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    Egg Recall Rises To 380 Million

    Health officials fear Salmonella outbreak could sicken thousands

    By Mark Huffman

    August 19, 2010
    Wright County Egg, one of the nation's largest egg producers, has increased the recall of eggs to 380 million, or 32 million cartons. That's a 66 percent increase since Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, health officials are worried that the tainted eggs could spark the worst outbreak of Salmonella in two decades, eclipsing the 2007 outbreak linked to peanut butter.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has seen more than 300 cases of a dangerous strain of Salmonella in California, Colorado and Minnesota, and officials fear the number will increase. The eventual number could be in the thousands, officials say.

    The strain in question, Salmonella enteritidis, is particularly bad because it can affect the inside of an egg. The hen can be contaminated by the bacteria, passing the contaminant along to the whites and yoke of an egg as well as outside the shell.

    The birds themselves aren't sick so the producer has no clue that anything is amiss.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says its investigation into the source of the outbreak is continuing, and while eggs are a prime suspect in many cases, other foods could also be involved. Officials have also not yet determined how salmonella got into the Iowa farm.

    "This recall highlights the importance of FDA's egg safety rule that was put in place to prevent Salmonella outbreaks such as this one," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). "Because the recalled eggs were produced before the rule went into effect last month, it appears the rule was enforced too late to prevent this outbreak. The lesson from this recall should be applied to food safety legislation -- we must pass a food safety reform bill this year in order to adequately protect our food supply, and reduce or prevent food-borne illnesses."


    The eggs were packaged under the names Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp. They were distributed to food wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa for nationwide distribution.

    The recalled eggs carry three different plant numbers: P-1026, P-1413 and P-1946. The plant number is on the end of the egg carton. If it's stamped with one of those numbers, check the numbers after it. If they are between 136 to 225, the CDC says you should take the eggs back to the store.

    Egg Recall Rises To 380 Million...

    American Airlines To Charge Extra for Good Seats

    Cost of travel rising for those who want to take luggage and be comfortable

    First it was pretzels. Then it was the second checked bag. Then the first checked bag. Airlines continue to find creative ways to tack on extra fees to their advertised fares.

    Now American Airlines said it will begin charging a fee, ranging from $19 to $39, for passengers who reserve one of the seats in the front of the coach cabin.

    Calling the new fee program "Express Seats," American said the new fees for what was once free is now part of the "Your Choice line of products and services that provide customers a way to purchase special services they value."

    Under the program, passengers must pay extra if they want to sit in the first few rows of coach, including bulkhead seats in that cabin. Additionally, customers who purchase an express seat will be allowed to board with Group 1 of general boarding for their flight. The airline says that will allow them to be the first coach customers on and off the plane.

    Express sats are available to all American Airlines customers and can be purchased exclusively via airport Self-Service Check-In machines anytime from 24 hours to 50 minutes prior to scheduled flight departure for travel wholly within the United States, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    Sliding fee scale

    Introductory pricing for epress sats begins at $19 per flight, with pricing based on distance. Here are some examples of introductory prices for sxpress sats on some typical American Airlines routes:

    • $19 for St. Louis to Chicago O'Hare

    • $29 for San Francisco to Dallas/Fort Worth

    • $29 for Boston to Chicago O'Hare

    • $39 for New York JFK to Los Angeles

    • $39 for Chicago O'Hare to Honolulu

    "Express seats highlights American's focus on offering customers what they value most," said Virasb Vahidi, chief commercial officer for American Airlines. "This is another great product under the Your Choice program that puts more travel choices in the customer's hands."

    Multiplying fees

    Airline fees have begun to multiply in recent years as carriers looked for ways to add revenue. It began when fuel prices rapidly escalated.

    Air Tran currently charges extra to reserve a seat in coach. Continental allows customers who pay in advance to reserve a coach seat.

    Why not simply raise fares to cover higher costs instead of tacking on fees? The airlines claim they are providing more options, so the budget-conscious traveler doesn't have to pay for things -- like bags -- if they don't plan on taking any luggage with them. However, it also allows airlines to keep their advertised fares lower than they would ordinarily be.

    Meanwhile, American said it still provides travelers with the option to pre-reserve other seats in the coach cabin at no charge.

    First it was pretzels. Then it was the second checked bag. Then the first checked bag. Airlines continue to find creative ways to tack on extra fees to the...

    Discount Club Scammers To Pay Millions In Settlement

    Consumers were duped while shopping online or through mailed check solicitations

    The state of New York has secured $10 million in settlements with companies that tricked hundreds of thousands of consumers into signing up for discount clubs that charged hidden fees.

    The marketing firm Affinion Group, Inc. and its subsidiary Trilegiant (together "Affinion/Trilegiant") will establish a $5 million fund to provide restitution to defrauded consumers and will pay an additional $3 million in penalties and fees, according to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. Affinion/Trilegiant also must end the deceptive practice of enrolling New York consumers in programs via solicitations in the form of mailed checks.

    Separately, the Cuomo obtained settlements with five retailers to reform their marketing arrangements with discount clubs. The retailers will collectively pay over $2 million for consumer refunds, education, costs and fees.

    In the fine print

    These settlements are part of a wide-ranging investigation into the discount club industry. The probe found that when consumers completed online purchases from familiar retailers, they were often presented with a cash-back or discount offer from a marketer like Affinion/Trilegiant. Information about accepting the offer and its ramifications -- including the fact that the consumer was agreeing to transfer his or her credit or debit card account information -- was buried in fine print and cluttered text. Since consumers were not required to provide their financial information as part of the enrollment process, they often accepted the offer without knowing they were joining a fee-based program.

    Affinion/Trilegiant and other marketing companies also carried out this scheme via mailed check solicitations. The companies would mail checks to consumers that looked like rebates or rewards from known retailers. If the checks were cashed, the consumer would be signed up for a fee-based program.

    Once enrolled in a discount club, recurring charges begin to appear on consumers' credit or debit card bills from unfamiliar companies. Often due to their low dollar amount or the non-specific club names on consumers' account statements, the charges often went unnoticed.

    Judging from the complaints has received, New Yorkers aren't the only consumers who have been bit.

