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    Timeshare Resales Are Treacherous; Scams Abound

    New breed of 'reseller' just takes the money and runs


    While problems plaguing the housing market get all the headlines, owners of timeshares also have their problems. The market for timeshares has declined, along with the market for homes and condos.

    In a number of states, officials have begun to crackdown on companies promising timeshare owners they can sell their property, but who charge a large fee upfront. In Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is now warning timeshare owners in her state that scammers have moved into the space, collecting money but making no attempt to sell anything.

    Madigan says the scam typically works like this: a timeshare owner gets a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be a timeshare reseller. They have a client who wants to buy their timeshare, are they interested?

    In this market, getting an unsolicited call from someone wanting to buy your timeshare is cause for jumping up and down. It sounds too good to be true, and of course, it is.

    If the owners rise to the bait, the scammer tells them they must pay a refundable security deposit or fee to ensure that the sale goes through, and instructs them to wire money to an out-of-state bank account.

    Taking the money and running

    As soon as the owners wire the money as directed, theyve fallen victim to the scam. In most cases, by the time the owners realizes theyve been defrauded, the con artists have closed out their bank account, disconnected their phones and disappeared.

    Victims filing complaints with the Attorney Generals Office have reported wiring as much as $5,000 to the scammers, Madigan said.

    In some versions of the scam, the con artists tell the owners theyve found potential renters for their timeshare. In others, a person posing as a prospective buyer makes the initial call and urges the timeshare owners to contact the fake reseller immediately to complete the sale. Also, in some instances, the owners are asked to charge the security deposit to their credit card rather than transferring the money by wire.

    Many scammers briefly rent a P.O. Box or office suite as a business address, and in some cases create Web sites to trick consumers into believing they are legitimate.

    Especially vulnerable

    Seniors living on fixed incomes and persons suffering the effects of the economic downturn may be especially vulnerable to the scam, because they may view their seldom-used timeshares as a source of much-needed money. Madigan cautioned that consumers should never assume they will recoup their purchase price for their timeshare, especially if they have owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

    If you are actively trying to sell a timeshare, here are some things to remember:

    • Dont agree to anything on the phone or online until youve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and the state Attorney General (www.naag.org) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.

    • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing. Under Illinois law, a timeshare reseller must enter into a listing agreement with the owner signed by both the owner and the reseller that discloses certain specified information, including the resale agents contact information and the fees to be charged for the resale agents services.

    • Check with the state Department of Professional and Financial Regulation to confirm that the reseller is registered as a real estate agent, as required by state law.

    • Ask if the resellers agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.

    • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?

    • Ask about fees and timing. Its preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, that's a very bad sign.

    Read more about Timeshares

    Timeshare Resales Are Treacherous; Scams Abound...
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    'Pillow Pets' Were Counterfeit, Delaware Charges

    Undercover investigation leads to arrest, indictment of local merchant


    Delaware officials say they have broken up a network selling counterfeit children's toys, including the popular "Pillow Pets."

    Especially when it comes to our kids, consumers have the right to purchase legitimate and safe products, said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. Counterfeiting is against the law, and since the manufacture and distribution of these goods bypasses regulatory controls, they are potentially dangerous.

    As the result of a month-long investigation, on August 12, 2010, investigators from the Attorney Generals Consumer Protection Unit, in conjunction with Dover Police, Delaware State Police, and Cherry Hill Township (NJ) Police, executed search warrants of kiosks selling counterfeit Pillow Pets at the Dover Mall, the Christiana Mall, as well as the Cherry Hill, NJ residence of the merchant, Mehmet Ozturk.

    The warrants were obtained following a series of undercover buys of counterfeit product sold at kiosks in the Dover and Christiana Malls. The proactive investigation began after the Department of Justice learned that many of the alleged Pillow Pets purchased at Christiana Mall did not match the genuine advertised product.

    Following the August 12 raids, investigators arrested Mehmet Ozturk, age 36, and charged him with trademark counterfeiting and theft. On September 27, 2010, the New Castle County Grand Jury indicted Ozturk on one count of Felony trademark counterfeiting, two counts of Misdemeanor trademark counterfeiting, and two counts of Misdemeanor theft.

