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W.Va. targeting bad telemarketers

August 12, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A counterattack against telemarketing schemes will be launched in the Eastern Panhandle in October, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. said Thursday.

McGraw was in Martinsburg Thursday morning to announce the state's "Operation Strike Back."

The program will use volunteers to phone an estimated 4,000 Eastern Panhandle residents on Oct. 7 and warn them they fit a profile used by telemarketing scam artists, McGraw said.

"We want to arm people who are on these lists and shield them from these scams," West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler said.

Phone number lists supplied by the American Association of Retired Persons will contain many of the same names used by telemarketing firms, McGraw said.

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The typical phone scam involves "get rich quick" schemes or phony charities and is played on a 50-year-old people with disposable income, McGraw said.

"Using the same lists the bad guys will use we can get to the people first," West Virginia state Del. Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, said.

The clampdown on phone scams is the latest in a five-year effort to put fake telemarketers out of business, McGraw said.

The West Virginia Attorney General's Office has brought lawsuits against 106 telemarketing firms with all but two either settling out of court or simply disappearing, McGraw said.

"We still have two of them wiggling around," he said.

All of the firms have been out-of-state operations, which McGraw attributed to a belief by scam artists that it's harder to get caught if they are in a different state.

The state's efforts have generated $10 million in fraud cases over the past three years, but that is likely only "the tip of the iceberg," McGraw said.

The aggressive campaign against phony telemarketers is also an attempt to preserve the reputations of legitimate firms, Bell Atlantic representative John R. Ruddick said, adding that most firms do ethical business.

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