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Iowa leading the way in catching telemarketing scams

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DES MOINES, Iowa—For Earl Saddoris, the sound of his cell phone ringing has become the stuff of nightmares.

For weeks he's been bombarded by telemarketers. They call him day and night. Offering him deals like a $35,000 dollar car loan, if he'll just give them his bank account numbers.

"The time that they'd call would be right around 5:30 in the morning.  Then it goes until right until it's almost time to go to bed.  I says I'm not interested, I tried to be nice the first couple of times, I says I'm not interested, and no I just don't want it.  I thought no meant no, but I guess it don't," says Saddoris.

"I thought about it, and then I just kinda let it drop, and said, 'Well, let me just think about it.'  Oh no, then the pressure starts you know?  'Now, now, now, right now, lets do it' you know, and they don't take no for an answer," he adds.

On the phone the calls often start like this, "I'm calling for handicapped children's services." Or "I'm calling for Woman to Woman's breast cancer foundation." They usually end with this: "Could you help for 12 or 15 dollars?"

In Des Moines Iowa, one non-descript phone has been making telemarketers answer for their malicious ways for more than two decades.

The phone sits in a cubicle in the middle of the Iowa Attorney General's office. Over the years a small number Iowans, sick of being hounded by telemarketers, have gotten new phone numbers and donated their old numbers to the Attorney General's office.

Those numbers are rerouted without the telemarketers ever knowing there's been a switch.  When telemarketers call, they don't know they're talking their way into trouble.

"It's just an old push button telephone and it doesn't look like much, and it doesn't sound like much but it is one powerful tool," says Bill Brauch of the Attorney General’s Office.  "The callers never know when they're calling into Iowa if they're talking to an Iowan or if they're talking to the attorney general's office."

There's only one woman allowed the answer this phone, and she's specially-trained to string telemarketers along, making them believe she's an easy target, all the while collecting vital information, and recording the entire conversation.

Once the call is over, all the facts are cross-referenced with state and national telemarketing data bases. If something doesn't jive, criminal action is taken.

On average the Iowa Attorney General's Office will file 15 to 20 court cases a year against fraudulent telemarketers.

"We have relationships with the attorney general's offices all over the country, and it's not too tough for us to figure out who's making that call. The evidence you get, a tape recording of the solicitation that's the kind of thing that is really hard to refute," says Brauch.

Iowa's telemarketing trap has been so successful over the years it's been copied by attorney general's offices in nearly all 50 states. The FBI has even come calling to see how they can mimic Iowa's success rate.

According to Earl Saddoris, no punishment is too great for the con men trying to swindle unsuspecting victims out of their hard earned money.

"Sooner or later they're going to sweet talk somebody, and somebody's going to come out and say, 'Oh gosh, there's $35,000 and my bank account's been nailed, because I goofed up.'"