer Income Tax Assistance" site
or a "Tax Counseling for the Elderly" site near you, call
Tax assistance sites in Iowa also will be listed at 

        Be a smart "consumer" in seeking your refund.  For more
information, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection
Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, IA 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or
888-777-4590 toll-free.  On the Web:

February 5-11, 2006

 National Consumer Protection Week
February 5-11, 2006

“Grand Scam Challenge” and other Consumer-education games on-line at

                      Here’s an idea on how to observe National Consumer Protection Week Feb. 5-11:

             Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller invites everyone to take the “Grand Scam Challenge” – a set of on-line consumer-education games and quizzes.

             “Just go to,” Miller said.  “You will find a dozen on-line quizzes and games that give good consumer-education tips on everything from identity theft and scholarship scams to on-line shopping and telemarketing.”

             National Consumer Protection Week is organized every year by state and federal agencies and others, including the state attorney generals, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, AARP, and the BBB.  This year’s theme is “Consumer Protection:  It’s the Name of the Game.”

             “These on-line games and quizzes are quick, easy, fun, and educational,” Miller said.  “They are good for students, older Iowans, and everyone in between.”   The “Grand Scam Challenge” games are a great educational tool for teachers to use in classrooms.

             Go to and click on “National Consumer Protection Week” for games including “Spot that Scam,” “Discount Dynamo,” “Giveaway Guru,” and “Identity Idol.”  Click on “consumer information” for more quizzes and games.

             Miller also listed several cardinal rules for smart consumers:

*           Be skeptical.  Remember: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true!”

*           Ask questions, shop around, study offers, get information in writing, keep receipts.

*           If you have a problem, raise it with the seller – insist on your rights.

*           If you can’t resolve your problem, contact the Consumer Protection Division.

             For more information, or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division on-line at (click on “protecting consumers.”)  Call 515-281-5926, or call toll-free at 1-888-777-4590.  Write to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, 1305 East Walnut St., Des Moines, Iowa 50319.


February 2006                           By Attorney General Tom Miller

Get Your FREE Credit Reports
You can spot errors – and detect identity theft.

      You are entitled to a FREE copy of the credit reports compiled by the three national credit reporting bureaus.  You can get one free copy from each company every twelve months.  It’s easy, and it’s important -- you can catch errors, and detect identity theft.

             The credit reporting companies collect information about you -- important information such as if you pay your bills on time, how much you owe, and whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy or been sued or arrested.  The companies sell your information to creditors, insurers, employers, landlords, and other businesses who want to evaluate your credit.

             The three national credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.  The FTC required them to create a joint clearinghouse for consumer requests, so it’s very easy:  Just go to  GOTOBUTTON BM_1_  Or call toll-free to 1-877-322-8228.  Or write to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.  You can order all three reports at once, or you can get them one at a time every four months or so.

             Why should you obtain and examine your credit report?  First of all, it is yours, and you probably should see what lenders and others are reading about you.

C                   Check your credit reports to see if there are any errors -- and then get them corrected.  Millions of credit reports are sold every day, and research shows about one in four credit reports contains an error.  Errors might cause you to pay higher interest rates, or be denied a home loan, credit card, or even a new job.  Federal law and FTC rules give you very specific rights to dispute and correct your credit reports.

C                   Review your credit reports to be sure no one has stolen your identity.  “Identity theft” usually means someone uses your personal information to open new accounts under your name without you knowing it.  Examine your reports, and look for unfamiliar credit card accounts or other suspicious activity, such as incorrect addresses or indications of delinquent payments.

           So, go to  GOTOBUTTON BM_2_  Or go to  GOTOBUTTON BM_3_  (the Federal Trade GOTOBUTTON BM_4_  Commission web site) GOTOBUTTON BM_5_  for even more information on how, why, where and when to get your free credit report, how to dispute errors, and what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.

           You also can get to this information by going to  GOTOBUTTON BM_6_   If you have complaints or questions, call us at 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 1-888-777-4590.  Or write to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.

Consumer Protection Division ! Hoover Building ! Des Moines, Iowa 50319 ! 515/281-5926


December  2005                        By Attorney General Tom Miller

Consumer Tips for Holiday Shoppers

             The holiday shopping season is by far the busiest time of year for most shoppers and retail stores -- and the season also generates more than its share of consumer problems.  Why?  Most likely because of the sheer volume of purchases, because many consumers are in a rush, and because people later will want to make more gift returns and exchanges than during other seasons.  It’s an important time to be a smart shopper.

