Consumer Tips & Resources

Consumer Advice & Tips[1]


Telemarketing Fraud:

Never, ever divulge your credit or debit card, Social Security, or Medicare number to someone who calls you out of the blue!

Credit Card ScamsHang up on anyone calling you and telling you they are from “credit card services” about a problem with your card and that they need you to confirm personal information, such as your Social Security Number, in order to help you.  While banks and credit unions may call you to tell you there is a problem with your card, they will never ask you for personal information on the phone.  If you do get a call you think is really coming from the card issuer, tell them you’ll call them back – then look up the number you have for your card issuer and call that number to see if there really is a problem.

Grandparent ScamNever, ever wire money to someone claiming to be your grandchild in trouble.  Call the child’s parents to make sure the grandchild is all right. The same advice applies as to any call from any other friend or relative who claims to need your help and asks you to wire or transfer money to them.

Impersonation scams – know that the IRS, Microsoft, Google, the gas and electric company, and Amazon are not going to call you out of the blue and ask you to pay money.  Hang up on calls about car warranties.  The government does not call to threaten you for supposedly missing jury duty!  Be on your toes!  Screen your calls!  Hang up if the call sounds sketchy.

Romance Scams – Watch out for dating apps.  Some are fine, but scammers may ask you to go off the service to communicate separately.  They may seem real and keep you going for weeks but then ask for money for some unexpected purpose.  Don’t fall for it!  Don’t wire them money or give them any financial or credit card information.  Ask friends for advice if you have your doubts.  Be on your toes, these are common, costly scams!

Charity Calls – Never donate to anyone you don’t know who calls you out of the blue and asks for a charitable contribution.  Tell them you don’t give over the phone.  Ask them to send you information in the mail.  Check out the charity at

[1] This information is provided by church member Bill Brauch.  Bill served as Director of the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division from 1995-2015, and from 1987-1995 as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General in the same Division.  He also served as Director of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition from 2017-2020.

Online Scams:

Online scams are ubiquitous.  But, if you are careful, you can avoid being taken.  Follow these tips:

Never, ever click on a link in a surprise text or e-mailClick on the link and you may unleash an electronic “worm” that will gather personal information from your device, such as account numbers, account Pins, and other valuable information.  You may also find your device disabled, with the scammer attempting to extort money from you to release their “hold” on your device.

Scam texts often use trickery to get you to click – watch out for these and similar come-ons:

“You’re a winner!”

“Your account is frozen!”

“I can’t believe this photo of you!” [link]

“Your Privacy has been breached!”

“Your computer’s been infected!”

“Your package is delayed”


Avoid Social Media Scams:

  • Bogus Facebook “friend” requests;
  • Romance Scams – (See above);
  • Fake ads within social media that appear to come from real stores, but which don’t exist;
  • Bogus Claims, for example:

“I made $ millions selling from home!”

“Free gift cards!”


Don’t trust all online reviews:

Businesses have been known to post fake reviews making the quality of their work sound better.  Scam businesses often post positive reviews.  Go to legitimate sources of information about consumer satisfaction, such as the Better Business Bureau’s website, to see what real customers think of a business.


Used Car Fraud:

  1. Always test drive a car before making an offer, and never buy from a seller who won’t let you test drive.
  2. If at all possible, have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic and never buy from a seller who won’t allow that.
  3. Do your research, check out good used car makes and models in Consumer Reports. If you have a DSM Library Card, you have free access to Consumer Reports online or at the Library.
  4. Consider checking the vehicle identification number on an online vehicle history service, such as the US Department of Justice’s service:,  this is the lowest cost option.  Others include Carfax and Autocheck.
  5. Make sure all manufacturer recall repairs have been done on the car:
  6. Check out the dealer for complaints by calling the Iowa Attorney General’s Office (515-281-5926) and the BBB –


  1. Understand that there is NO law giving you a three-day right to cancel a used car you buy from a dealer. Once you sign the sales agreement it’s your car!  But, buying a vehicle “As-Is” does not mean that you lose all your rights.  Sellers can still be sued for fraud or concealment of defects, even if they sell a car As-Is.  As-Is only means that there is no warranty.


Car Repairs

  1. Find a shop you trust and keep going back,


  1. Know that car dealers usually charge more than independent shops.


  1. Chain retail repair shops often work on commission, so their estimates may be higher than independent shops.


  1. Iowa law gives you a right to a written estimate – make sure to get one for major repairs.


  1. If possible, get more than one estimate.


  1. Research the problem online before you contact a repair shop – it might not be so bad!


  1. Complain if the final bill exceeds the estimate – that’s illegal! (Of course, if you gave permission to do additional work at a certain charge the repair shop can exceed the original estimate by that amount.)


Last Dollar Scams:

Watch out for scammers who prey on folks in financial difficulty.

Debt avoidance – don’t pay money to anyone who claims they can make your debts go away.

