DES MOINES – Older Iowans who receive official-looking mailers with “FREE government benefits” in large print should beware: A private company might be fishing for your information and trying to sell you insurance.
An Arizona printing company and a Missouri insurance agency must stop sending deceptive mailers to Iowans as a result of separate consent judgments. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office had alleged that the companies had violated the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act and the Older Iowans Act.
The mailers were sent to at least 61,750 Iowans. The front of the mailers had an illustration of the U.S. Capitol, and below it said “Official Business” and “Important information about your government benefit.” The envelopes also said “Receive your FREE Government Benefits Information Brochure” with “Free Government Benefits” in larger type.
Inside, the mailer offered a “Senior Final Expense Program” that would “pay 100% of all funeral expenses not paid by Social Security, up to $15,000 for each senior covered. To see if you qualify, mail this postage paid card today.” The addressee was asked to provide name, address, phone, age and spouse’s age and name. In small type at the bottom of the page, the card read “Not affiliated with or endorsed by any government or Medicare program.”
The Attorney General’s investigation showed that the mailers were targeted to Iowans as old as 85 and with annual incomes as low as $15,000. More than 1,000 Iowans responded to the mailer. The mailers were sent by Countrywide Printing and Mailing Services, LLC, of Tempe, Ariz., at the direction of McAfee and Associates of Hannibal, Mo.
In a consent judgment entered by Fifth District Chief Judge Arthur Gamble in November, Countrywide and its owner, Troy V. Fish, are barred from engaging in printing and mailing services aimed at Iowa consumers. They also must pay $10,000 to the Consumer Fraud Enforcement Fund and destroy any names or other personal information of Iowans. Fish also agreed to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation.
In a consent judgment entered by Polk County District Judge Celene C. Gogerty on Wednesday, McAfee and Associates and its representatives — John A. McAfee of Hannibal; Alexander Chasteen of West Des Moines; Clay Walters of Grimes, Iowa; Justin Roberts of Waukee; and Rachael Edmondson of Kansas City, Mo. — are barred from sending mailers to Iowans that, among other things, “create a false impression that the mailer is sent from any government entity or department.” The mailers also must say that McAfee and Associates is a for-profit insurance business. The defendants must pay $5,000 total to the state.
McAfee and its agents denied that they were involved in the design of the mailers.
If the defendants violate the consent judgment, they could be subject to fines of up to $5,000 per day of the violation under Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act.
Businesses that commit fraud against the elderly can face additional civil penalties under the Older Iowans Act.
Seniors are frequent targets of scammers, according to a U.S. Senate report released in January. The Special Committee on Aging found that older adults lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial scams. Among the top scams are people posing as representatives of government agencies.
If you receive questionable mailings or calls, contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office:
Phone: 515-281-5926 (outside the Des Moines area, call toll-free: 888-777-4590)