    Karen of Walnut Creek, CA, a Wells Fargo customer says she discovered 28 consecutive unauthorized credit/debit card charges of 12.99 per month for "Identity Theft Protection". "When I called Wells Fargo," she writes, "I was told the charges would had to have been authorized but if I wanted to research it I needed to call." Karen says she called the number given and was told to FAX her complaint, which she did. "After doing Internet research on the name Trigeliant, the fax number and the phone numbers, I fear there may be no resolve."

    "I was enrolled in Trilegiant's Great Fun after signing up with to receive my credit report," Aimee of Minneapolis, MN, tells "I called Trilegiant to complain and cancel; the representative said that she would send me a refund check, but that I cannot cancel until I cash it. She assured me that the check would arrive shortly. Two more monthly subscription fees were posted to my credit card before I finally received this 'refund.' The refund was no refund at all; it was a check that, if I cashed it, would enroll me in another of Trilegiant's clubs: Health Saver."

    "This is a case of consumers who think they are getting a deal when in fact they are being tricked into signing up for a service that bills them every month without their knowledge," said Cuomo. "As our investigation continues, consumers should be on the lookout for cash-back and other discount offers that suddenly appear online or in the form of a check - they are often too good to be true. Affinion/Trilegiant did the right thing by cooperating with my office to end its deceptive practices and I urge other companies involved in this industry to follow their lead."

    Settlement terms

    According to the settlement, Affinion/Trilegiant must:

    • Fully refund fees charged to consumers who unknowingly enrolled in or authorized billing for Affinion/Trilegiant discount clubs and programs

    • Permanently end its practice of marketing discount clubs and programs by mailing checks to New Yorkers

    • Permanently end its practice of obtaining consumers' billing information from online partner retailers

    • Reform its online marketing practices to ensure consumers understand they are enrolling in a program offered by Affinion/Trilegiant for which they will be billed

    • Make redemption forms for rebates immediately available to consumers online

    Discount clubs generate at least a billion dollars each year, much of which is amassed through fraud, and retailers get millions of dollars in revenue for passing customers' credit card information to the programs. Affinion/Trilegiant is one of the largest companies active in marketing fee-based discount clubs and protection benefit programs. Affinion/Trilegiant's marketing has involved arrangements with well-known retailers such as Classmates Online, Inc., 1-800, and Budget.

    Retailers settle

    In addition to the settlement with Affinion/Trilegiant, the Cuomo announced settlements with several retailers that have partnered with either Affinion/Trilegiant or a similar marketing company, such as Webloyalty and Vertrue, which are also under investigation by his office.

    According to these settlements, the retailers will reform their marketing practices, permanently end any mailed check solicitations, permanently end the practice of providing consumers' billing information to companies that market discount clubs online, and collectively contribute more than $2 million to a fund that will pay for consumer education, refunds, and the costs of the investigation.

    The retailer settlements and amounts are as follows:

    • Classmates Online, Inc.: $960,000

    • FTD, Inc.: $640,000.

    • Budget: $207,000

    • GameStop: $195,000

    • Avon: $68,000

    The attorney general's office has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who have incurred unauthorized charges from companies that market discount clubs. These programs may offer actual discounts and other protection benefits, but consumers are often unaware that they are even enrolled in the programs. This investigation is continuing.

    Consumer actions

    Any consumers who find unauthorized charges on their account statements should call the number listed on the statement and demand a full refund. Most consumers who are enrolled in Affinion/Trilegiant's programs will be receiving notice of the settlement and claim forms over the next 30 days.

    Charges for Affinion/Trilegiant programs may appear on consumers' credit or debit card account statements as "TLG," followed by the name of one of the following programs: AutoVantage; Buyers Advantange; CompleteHome; Everyday Privileges; Everyday Values; Great Fun; Great Options; Healthsaver; Hotline; IDSecure; Just For Me; Privacy Guard; Shoppers Advantage; and Travelers Advantage.

    Consumers who discover unauthorized charges from companies that market discount clubs other than Affinion/Trilegiant, such as Webloyalty, Inc. (whose charges may appear on their account statement as "WLI" followed by the name of the discount program) or Vertrue (whose charges may appear on account statement as "AP9," "MVQ," or the name of the discount program) should cancel their membership with the program and/or request a refund.

    Consumers should:

    • review their credit and debit account statements carefully each month to ensure that all charges have been authorized;

    • carefully read the fine print provided with any discount or service offers, especially when shopping online.

    • not cash unsolicited checks that come in the mail without carefully reading any fine print that appears on the front or back of the check, as well as any materials that accompany the check.

    Discount Club Scammers To Pay Millions In Settlement...

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      Latinos, Blacks More Than Half All Calif. Foreclosures

      Most foreclosed homes are modest in size and value, according to new report

      August 18, 2010
      Latinos and blacks in California have experienced significantly higher foreclosure rates than non-Hispanic borrowers in the state, according to research released by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).

      As a result, these communities represent more than half of all foreclosures, with 48 percent of foreclosures on Latinos and eight percent on African blacks. These borrowers were more likely to receive higher-cost subprime mortgages with loan terms that typically increased the risk of default, compared with safer loans made to similarly situated non-Hispanic white borrowers.

      The report, Dreams Deferred: Impacts and Characteristics of the California Foreclosure Crisis, analyzed more than 600,000 foreclosures in the state and also found that over three-quarters of all California foreclosures were on relatively modest properties, not "McMansions" as often believed.

      Additionally, while major cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento have suffered the greatest number of foreclosures, communities in the Central Valley and Inland Empire have been severely harmed by high concentrations of foreclosures.

      "Whether we are from Los Angeles or Modesto, all Californians are severely impacted by the foreclosure crisis," said Paul Leonard, director of CRL's California office. "We need solutions now that ease the pain everywhere."

      Groundbreaking research

      The research is the first to rigorously examine the geographic and demographic dimensions of California foreclosures as well as characteristics of foreclosed properties. The key findings are:

      • Latino and black borrowers in California have experienced foreclosure rates 2.3 and 1.9 times that of non-Hispanic white borrowers. Given the high foreclosure rates for loans made in recent years and the large number of loans to Latinos in those years, almost half of all California foreclosures have been of Latino borrowers.

      • The concentration and volume of California foreclosures differ dramatically by region. The Central Valley and Inland Empire have the highest concentrations of foreclosures, while the volume of foreclosures is highest in major cities, such as Los Angeles.

