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Scams like one that led to fake Neil Young concert are big business in Iowa

A man types on a computer keyboard. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)
A man types on a computer keyboard. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)
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While hundreds of Iowans bought tickets this summer to a Neil Young concert that turned out to be too good to be true, they — and the event organizer — were far from alone in getting taken in by what turned out to be a hoax.

The FBI reported Iowans lost more than $15 million to internet crimes in 2018 alone.

In the Neil Young case, Jim Jacobmeyer, the president of not-for-profit Artisan’s Sanctuary, announced he had booked the rock legend to perform a 30-minute acoustic set at a Woodstock-themed festival planned for Marion’s Lowe Park Aug. 18. Hundreds of people bought $20 tickets to the event before reporting by The Gazette raised doubts about the identity of the person through whom Jacobmeyer had booked the concert, a person who claimed to represent Young.

Young’s actual representatives at Lookout Management and Warner Bros. Records later confirmed the musician was not performing in Marion.

Jacobmeyer agreed to refund tickets on request. Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said his office is not investigating anything related to the incident, and Jacobmeyer did not respond to a question asking if he had lost money in the scam.

“This situation sounds like it falls under what we call an impostor scam. Last year, we had 339 formal complaints about impostor scams, and that was our No. 2 complaint category,” Lynn Hicks, communications director for the Office of the Attorney General of Iowa, said in an email.

Impostor scams involve someone pretending to be a person they’re not, usually through phone calls, emails or social media. They might pretend to be anyone from a relative in need of money for an emergency to an IRS agent collecting overdue tax payments.

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The number of complaints about impostor scams to the Attorney General of Iowa’s Office doubled over the past year, from 161 to 339, and that is likely only a sliver of the actual number of victims. Hicks said many more people contacted the office to report the scams but did not file formal complaints.

People often are embarrassed to speak up when they get caught in a scam, said Al Perales, an investigator with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. As part of his job, he travels the state talking with Iowans about common scams and how to protect themselves.

“I see scams every day in my line of work. I get calls every day from Iowans who lose money from impostors, from people pretending to be somebody they’re not,” he said.

“It’s sad. There are people who wake up in the morning and decide to steal and scam.”

PROTECT YOURSELF: Tipsto avoidfraud and what to do if you are scammed

At the national level, internet scams, which include a wide range of crimes, including impostor scams but also extortion and hacking, are investigated by the FBI’s internet Crime Complaint Center. The Center has received an average of almost 300,000 complaints of internet scams per year over the past five years, with huge financial consequences for vicitims — they reported $2.71 billion lost by victims in 2018. Those statistics include reports of nearly 2,000 victims in Iowa in 2018 alone, who suffered $15,337,975 in losses.

Sgt. Shawn Ireland, a detective with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, gives presentations on scams as a member of Linn County TRIAD, a consortium of law enforcement and community organizations dedicated to promoting safely of older adults.

He said recent cases he’s investigated in Linn County include a couple who lost around $15,000 after the man met a person online who claimed she was going to inherit $1 million and if the victim would send her $150,000 to help with feed they could share in the wealth. The scam was identified when the man tried to take out a bank loan to send money to the perpetrator and the bank called his wife.

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In another open Linn County investigation, a woman received a call saying she had won a grant for about $9,000 from a medical company, and if she would send them $250 in processing fees they would send the grant money to her. Through further conversations, the caller ended up convincing her to keep sending money, to the tune of more than $3,000.

Ireland said most of these cases ended up referred to the FBI because the perpetrators may be overseas and hard to track down.

Perales agreed, adding sometime perpetrators use layers of fake identities and software to protect themselves. Sometimes they even scam people into laundering money for them, roping in unwitting accomplices through advertisements promising easy money to work from home as an office assistant.

“There are times we are able to get money back for someone, but it’s very rare,” Perales said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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