Work at home scams – You’ll be the loser if they require you to pay money in order to earn money.  Consumers have lost thousands of dollars to scammers touting supposed jobs test-shopping, coupon-clipping, or reviewing insurance claims from home.

Payday loans – Payday lenders charge unlimited sky-high interest rates for small amounts of money.  Borrowers get hooked and end up further behind in their debts.

Government grants – You should never have to pay money for information about government grants.  Very seldom are government grants going to be available to help you out of debt.


Elder Fraud:

Many of the above scams hit seniors but, of course, many others do as well, including:

Medicare impersonation calls – Know that no one from Medicare is going to call you out of the blue about a supposed bill or service.  Never give your Medicare or Social Security Number over the telephone to someone you do not know.

Lotteries & Sweepstakes – No, you are NOT a winner!  People don’t win sweepstakes they never entered or lotteries for which they never purchased tickets.

Computer Tech support – If someone calls you and says that there are problems with your computer and that you will need their assistance, hang up!!  These are crooks who will try to either take over your computer and scan it for your personal information or try to trick you into divulging your credit card number over the phone.  Microsoft and Google will never call you about a problem with your computer.

Financial Exploitation – Unfortunately, sometimes people you trust will take advantage of you.  There are too many stories about younger family members stealing money or misusing credit cards and checks of their elders.  Sometimes it’s someone the victim meets in a social setting, maybe at a club or even at a church. Sometimes victims don’t report these thefts for fear of getting someone they care about in trouble.  However, that only encourages more theft.  Please protect yourself – report elder fraud to law enforcement.

Timeshare resellers – Don’t fall for calls out of the blue offering help selling your timeshare for a fee.  Research online how to dispose of unwanted timeshare interests.  Review the advice of your timeshare ownership group as to options for disposing of your timeshare interest.


Scams and Fraud Targeting Minors:

Parents – be aware and be wary!  A host of scams, frauds, and other problems await kids online.  From Cyberbullying to identity theft, crooks know that kids are vulnerable.  The Federal Trade Commission has excellent information for parents about nearly everything that may concern parents regarding their kids going online.  Here’s a link to it:

Watch out for Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams – Scam artists may target prospective college students with a variety of bogus scholarship offers.  Students and parents need to be on the watch for offers that sound too good to be true.  Here, again, the FTC has great information to help you avoid becoming a victim of scholarship or financial aid scams:


Home Improvements:

Home improvements can be costly.  Watch out for scam contractors who may try to take advantage of you.  Follow these tips to avoid being defrauded:

  • Check out that contractor with the Better Business Bureau, the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, and IA Labor Division;
  • Get written estimates from several contractors;
  • Get and check references;
  • Photograph progress along the way;
  • Never, ever hire a contractor who just shows up, uninvited;
  • Do not trust recommendations in social media posts;
  • Insist on a written contract; and
  • Complain if there are problems.



Immigration Scams:

A variety of scams have targeted folks seeking to immigrate or who are seeking citizenship.  These include:

  • Fake government websites providing immigration advice but seeking money for assistance or asking for personal information, such as credit card or financial account information.
  • “Visa Approval” claims – the scammers promise to help speed up the process or qualify applicants who otherwise do not qualify for a Visa.
  • A call from someone claiming to be a government agent. As with bogus websites, they will ask for financial information to “process” an application.
  • Ads for people claiming to be “Notarios” who can help with immigration. In Latin America, Notarios are able to provide legal services (unlike a “notary public” in the U.S.).  Folks seeking help with immigration may be deceived by “Notario” claims.



Small Business/Office Scams:

Small businesses and professional offices, and other offices, such as church offices, are targeted by a host of scams.  Be wary of:

  • Bogus e-mails, texts, or mailings claiming to be from office suppliers of items such as toner, paper, etc. Scammers will either take money and supply nothing, or charge significantly more than your usual suppliers.  Always check past orders to make sure that you’re dealing with the same supplier.


  • Watch out for scam promotional schemes. Small businesses have lost thousands of dollars paying for advertising that either never comes or is less than advertised.  Common examples include digital ads that will supposedly run in health care offices, advertising placements in restaurants, and others.


  • Fake checks that appear to come from suppliers, but for higher sums than the actual bill. The sender asks the business to keep the amount of the bill but to forward the overpayment elsewhere for some purported reason that sounds at least semi-legitimate.  When the check bounces the small business is liable to the bank for the amount sent away.



Consumer Resources – where to go for help or to ask questions

          (All underlined text are live links)


Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division



The Better Business Bureau



For Charities

Check out the charity:


The Federal Trade Commission –


Iowa Legal Aid (within income limits):



For a private attorney, the Iowa Bar Association Find-a-Lawyer service:  


For Credit-related advice, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 


For ID Theft problems –


[1] This information is provided by church member Bill Brauch.  Bill served as Director of the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division from 1995-2015, and from 1987-1995 as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General in the same Division.  He also served as Director of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition from 2017-2020.