      • Contrary to some claims, most foreclosures have not been on sprawling "McMansions" but rather on modest properties that were typically valued significantly below area median values at origination.

      "NCLR has sounded the alarm for the last two years about the devastating impact foreclosures have had on communities of color, but this report reveals a shocking level of concentration among Latino homeowners in California," said Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. "Dishonest brokers peddled their high-cost loans, steered our families into risky products designed to fail and now Latinos and all of California are paying the price."

      Fixing the problem

      The report also outlines policy recommendations to reduce what are seen as unnecessary foreclosures:

      • Require servicers to complete the review of loan modification applications before beginning the foreclosure process. This is the central feature of California bill SB 1275 which will be considered by the full California Assembly this week before being sent to the governor.

      • Incorporate principal reduction into loan modification programs, especially where housing prices have contributed to a lack of affordability.

      • Lift the ban on judicial modification of principal residence mortgages by bankruptcy judges.

      • Expand funding and capacity of housing counseling agencies and legal aid providers.

      Latinos, Blacks More Than Half All Calif. Foreclosures...

      Major Egg Producer Recalls 228 Million Eggs

      Huge recall sparked by Salmonella outbreak

      By Mark Huffman

      August 18, 2010
      Wright County Egg, one of the U.S.'s largest egg producers, has warned distributors that 228 million eggs could be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

      To put it in everyday terms, that's about 19 million dozen.

      The CDC reports eggs from the Wright County operation have been linked to illnesses in California, Colorado and Minnesota.

      The eggs were packaged under the names Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp. They were distributed to food wholesalers, distribution centers and foodservice companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa for nationwide distribution.

      The CDC says there were about 200 cases of salmonella linked to eggs during June and July, higher than the normal level. It led to the nationwide recall involving eggs packaged from May 16 through Aug. 13.

      The recalled eggs carry three different plant numbers: P-1026, P-1413, and P-1946. The plant number is on the end of the egg carton. If it's stamped with one of those numbers, check the numbers after it. If they are between 136 to 225, the CDC says you should take the eggs back to the store.

      NuCal issued a statement saying its eggs Eggs affected by this recall were distributed to food wholesalers and retailers in California and Nevada.

      NuCal Foods received these eggs from Wright County Egg which were then packaged into 5-dozen overwrapped retail units, the company said.

      The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly investigating Wright County Egg. The FDA is advising the use of pasteurized shell and liquid eggs to help retailers and food service outlets, along with consumers, to avoid contracting dangerous egg-related salmonella enteritdis (SE).

      Major Egg Producer Recalls 228 Million Eggs...

      Bankruptcies Surge To Five-Year High

      Consumer bankruptcies up 21 percent year-over-year

      There was more evidence this week that economic recovery has yet to find much traction -- at least for consumers. The number of U.S. bankruptcy filings has risen to levels not seen since 2005, when new changes to the bankruptcy law took effect, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

      Bankruptcy filings rose 20 percent in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2010. A total of 1,572,597 bankruptcy cases were filed in federal courts in that period, compared with 1,306,315 in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009.

      This is the highest number of bankruptcy filings for any period since many of the provisions of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 took effect, the report said. The 2005 law made bankruptcy a much less favorable option for consumers, resulting in a drop in foreclosure filings.

      Business and Non-Business Filings

      Non-business, or consumer filings for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2010 totaled 1,512,989, up 21 percent from the 1,251,294 non-business filings for June 30, 2009. Business filings totaled 59,608, up eight percent from the 55,021filings reported in June 30, 2009.

      The consumer bankruptcy filings, coupled with stubbornly high foreclosure numbers, paint a picture of a consumer still struggling to get footing in a de-levereging economy.

      Filings by Chapter, 12-month Period Ending June 30

      In the 12-month period ending June 30, 2010 increased filings were seen in all bankruptcy chapters.

      • Chapter 7 filings totaled 1,133,320 up 25 percent from the 907,603 Chapter 7 filings in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009.

      • Chapter 13 filings totaled 424,242, up 10 percent from the 384,187 filings in the same time period in June 2009.

      • Chapter 11 filings totaled 14,272, up 2 percent from the 13,951 filings during the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009.

      • Chapter 12 filings rose 56 percent to 660 from the 422 Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed as of June 30, 2009.

      Bankruptcy filings in the April through June period of this year totaled 422,061. Filings for the June quarter are the highest of any quarter in fiscal year 2010 (October 1, 2009-September 30, 2010) and the highest for any April-June quarter since the 2005 third quarter filings.

      For fiscal year 2010, filings for the first quarter (October 1, 2009-December 31, 2009) totaled 372,203 and second quarter filings (January 1, 2010 March 31, 2010) totaled 388,148.

      Bankruptcies Surge To Five-Year High...

      Lowe's Drywall Settlement Called Unfair

      Agreement provides coupons, minimal cash to aggrieved homeowners

      It's a common argument against class action lawsuits: aggrieved consumers get little more than token compensation, while the lawyers walk off with all the money.

      That concern is being raised anew with a recently-proposed settlement involving drywall sold at Lowe's. The suit, filed in Georgia state court, concerns some of the defective Chinese drywall sold by the home improvement chain.

      The settlement totals $6.5 million, $2.1 million of which would go to the plaintiffs' attorneys. Meanwhile, class members are set to receive gift cards in varying amounts -- $50, $250, or $2,000 -- depending on how much money they can prove that they lost, according to ProPublica. Those who can prove damages greater than $2,000 are also eligible to receive as much as $2,500 in cash.

      Out in the cold

      What about plaintiffs who lost much more than the $4,500 they are entitled to receive under the settlement? Those consumers are basically out of luck. Once a class member uses up his $2,000 in gift cards and his $2,500 maximum cash, he isn't entitled to any further relief. The settlement also prohibits class members from pursuing any further litigation against Lowe's.

      Worse, if consumer payouts total less than $2.5 million, the remaining money will go right back into Lowe's pockets.

      The settlement is wide-reaching: it includes every consumer throughout the country who bought defective drywall from Lowe's. Those who want to be excluded from the class -- and preserve their right to sue individually -- must notify the court by November 9. That date is over a week before the judge decides whether to issue a final order approving the settlement.

