Judge bars telemarketer from Iowa fundraising
DES MOINES — A Polk County judge April 16 barred an Osceola-based telemarketing company and its operators from professional fundraising in Iowa, after a state undercover phone line recorded what Attorney General Tom Miller called a “highly deceptive pitch” from a for-profit company that claimed it was raising money to grant the wishes of terminally ill Iowa children.
In July the Consumer Protection Division’s undercover phone line recorded a representative of Telequal LLC attempting to solicit money on behalf of “A Child’s Dream Foundation,” a Knoxville, Tenn., nonprofit organization.
The intended recipient of the call is a 73-year-old widow with Alzheimer’s disease who had given money in the past. The woman’s family had previously changed her phone number and consented to forwarding calls placed to her old number to the Consumer Protection Division’s undercover phone line. A Consumer Protection Division staff member posed as the woman on the call.
The Telequal representative “outright lied” in the call, Miller said. “She said she was calling from the charity, claimed that the charity focused primarily on sick Iowa kids, and also claimed that a lot of each donation went to the kids. In truth, the call was coming from Telequal. They were asking for money for an out of state charity that has no special Iowa focus, and 85 percent of every dollar donated went to the telemarketer, not to sick kids.”
After recording the solicitation, a Consumer Protection Division investigator interviewed Telequal ex-employees, who confirmed that similar deceptions were routine. Shortly before Miller planned to file a consumer fraud lawsuit, the business began to shut down. In signing the consent judgment that finalizes the shutdown, the defendants denied wrongdoing.
In addition to Osceola-based Telequal, the consent judgment also named four Osceola residents, including its owner, Travis J. Held, 36, Amanda D. Held, 41, and Telequal employees Jeffrey J. Jones, 42, and Jennifer L. Jones, 42.
“Our Consumer Protection Division staff has long viewed Telequal as a legally marginal operation, at best, and our recent investigation confirmed that deceptive fundraising pitches were commonplace among Telequal’s telemarketers,” Miller said.
“This court order gives the company and its principals no wiggle room in opening up shop again in Iowa,” Miller added. According to the order, Telequal and the other defendants are prohibited from moving operations to another state and then calling into Iowa. The defendants also are barred from ever using any of Telequal’s donor information again, including the names of Telequal’s out-of-state donors.
“We don’t have jurisdiction to prevent these operators from starting from scratch in another state,” Miller said. “But if they do, this court order forbids them from using any donor information generated by Telequal’s Iowa operation. And they can’t make a single solicitation call to Iowa.”
The Telequal case is the third time in the past three years that Miller’s office has shut down an Iowa telemarketing operation for allegedly deceptive practices. In each instance, Miller added, undercover phone line recordings were key.
“Iowa has a great workforce, and it’s a place where legitimate businesses can and do thrive,” Miller said. “But our state will not harbor deceptive telemarketing operations that prey upon people here in Iowa or any other state.”
Miller reminds Iowans to give, but to give wisely by being aware of charity fraud. Be leery of a sympathetic name or sales pitch, ask specific questions about how the organization spends its money and request written information.
Anyone who may have been cheated by a fundraising scheme, can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov; call 888-777-4590; or write Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines 50319.
For more information, see “Giving Wisely: A Guide to Charitable Giving and Avoiding Charity Fraud” at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.