Iowans lose millions in impostor scams

DES MOINES — AARP Iowa is calling on lawmakers to help prevent gift-card scams during this year’s legislative session. Impostor scams have been the number one consumer fraud scam in Iowa for nine years running and commonly seek payment via gift cards.

Paige Yontz, state advocacy manager for AARP Iowa, said impostors play on a victim’s fears, usually tied to family members.

“A gift card scams takes place when somebody reaches out and said, ‘Hey, your son or daughter is in trouble. They’re in jail, perhaps, and the fastest way to get them out is to go buy a gift card and read me the numbers on the back so I can get them out,'” Yontz explained.

While it may sound like common sense not to do so, Yontz pointed out victims often panic and follow the impostor’s orders. AARP Iowa is pushing for a measure designed to educate people about gift card scams and encourages consumers to think twice before falling victim. Gift card scams cost Americans close to $150 million in 2023, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

AARP reported one in three people say they know someone who has been the target of a gift card scam, and one in four adults say they are not aware being asked to send money via a gift card is fraudulent. Yontz noted the measure being considered would require retailers to help educate consumers at the point of sale.

“Legislation that would require any retailer who sells a gift card other than their own to post a notice about what a gift card scam is and how to contact the A.G.’s Consumer Protection Division for help,” Yontz added.

Companion bills await Iowa House and Senate subcommittee action.