      Similar past settlement rejected

      In March, a California judge rejected a class action settlement after determining that it provided too little to class members. That case involved allegedly misleading statements made by Honda about its Civic Hybrid's gas mileage capabilities. Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the settlement -- which handed $3 million to attorneys but gave consumers rebates toward future Honda purchases -- provided nothing of value to the class.

      That case drew national attention, with 26 state attorneys general arguing that the agreement didn't meet the "heightened scrutiny" standard required of coupon settlements.

      The Georgia case is only one in a sea of cases involving the Chinese drywall manufacturers Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. and Taishan Gypsum Co. In June, a handful of federal cases were consolidated in New Orleans.

      The drywall at issue was imported into the U.S. between 2004 and 2006, partially as a result of the still-thriving housing market. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated homes in the Gulf region in 2005, only increased the already high demand. In all, around 550 million pounds of the drywall was imported.

      The drywall emits an egg-like sulfur smell, which eventually corrodes metal fixtures and causes health problems ranging form coughing and wheezing to asthma and pneumonia.

      Lowe's Drywall Settlement Called Unfair...

      Merrick Pet Care Recalls Texas Hold'Em Dog Treats

      Firm warns of possible salmonella contamination

      A Texas pet food company is again expanding its recall of beef-flavored dog treats because of continued concerns about salmonella contamination.

      Merrick Pet Care, Inc. on Monday announced it's widening the companys July recall to include all lots of 10 ounce Beet Filet Squares and Texas HoldEms treats, saying the products have the potential to be tainted with the bacterium that causes food poisoning.

      This is the third time in recent weeks the Amarillo-based company has issued a recall involving various lot numbers of the treats, which were shipped to distributors and retailers nationwide.

      In July, Merrick pulled 86 cases of its beef filet squares off the market after a sample analyzed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested positive for salmonella. Earlier this month, the company pulled another 83 cases of those treats -- and the Texas HoldEms treats -- off store shelves. On Monday, Merrick recalled all lots of the treats sold in 10 ounce plastic bags because of ongoing concerns about salmonella contamination.

      The company, however, said it has not received any reports of illnesses linked to the recalled treats.

      Salmonella poses a health risk to animals and people who handle products tainted with the bacterium, the FDA said.

      Salmonella poses a health risk to animals and people who handle the products tainted with the bacterium, the FDA said.

      People can become infected with salmonella if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after touching contaminated products or any surfaces exposed to them.

      Symptoms of salmonella infections in people include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever, the FDA said. In rare cases, salmonella can cause arterial infections, arthritis, muscle pain, and other serious health problems. People who experience these symptoms after handling salmonella-tainted products should contact their physicians.

      Pets with salmonella infections may become lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, the FDA said. Some pets may only experience decreased appetites, fever, and abdominal pain.

      Pet owners with dogs that experience any of these symptoms after eating the recalled treats should contact their veterinarians, the FDA said.

      The agency also warned that infected but otherwise healthy pets can spread salmonella to animals and humans.

      Consumers who purchased the recalled treats can return them to the store for a full refund, the company said. For more information about this action, contact Merrick at 1-800-664-7387.

      Merrick Pet Care Recalls Texas Hold'Em Dog Treats...

      Court Halts Acai Berry, Colon Cleanser Scams

      Ads Feature Phony Endorsements Attributed to Oprah Winfrey, Rachael Ray

      At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has ordered the marketers of acai berry supplements, "colon cleansers," and other products to temporarily halt an Internet sales scheme that allegedly scammed consumers out of $30 million or more in 2009 alone through deceptive advertising and unfair billing practices.

      The FTC will seek a permanent prohibition. Since 2007, victimized consumers have flooded law enforcement agencies and consumer organizations with thousands of complaints about the company.

      Acai berry supplements, derived from acai palm trees that are native to Central and South America, have become popular in recent years.

      "Too many 'free' offers come with strings attached," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "In this case, the defendants promised buyers a 'risk free' trial and then illegally billed their credit cards again and again and again. We estimate that about a million people have fallen victim to this scam. As if that weren't enough, there were fake endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray for a product that didn't work in the first place."

      The court order halts the allegedly illegal conduct of Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc., imposes an asset freeze, and appoints a temporary receiver over CCN and several related companies, while the FTC moves forward with its case to stop the company's bogus health claims and other deceptive and unfair conduct.

      The FTC charged CCN, two individuals, and four related companies with multiple violations, including deceptively advertising AcaiPure, an acai berry supplement, as a weight-loss product, and Colopure, a colon cleansing supplement, as an aid for preventing cancer.

      The FTC complaint alleges that to sell AcaiPure, the marketers made dramatic claims on their website, including:

      "WARNING! AcaiPure Is Fast Weight Loss That Works. It Was Not Created For Those People Who Only Want To Lose A Few Measly Pounds. AcaiPure was created to help you achieve the incredible body you have always wanted USE WITH CAUTION! Major weight loss in short periods of time may occur."

      In pitching Colopure, the defendants cited frightening statistics about colon cancer, while promising that their product would get rid of consumers' "excess weight and toxic buildup."

      The marketers also deceived consumers about their purported "free" or "risk free" trial offers, and about the charges and refund terms consumers could expect, according to the FTC's complaint. The FTC also alleges that the marketers made numerous additional unauthorized charges to consumers' credit and debit card accounts.

      Deceptive practices

      The alleged deceptive practices include:

      • Falsely claiming that using AcaiPure could lead to rapid and substantial weight loss. Consumers were told that "[m]ost consumers taking AcaiPure report weight loss anywhere from 10-25 pounds in the first month.

      • Making unproven claims that AcaiPure's weight-loss claims are backed by "double-blind, placebo-controlled weight loss studies."

      • Deceptively claiming that Colopure could help prevent colon cancer because it would "cleanse your entire system," "detoxify your organs," and break down and remove "toxic waste matter which may have been stuck in the folds and wrinkles of your digestive system for years and years."

      • Falsely claiming that celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray have endorsed products marketed by Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc. In marketing AcaiPure, the defendants declared on their homepage, "Acai Berry rated #1 SUPERFOOD by Rachael Ray." A photo of Oprah appeared on the homepage, next to a quote that read in part, "Studies have shown that this little berry is one of the most nutritious and powerful foods in the world!" In fact, in declarations to the FTC, both celebrities denied endorsing AcaiPure.

