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 SEATTLE, Oct. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- The Washington State Attorney General's (AG) Office announced that Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire today joined one of the largest multi-state, anti-fraud actions in United States history by filing a lawsuit against a New York firm accused of taking at least $35,000 from Washington residents through a telemarketing scam operation.
 The lawsuit is part of a 10-state effort by states' attorneys general against nearly 70 different companies accused of defrauding consumers nationwide. The other states involved include Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin.
 "Telemarketing and other consumer fraud cost Americans an estimated $100 billion every year," Gregoire said. "The problem has become so large -- and so lucrative for the crooks -- that a comprehensive strategy to address the problem has become critical to helping consumers fight back."
 Gregoire also announced the formation of a new coalition of federal agencies and private organizations, including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), to more aggressively investigate and prosecute telemarketing fraud. Federal agencies include the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration. Private sector members include Seafirst Bank and the Washington State Crime Prevention Association.
 "Preventing telemarketing fraud has become a top priority of our Consumer Protection Division," Gregoire said.
 The Washington lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court against Elmwood Life Concepts, states that representatives of the Kenmore, N.Y. firm tell callers they have "won valuable prizes," such as a new Cadillac, or a $25,000 cashier's check, but to claim their prize, callers must send the company $800 or more. Gregoire's office has obtained a court order freezing the company's assets in a New York bank, thereby increasing the likelihood of returning some of the money Washington residents have lost in the alleged scam.
 One elderly Lacey woman spent more than $15,000 for her prize, a Norman Rockwell print worth only a fraction of the amount she paid. Another senior citizen in Spokane sent the firm $6,600. In all, the AG's office has discovered at least five potential victims, who allegedly have lost $35,000 in 10 incidents involving the firm. The actual number of victims is probably higher, Gregoire said. She encouraged consumers to call the Attorney General's Office toll-free ConsumerLine at 800-551-4636 if they have additional information or questions.
 In addition, Cal Watness, AARP's Washington State Director, announced a new public education campaign targeting seniors, including a new 18-minute educational video on telemarketing fraud.
 "More than one-third of the $40 billion illegal telemarketers skim from Americans every year -- about $13 billion -- is lost by older citizens," Watness said. "Seniors make up 12 percent of the population, but represent 30 percent of the victims of fraud."
 Gregoire noted the suit against Elmwood and the nationwide action against telemarketers coincides with National Consumers Week.
 -0- 10/26/93
 /CONTACT: Dean R. Owen of the Washington State Attorney General's Office, 206-586-1883; or Doug Shadel of the American Association of Retired Persons, 206-526-7918/

CO: Washington State Attorney General's Office; American Association of
 Retired Persons; Elmwood Life Concepts ST: Washington, New York IN: SU:

IC-AL -- SE004 -- 2459 10/26/93 12:30 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Oct 26, 1993

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