    Consumers who believe that they may have purchased counterfeit Pillow Pets at Dover Mall or Christiana Mall are urged to contact the Delaware Attorney Generals Consumer Hotline at (800) 220-5424. Consumers seeking refunds for these purchases should complete a Consumer Complaint form, available through the Consumer Hotline or online at www.attorneygeneral.delaware.gov.

    'Pillow Pets' Were Counterfeit, Delaware Charges - Undercover investigation leads to arrest, indictment of local merchant...
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    Advance Fee Scam Results In Lengthy Prison Terms

    Victims lost life savings and homes in fraudulent scheme involving bogus Federal Reserve notes


    Two New Yorkers have been sentenced to prison terms for their part in a fraudulent advance-fee scam involving a supposed $23 billion Federal Reserve note that spanned years and defrauded victims across the country of millions of dollars.

    Robert Ingram was sentenced to 144 months in prison and Olivia Jeanne Bowen was senteced to 63 months. Ingram pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on April 8, 2010, and Bowen pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on April 13, 2010.

    According to testimony in the case, beginning in at least 2005, Ingram held himself out as the director of an investment program that would enable investors to share in the proceeds of an alleged $23 billion "note" underwritten by the Federal Reserve.

    Ingram and Bowen, who told victims that she was a "facilitator" for Ingram's investment program, induced victims to invest by promising them huge returns on their investments within a matter of weeks. Year after year, Ingram, Bowen and their co-conspirators persuaded victims to give them money from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars by telling them that the money would be used to pay the final fees or expenses associated with gaining access to the proceeds of the alleged $23 billion note.

    In reality, the note did not exist, and Ingram and Bowen used the victims money to spend lavishly on themselves and distributed the victims money to other co-conspirators.

    For example, Ingram spent the victims money on cosmetic surgery, stays at luxury hotels, and extravagant purchases at retailers such as Christian Dior, among other things. As a result of the fraud committed by Ingram, Bowen, and their co-conspirators, some victims lost their life savings and their homes.

    In addition to the prison terms, Judge Leonard B. Sand also sentenced the defendants each to a term of three years of supervised release. He also entered Preliminary Orders of Forfeiture against Bowen in the amount of $12 million, and against Ingram in the amount of $7 million.

    During the sentencing proceeding, Judge Sand stated that Ingram and Bowen committed a "vicious crime" that "was carefully thought out" and caused "absolute devastation" to "so many victims."

    Advance Fee Scam Results In Lengthy Prison Terms - Victims lost life savings and homes in fraudulent scheme involving bogus Federal Reserve notes...
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      Victims of Bogus Debt Consolidation Program To Receive Refunds

      Scammers failed to deliver on promises of 'drastic' reductions in debt


      An administrator working for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing checks to 360 consumers who were victims of Innovative Systems Technology doing business as Briggs & Baker. The operation claimed it could "drastically" reduce consumers' debt by negotiating directly with creditors.

      The FTC charged that Briggs & Baker's ads were false and misleading and that as a result of purchasing its debt negotiation services, consumers' credit ratings suffered, their total debt increased, and that some consumers even became the target of legal action.

      Jami of Inglewood, CA, is among those who got clipped. "I contacted Briggs & Baker after I heard their radio ad on KNX 1070," she writes ConsumerAffairs.com. "I was approx $50,000 in debt and did not want to file for bankruptcy. This company stole around $4,000 from me to work with my creditors. They did absolutely nothing for me but ruin my credit even more. I almost lost my home. I did have to eventually file for bankruptcy."

      Clobbered in California

      The company has a history of legal problems in California.

      In 2003, then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a lawsuit charging, Briggs & Baker with violating state laws that prohibiting false and misleading advertising and unlawful, unfair or deceptive business practices.

      "This firm and its ads preyed on consumers, who paid thousands of dollars to rid themselves of crushing debt," said Lockyer. "Instead, Briggs & Baker left its customers with more debt, ruined credit histories and sometimes no choice but to file for bankruptcy. And when those customers tried to get their money back, Briggs & Baker left them out in the cold."

      The complaint asked the court to order Briggs & Baker to provide refunds to customers who paid for services they did not receive, and to permanently prohibit the firm from engaging in the deceptive practices.