      • Deceptively claiming that the marketers will provide full refunds to all consumers who request them, and that consumers who paid a nominal fee for a "free" trial supply of supplements would incur no risks or obligations. In fact, many consumers found it all but impossible to avoid paying full price for the products, typically $39.95 to $59.95.

      • Failing to adequately disclose that consumers would be automatically enrolled in a membership program and charged for additional monthly supplies of a product.

      • Failing to adequately disclose that consumers would be automatically charged for items other than the trial product unless they opted out.

      • Failing to adequately disclose the terms and conditions of trial programs, membership programs, and additional charges.

      • Making numerous unauthorized charges to consumers' credit and debit card accounts.

      • Debiting consumers' bank accounts on an automatic, recurring basis, without obtaining proper preauthorization. The unauthorized debits violated the FTC Act as well as the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E, according to the complaint.

      The FTC filed its complaint and requested a temporary restraining order against the defendants from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. On August 6, 2010, the court granted the request for the temporary restraining order.

      The complaint also names as defendants Graham D. Gibson and Michael A. McKenzy, and four companies affiliated with Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc. iLife Health and Wellness LLC; Simply Naturals LLC; Health and Beauty Solutions LLC; and Fit for Life LLC.

      Court Halts Acai Berry, Colon Cleanser Scams...

      Documents: Kevin Trudeau Stiffs Feds On Fine

      Trudeau memos reveal interesting look inside company

      Informercial marketer Kevin Trudeau owes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $37.6 million in fines but has yet to pay a dime, according to documents filed in federal court.

      Trudeau has constantly run afoul of the FTC over the years for his pitches for miracle weight loss cures, get rich quick schemes and natural cures. In every case, Trudeau's products, contained in book form, are presented in conspiratorial fashion, as information "they don't want you to know about."

      Trudeau has been a constant source of complaints to over the years.

      "I ordered Kevin Trudeau's Narual Cures books and paid with a credit card on May 4," Gale, of Philadelphia, told "To this day I have not gotten the books, yet have been calling for a month. They give me a different story every time."

      "I bought the book for $19.95 but was charged $23.90 for shipping and handling," complained William, of Chesterfield, Mich. "That 19.95 book ended up costing me 43.85."

      Long-running battle

      In 2004, the FTC obtained a court order banning Trudeau, a prolific marketer who has either appeared in or produced hundreds of infomercials, from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications.

      That's when Trudeau shifted gears and started selling books. But he still found himself in hot water with the FTC, which accused him of making all sorts of unfounded and outright bogus claims. The FTC has now filed documents claiming Trudeau, who continues to sell books and air infomercials, hasn't made good on any of the $37.6 million fine.

      Meanwhile, it appears that working for Trudeau is a -- well -- interesting experience. has published a series of what it says are memos written by Trudeau to his staff. The directives cover everything from using a dictionary, to maintaining a clean desk, to drinking fruit juice. They are interspersed with strong plugs for Scientology.

      Neat freak

      "Offices should be arranged as follows," one memo reads. "The desk should have virtually nothing on it. Your desk should have a phone and, maybe a picture of your significant other. The ideal scene is to have a computer screen behind the desk. There should be nothing else on the desk. The inside of the desk must also be clean and organized."

      The memo warns that there will be regular inspections of desks to make sure employees are following the directive.

      Another memo explains that he wants fresh juice machines in every office and that employees are strongly urged "to drink juice, or consider drinking juice," every day.

      The FTC is currently engaged in "post-judgment discovery" in an attempt to identify and attach Trudeau's assets to satisfy his hefty debt to the government.

      Documents: Kevin Trudeau Stiffs Feds On Fine...

      Insurance Scam Unravels in Yazoo County, Mississippi

      Would-be con artists bungle a staged multi-car crash

      Insurance fraud is not normally very entertaining but Mississippi prosecutors are still hee-hawing over a recent incident involving a staged multi-car crash in Yazoo County, the "Gateway to the Delta."

      Attorney General Jim Hood called it "one of those humorous, Apple Dumpling Gang type cases, an apparent reference to a 1975 Disney film that celebrates chicanery, skulduggery and general bungling. Others suggested "My Cousin Vinnie" might be more applicable.

      It all began, we're told, on a lonesome Yazoo County road, where passing motorists saw what appeared to be a multi-car accident, with the bodies of apparent victims sprawled nearby.

      Police and ambulance crews converged on the scene but immediately became suspicious. For one thing, the "victims" didn't appear to be very seriously -- if at all -- injured. For another, the engine on a battered black Cadillac was cold to the touch, not something you'd normally expect just a few minutes after an accident.

      But perhaps most telling was the little matter of the tow chain.

      "The caper unraveled when alert law enforcement officers noticed that one of the vehicles had been towed to the crime scene. They found the tow chain still attached to the vehicle," Hood said.

      The alert Yazoo County constabulary made its way to the local hospital, where they arrested Terrence Wade and obtained confessions from several other paticipants before turning the case over to the Insurance Fraud Unit of the Attorney General's Office.

      One defendant in the case, Kevin Jones, upon deducing that his arrest was imminent, went out and committed a robbery to raise money for his bail, Hood said.

      While it has been a source of amusement mixed with consternation in the Greater Yazoo area, the case is about to fade into the history books, or at least the local courtroom blotter. The last defendant, Lorenzo Deering, 24, of 1511 Ebenezer Pickens Road in Pickens, appeared before Judge Jannie M. Lewis in Yazoo County Circuit Court last week.

      Dearing entered an open plea, which means the defendant refused to accept the state's recommended sentence and threw himself on the mercy of the court.

      Judge Lewis sentenced Deering to three years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, suspended, and sent Deering to the restitution center to pay all fines and court costs.

      Insurance Scam Unravels in Yazoo County, Mississippi...

      An Identity Theft Protection Primer

      College students are among the prime targets for ID thieves

      Identity theft is considered to be one the fastest growing crimes in the United States, affecting approximately 9-10 million consumers each year. What you do or don't do now to protect your identity may affect the outcome of your life for years to come. It's important to take proactive steps, right now, to protect your future.