How to avoid consumer problems:

            Buying Online:   Be sure to shop with reputable companies.  Make sure the seller lists an address or toll-free number just in case you have a problem.  Be sure purchases are refundable in case you are not satisfied.  Get all details on shipping and handling fees, refund and return policies, and complaint procedures.  Print out and keep records of your purchase.  Use only “secure” web sites.  Pay by credit card (not by check) so you can dispute the bill and withhold payment if necessary.   For more tips on “Web” shopping, go to:   GOTOBUTTON BM_1_  (click on “consumer protection”), or  GOTOBUTTON BM_2_ .

            Returns and "layaways":  Make sure you know a store's policy on returns or layaways before you make a purchase.  Remember, there is no state law that requires stores to give a refund, exchange, or credit for merchandise that is returned or taken off layaway (unless the store advertises that it accepts such returns, or unless an article is defective or was misrepresented.)  Remember, Iowa's three-day-right-to-cancel law only applies to door-to-door sales, or sales made away from a seller's usual place of business.  In short, most refund policies are up to individual retailers.

            Always keep receipts.  Most stores will not make refunds without them.

            Mail orders:  If you order gifts by mail or telephone or over the Internet, you have certain protections. Federal law requires the seller to ship your purchase within thirty days, unless the offer or advertisement specifies a later date.  If there is a delay, the seller must notify you, give you a chance to cancel your order, and send a full refund if you choose to cancel.  The safest way to pay for mail order purchases is by credit card.

            Gift Certificates:  If you're thinking of buying a gift certificate, check the store's policy.  Find out if the store will give a credit or cash return if the purchase price is less than the value of the gift certificate, and any other terms the store places on the certificates.

             GOTOBUTTON BM_3_  GOTOBUTTON BM_4_  To file a complaint or get more information, contact the Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Bldg.,  Des Moines, IA 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or toll-free at 1-888-777-4590.  On the web:  GOTOBUTTON BM_5_ .  Have a wonderful holiday season.


Consumer Protection Division ! Hoover Building ! Des Moines, Iowa 50319 ! 515/281-5926


August 2005                               By Attorney General Tom Miller

Tips for Buying a Used Car

             The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division receives hundreds of calls and consumer complaints every year about used car purchases.  Follow these tips to avoid unexpected expense and disappointment:

 Shop around.   Do your research.  Take your time.

·         Check out the values of several makes and models in your price range.  Most public libraries have vehicle value guide books available at no charge to look up prices, such as the Kelley Blue Book or the NADA Used Car Price Guide.

 ·         Check with your bank, credit union or other lender whether you qualify for a loan, and how much you can get.  Remember, you may get a better used-car loan rate  from your financial institution than from a dealer.

When you find a car you like, take your time, ask questions, and check it out.

·         Test-drive the vehicle, and take it to your mechanic for inspection.  Never buy a car without test-driving it first, and never buy a car from someone who won’t let you take it to a mechanic for a pre-sale inspection.

 ·         Research the car’s history.  For a fee, private services like Carfax and Autocheck may be able to tell you whether the vehicle has ever been titled as salvage, flood-damaged, or rebuilt, or if it has ever had an odometer mileage discrepancy.

 ·         Check out the repair history for the make and model.  The spring auto issue of Consumer Reports magazine lists repair histories for various used-car makes and models.  The Internet also has a great deal of information about used cars.

 ·         Check the paperwork on the car before signing a contract to purchase.  Examine the odometer and damage disclosure statements. 

 ·         Offer a fair price, and focus on the total purchase price.  (If you focus only on the monthly payment amount, you may end up paying more than the car is worth.)

             Watch what you sign -- once you sign a contract to buy, there generally is no three-day right to cancel.  Put any disputes or other important issues in writing.  Be ready to walk away if you aren’t satisfied with a deal.  Be comfortable with your purchase.

            To check out a dealer’s complaint record, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (toll-free).

Consumer Protection Division ! Hoover Building ! Des Moines, Iowa 50319 ! 515/281-5926