      According to the Federal Trade Commission, 29 percent of all identity theft complaints nationwide in 2006 were from young adults, aged 18 to 29 years old. College students typically fall into this category, which represents the largest group among all identity theft victims.

      And, with a whole new crop of freshmen heading for campus, it is important that they start taking steps to protect themselves now to avoid becoming part of the statistics. The Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection offers the following recommendations:

      Manage your mail

      • Safeguard your mail. Check it daily. If you receive junk mail, don't be so quick to throw it out. It might contain personally identifiable information. Dispose of it securely.

      • Evaluate what needs to be kept. Avoid keeping old bills and other documents too long. The more you have, the easier it is for someone to take it undetected.

      • Shred, shred, shred. Shred bills, receipts, credit card offers, and any other items that contain personal or financial information -- such as bank statements. Use a cross-cut shredder if possible to better destroy the documents.

      • Stop pre-approved credit card offers. Stop pre-approved credit card offers by calling toll-free to 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or by visiting the Opt Out website.

      • Update forwarding information. College students typically change addresses frequently. Notify the United States Postal Service of your forwarding address to ensure you continue to receive all important mail.

      Secure your stuff

      • Guard your social security number. Don't carry your Social Security card with you and don't use your social security number as a PIN or password if you can avoid it.

      • Check your wallet and limit the number of identification cards you carry. Never carry your Social Security card, Social Security number, birth certificate or passport, unless necessary. Many medical cards contain your Social Security number, if you don't need it, don't carry it with you. Carry only the credit cards you plan to use.

      • Be careful giving out your personal information. Legitimate companies or agencies don't call or email asking for personal information like account, credit card or social security numbers. Never give out personal information unless you initiated the contact.

      • Pay attention to internet security. Make certain you have firewall, virus, spam, and spyware protection on your computer. Check your browser security settings to make certain that they aren't too low.

      • Log off or lock your computer when you leave it. A computer left unattended and unlocked leaves you open to someone compromising your data, including sending emails out that appear to be coming from you.

      • Lock your dorm room or apartment at all times. This is not only a smart move for your personal safety, but also for your identity. Talk with your roommate about security practices. Make sure each of you understands the need for and expectations of security in your residence.

      • Keep sensitive documents in a safe place. College residences are prone to random visitors. Anyone could have access to anything you leave lying around.

      • Avoid leaving credit card for bar tab. Credit card numbers and the cards themselves are vulnerable to theft when left to secure a bar tab. Do not give your card to the bartender to be left at the register. Pay in cash or periodically when needed.

      Double-check your data

      • Check your bills and bank statements. Look at your statements as soon as you get them to see if there are any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If there are, report them right away. Many banks offer online account access as well.

      • Check your credit report regularly. Obtain your credit report FREE from each of the three (3) major credit reporting agencies each year. Checking your report regularly is one of the best ways to protect against identity theft. You can get your free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by calling 877-322-8228 or online.

      • Limit your number of credit cards. Too many credit cards could mean too much to keep track of. Credit cards with infrequent use are prime targets for identity thieves.

      What is your identity?

      Any combination of the following information can provide enough for identity theft to occur:

      • Name

      • Address

      • Phone Number

      • Email Address

      • Social Security Number

      • Mother's Maiden Name

      • ATM Pin

      • Date of Birth

      • Account Number or Username

      What is identity theft?

      • Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

      • The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft. The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn't make -- or until you're contacted by a debt collector.

      • Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.

      What to do if it happens to you

      No matter how many precautions you take, identity theft can still happen to you. If it does, you can take steps to reduce your loss, stop it from happening again and to resolve the problems it has caused.

      • Close the accounts that you know have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

      • Notify the credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your credit report.

      • Report the theft to the police.

      • Contact your creditors and bank to alert them of the theft.

      • Contact your local Division of Motor Vehicle office if your driver's license or ID card is stolen.

      • Contact the Postal Inspector at (800) 275-8777 or file a complaint online if your mail was stolen or a change of address form was submitted for you.

      An Identity Theft Protection Primer...

      Pre-Paid Phone Card Seller Settles With Maryland

      Company accused of failing to provide advertised minutes

      Consumers should always exercise care in purchasing a pre-paid telephone calling card because some are of little or no value. Others don't provide the calling minutes the ads promise.

      In Maryland, Attorney General Douglas Gansler says that was the case with cards promoted by Telmex USA, LLC (Telmex), a subsidiary of Telefonos de Mexico, S.A.B. de C.V., the primary telecommunications carrier for Mexico.

      Telmex sells telephone calling cards for users to make international calls to more than 100 different cities outside the United States, including major cities in Latin and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

      Telmex sells its prepaid calling cards to a network of distributors that sell the calling cards to convenience stores, grocery markets and check cashing stores. In Maryland, Telmex sold its cards -- through its distributors and their retailers -- largely to Latino consumers residing in Prince George's and Montgomery counties who have relatives living outside the US.

      Telmex's posters and point-of-sale advertisements promised that the cards would deliver a large number of calling minutes to specified countries. For example, one poster promised that its $5.00 "Sonrisa" brand prepaid calling card would deliver 1250 calling minutes to Mexico City, Guadalajara or Monterrey.

      Fewer minutes than advertised

      Gansler alleged that the Sonrisa card and many other cards sold by Telmex actually delivered substantially fewer minutes than promised in Telmex's advertisements. Telmex sold its prepaid calling cards under a number of different brand names including "TXT2 Communications," "Tier One," "Oro Honduras," "Lunatico," "La Nativa," "La Deportiva," "La Pantera," "Sonrisa," "La Botantita DMV," "Che Cala" and "El Aventurero." Telmex denied that it had violated the Consumer Protection Act.

      "Consumers have a right to receive what they are promised," said Gansler. "Through today's settlement, Telmex USA and all of its distributors must reform their practices and deliver the calling minutes that they promise to consumers."

      Under the terms of the settlement reached with Gansler's office, Telmex has agreed not to sell any prepaid calling cards to Maryland consumers unless the purchaser can obtain all of the number of minutes that are advertised when he or she uses the card for phone services.

      The settlement also contains injunctive relief concerning how Telmex must offer its cards to consumers, including a requirement that it more clearly disclose any fees that will be applied to its cards when they are used. Telmex also agreed that it will require its distributors to comply with the terms of the settlement.

      Telmex agreed to pay $60,000 in restitution, which the attorney general will use to fund a state agency or charitable program to benefit people who may have been affected by the actions which led to the settlement with Telmex. Telmex has also agreed to pay a $90,000 civil penalty and $45,000 for costs.

      Pre-Paid Phone Card Seller SettlesWith Maryland...

      Facebook 'Dislike' Button A Scam

      Rogue app allows hackers to post spam on Facebook pages

      If you're offered a chance to install a "dislike" button on your Facebook page, ignore it. It's part of a phishing scam.

      The idea behind the "dislike" button is to allow users to flag comments they don't like. Facebook has a "like" button but not a "dislike" button, and says it has no plans to add one.

      "It's the latest survey scam spreading virally across Facebook, using the tried-and-tested formula used in the past by other viral scams including 'Justin Bieber trying to flirt,' 'Student attacked his teacher and nearly killed him,' 'the biggest and scariest snake,' and the 'world's worst McDonald's customer," Sophos security expert Graham Cluely wrote in his blog.

      The hook comes in a post that is supposed to look like it came from one of your friends. It says "I just got the Dislike button, so now I can Dislike all of your dumb!!!" Other versions say something like "get the official Dislike button now!"

      Becoming vulnerable

      The scam targets victims to download an application that allegedly will install the Dislike button on their page. Instead, the link downloads a rogue application that gives the scammer access to the victim's Facebook account.

      The program also installs a message on the victim's page, urging friends to also install the button and providing the link. Cluley says, in that way, the scam is growing virally.

      The main purpose of the scam is to allow scammers to post spam messages on millions of Facebook pages.

      A spokesman for Facebook said the site tries to make sure links and rogue applications are taken down as quickly as possible.

      "We always encourage people to not click on links that appear suspicious -- even if posted from a friend," a spokesman told the BBC.

      Facebook 'Dislike' Button A Scam...

      Pet Owner Finds Dead Frog in Canned Dog Food

      'Brown clump' in Pedigree can turns out to be a dead amphibian

      An Illinois pet owner made what she calls a disgusting discovery when she recently opened a can of Pedigree dog food. Inside the can of chicken with gravy food Dianne T. says she found a dead frog.

      It was the most disgusting thing, she told I almost hurled and I have a strong stomach.

      Dianne says she often splits a can of wet food between her four dogs two Blue Merle Collies, an Old English Sheepdog, and her ailing moms Shih Tzu.

      When I opened up this can on Thursday night I saw a brown clump in the food, the Frankfort, Illinois, pet owner says. I was like what is that? I flipped it over and it was a dead frog.

      I walked over to the kitchen sink because I thought I was going to throw up, she adds. It was gross. I had to call my son and he said, Oh my God its a frog, its a frog.

      Dianne called the company that makes the food, Mars Petcare US, to report the dead frog food.

      And what got me mad is they offered me coupons for more dog food. I told them I dont want your coupons. Why would I want to give my dogs more of this food? I will never buy or feed Pedigree canned food again, Dianne adds. I wont even donate what I have left to a shelter.

      The frog-tainted can was part of a case of Pedigree Choice Cuts in gravy food that Dianne purchased in early August from Sams Club. It has a best by date of 4/25/12 and the manufacturers number is 017c1kkcf.

      Half the cans were chicken and half were beef, Dianne says. And my dogs have been eating other cans from this same case.

      Dianne is now worried that her dogs -- or someone elses -- could become sick from any Pedigree food made at the same time as the can with the dead amphibian.

      My big concern is whats going into this food, she says. Whats going into this food that people are feeding their pets? Obviously, its not chicken. Theres a frog in that food a whole dead frog. And if theres a frog in there, what else is in the food?

      Dianne says she doesnt know what type of frog is in the food or if its poisonous.

      Are there toxins in that frog? she asks. Everything I read about poisonous frogs said they keep their toxins in them after they after die. Does that mean the toxins were spread through Lord knows how many cans when the food was processed? What else could the frog have contaminated?

      Mild symptoms

      Dianne immediately contacted her veterinarian after she discovered the dead frog in her dogs food.

      I asked him what could happen if the dogs ate from a can that contained a dead frog, she says. And he said they could have diarrhea, vomiting, and neurological problems.

      In the past few days, Dianne says her healthy, active dogs have experienced some mild signs of those problems.

      My dogs have had some loose bowels, says Dianne, who is now feeding them cooked rice and chicken. And my older collie suddenly turned up lame on Tuesday. She didnt want to get up and was holding up her back paw. My vet couldnt find anything wrong, but said to bring her back on Saturday. It may be a pinched nerve and she is getting better.

      Mars customer service representative, however, told Dianne the dead frog did not pose any health risks to her dogs.

      She said they cant get any diseases from this because the food is cooked in the can so its sterile. But what kind of quality control is going on when a dead frog is in the food? That frog had to be in the food when they prepared it. contacted Mars about the frog-tainted dog food and the company told us its investigating Diannes unlikely claim.

      At Mars Petcare US, quality and food safety is our top priority, the company said in a statement received Friday evening. While its highly improbable that this could occur, were taking it very seriously and launching a full-scale investigation into this consumers claim.

      Mars added: We are sending a third-party to the consumers home today to collect the frog and deliver it directly to an independent lab for testing. Its important to note that canned pet food is cooked at high temperatures and processed on high speed equipment, making it very unlikely that a frog could become enclosed in a can.

      Dianne told us on Saturday that no one with Mars or an independent lab came to her home on Friday to pick up the dead frog.

      Asked about the companys doubts concerning her claim, Dianne said: We figured theyd say that, but theres a cooked frog in this can of food. Its legs are curled. I think theyre side-stepping this situation.

      Dianne also has a message to anyone else who doesnt believe she found a dead frog in her dogs can of Pedigree food.

      Why would I put a dead frog in my dogs food? asks Dianne, a self-proclaimed dog lover who volunteers for Collie Rescue of Greater Illinois, Inc. I treat my dogs like people. I dont eat that stuff and dont expect my animals or anyone elses animals to do that, either.

      I also have no desire to sue Mars. Thats the last thing on my mind.

      Dianne, however, does expect Mars to take two specific actions.

      What I want Mars to do is clean up their facility, she says. Frogs belong outside. They belong in a pond not in my dogs food. I also expect Mars to take care of my vet bills if my dogs get sick, but only it pertains to the dead frog.

      To protect other dogs from eating food that might contain dead frogs, Dianne also reported her incident with Pedigrees food to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

      And theyve now opened a complaint about this, she says. I dont want anyone feeding their dogs something that is unhealthy.

      Pet Owner Finds Dead Frog in Canned Dog Food...

      Do You Really Have To Pay For TV?

      Digital TV, Internet offer alternative to cable and satellite

      Once upon a time there were just three or four television stations most consumers could receive and reception was sometimes poor. Then in the 1980s, cable TV exploded, offering hundreds of channels.

      Today, most people get their TV from either a cable TV company or from one of two satellite providers, DishNetwork or DirecTV. They also pay increasingly higher bills for the privilege.

      In this new age of austerity, when consumers are looking for ways to cut corners everywhere, even diehard TV junkies are considering the once unthinkable getting rid of their cable or satellite TV services.

      But for most, getting rid of cable doesn't mean going without TV. If you live in, or close to, a metropolitan area and have a high-speed Internet connection, there's a way you can still watch most of your favorite shows and not pay for it.

      Better reception

      Last year's change to digital television makes watching over the air television much like watching it over cable or satellite. The picture is sharp and clear, since snow and ghosting, characteristics of marginal analog TV signals, are a thing of the past.

      By mounting a new HD antenna and pointing it in the proper direction, you can watch the broadcast TV stations in your market for free. While cable and satellite charge extra each month in order to receive HD channels, when your local channels broadcast in HD, and you have an HD set with HD antenna, you can watch and pay nothing extra.

      Not all HD TV sets have a built-in HD tuner, but most do. If yours doesn't, you'll need to purchase a separate HD tuner.

      What about programming on cable channels? Since they aren't broadcast on over-the-air stations, does that mean missing them? Not in every case, and this is where your high-speed Internet connection comes in.

      On demand

      Full episodes on many popular shows are streamed online. You can find them either on the cable networks' websites or on special TV websites like, which streams many popular shows for free. You can attach your HDTV to your computer so that you get the full screen, TV viewing experience. Best of all, you watch them when you want.

      There are hundreds of online instructional videos, like the one below, that can guide you through the setup process.

      If you need to add just a bit more programming to the mix, consider signing up for a $9 a month NetFlix account. Not only can you download and view hundreds of popular moves, past episodes of your favorite programs are also available.

      Again, having your computer connected to your TV makes it seem like you are subscribing to a premium movie channel on cable or satellite. But instead of paying $100 or more per month, you're paying $9.

      Don't want to tie up your computer? Many new Blu-ray DVD players can capture streaming video from Netflix and other online providers. We've been testing the LG-BD550, which sells for less than $150 at We got the slim little unit set up and working in less than 10 minutes. It delivers a crisp, clean image from both Netflix streaming video and DVDs, blu-ray and otherwise. We tested it with both DSL and 40-mbps cable Internet connections and found no discernable difference in picture quality.

      Upfront costs

      There are some upfront costs, of course. You'll need an HDTV with HDTV turner to take full advantage of your local stations' HD content and an antenna capable of receiving HD signals. You'll also need a computer with ports for connecting a TV.

      By ditching cable and switching to free TV, you might, in fact, become a trend-setter. Many industry observers predict television will eventually migrate to the Web, and may be in the process of doing so. recently announced a new premium service allowing viewers to see current seasons of many popular shows, meaning you won't have to wait until next year to catch up on what's happening on The Office. There is a price for the service, but the $9.99 monthly charge is a fraction what what you're now paying for cable or satellite.

      Do You Really Have To Pay For TV?...

      Ohio Reports Rash of Sweepstakes Scams

      More than 900 complaints this year, many from seniors

      Ohio has been hit by a rash of sweepstakes scams, Attorney General Richard Cordray said today.

      The fake contests are a common ploy used by con artists to swindle money or gain personal information. Since January, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection section has received approximately 900 complaints about sweepstakes or prizes, almost all of them scams.

      "The number of sweepstakes scams reported in Ohio is on course to double this year," Cordray said. "Unfortunately, senior citizens are most vulnerable to these sophisticated deceptions. We are seeing tragic instances of trusting consumers, particularly seniors, falling into a trap where they wind up turning over not only their personal information but thousands of dollars. Our best defense against these scam artists is to increase awareness and community vigilance."

      In Madison County, an elderly couple received a call informing them that they had won $495,000 and that to receive the award they first had to wire $750 to Las Vegas for insurance. After the couple wired more than $1,800 for the prize, their son became aware of the scam and contacted the Attorney General's office.

      A Trumbull County woman received a check as an award for winning the "lottery." In order to collect the winnings, she was required to deposit the $4,800 check and wire $4,000 to Spain. The woman's daughter contacted the Attorney General's office after realizing the check was a fake.

      "Many of the fake checks used in sweepstakes scams look very real," Cordray said. "If someone is enduring early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's, they likely could not detect this ploy. In fact the most outrageous aspect of most scams is that they prey on the trust that ordinary, decent people have in one another. I strongly urge family members, friends and neighbors to watch out for those who are most vulnerable to these malicious scammers."

      The Attorney General's office has received 919 sweepstakes scam reports to-date in 2010; well past the 622 complaints received last year and double the 447 in 2008.

      Cordray is providing the following tips to avoid sweepstakes scams:

      • Do not send money to collect a sweepstakes or prize. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, then you did not actually win.

      • Be extremely skeptical of anyone who asks you to send money to Canada, Jamaica or other foreign countries.

      • Don't trust individuals who contact you unexpectedly and who ask you to wire transfer money, even for a contest or prize.

      • Entries to foreign lotteries cannot be sold legally in Ohio. Anyone who informs you that you have won a foreign lottery is trying to defraud you.

      • Beware of "recovery scams." Fraudulent telemarketers may contact victims posing as the police or other governmental representatives. They lie, often by saying they have recovered the victims' lost sweepstakes money and asking the victims to send more money to receive it.

      Ohio Reports Rash of Sweepstakes Scams...