      As a result of the FTC settlement, Briggs & Baker customers will receive refund checks for $104.09. The checks can be cashed directly by their recipients. The FTC never requires the payment of money up-front, or the provision of additional information, before consumers cash refund checks issued to them.

      Consumers who have questions or believe they were victims of Briggs & Baker, but who did not receive a refund check from the FTC may contact the fund administrator at 1-866-535-1622. Consumer may also visit our debt consolidation guide for additional information.

      An administrator working for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing checks to 360 consumers who were victims of Innovative Systems Technology doing...
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      Court Shuts Down Huge Internet Fraud 'Cramming' Operation

      Inc21 placed bogus charges on the telephone bills of thousands of consumers

      A federal court has permanently shut down the illegal operations of Inc21, a firm that placed bogus charges on the telephone bills of thousands of small businesses and consumers for Internet-related services they never agreed to buy.

      The court, at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has barred the defendants from charging consumers' telephone bills and prohibits them from telemarketing unless they get prior approval from the FTC and the court.

      It also ordered third parties through which charges were placed -- including local exchange telephone companies, or LECs -- to return money in escrow to consumers, and ordered the defendants to pay nearly $38 million in restitution for consumers.

      Offshore operators

      In January 2010 the FTC sued Inc21, charging that the company hired offshore telemarketers to call prospective clients to sell its Web-based services. The defendants then used LECs to place charges -- usually between $12.95 and $39.95 per month -- for those services on the phone bills of consumers and businesses that either:

      • were told by telemarketers that the call was only to verify business information;

      • declined Inc21's offer of Internet services; or

      • were told they would receive a free trial offer, but were not informed that they would be charged if they did not cancel.

      The FTC charged that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).

      'Overwhelming evidence'

      In his opinion, Judge William Alsup agreed and granted the FTC's motion for summary judgment.

      "The FTC has produced overwhelming evidence that defendants' practice of billing tens of thousands of businesses and consumers via their telephone bills -- a fraud-friendly practice called 'LEC billing' -- was both deceptive and unfair," the judge's opinion states. "The most compelling proof of these violations is a comprehensive expert survey of 1,087 of defendant'' so-called 'customers.' This survey revealed that nearly 97 percent of defendants' 'customers' had not agreed to purchase defendants' products. Even more egregious, only five percent of them were even aware that they had been billed.

      "Indeed, over a five-year span from 2004 through 2009, defendants successfully extracted over $37 million in unauthorized payments from the telephone bills of unsuspecting businesses and consumers,' the judge wrote.

      "As for defendants' telemarketing activities, the FTC's evidence is equally compelling. Taken together, the FTC has easily met its burden of demonstrating that the TSR has been violated," Judge Alsup's order states.

      "In short, the record contains mountains of undisputed evidence showing fraud at every step of defendants' telemarketing process," Judge Alsup wrote.

      Inc21.Com Corporation; Jumpage Solutions, Inc.; GST U.S.A., Inc.; Roy Yu Lin and John Yu Lin were the defendants named in this matter. Sheng Lin, who did not participate in the scheme, but who profited from it, was named as a relief defendant and ordered to give up $434,000 in financial benefits he received from the defendants' unlawful practices.

      Court Shuts Down Huge Internet Fraud 'Cramming' Operation...
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      Continental Airlines Adds Onboard Meals For A Price

      Airline eliminating complimentary meals on many flights


      Airline food may be coming full circle. Continental Airlines says it is introducing a new line of meals and snacks for economy class passengers on select flights.

      But unlike the old days, when airline food was complimentary, these meals will come with a check.

      The new food-for-purchase menu will replace the complimentary meals and snacks currently served in the economy cabin on the select routes. Continental will continue to offer complimentary food in the economy cabin on all intercontinental and certain other international routes, and on long-haul domestic routes over six and a half hours.

      Continental says its new menu will feature a variety of "high-quality, healthy food choices" available for purchase in economy class on select flights beginning Oct. 12, 2010. The new meals and snacks will be offered on many U.S./Canada and certain Latin American routes, the airline said.

      On the menu

      According to Continental, the menu will include freshly prepared hot and cold mealtime selections similar to those served in casual-dining restaurants, such as Asian-style noodle salad, grilled chicken spinach salad, Angus cheeseburger, and Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Snack and dessert options -- including a gourmet cheese & fresh fruit plate, several types of snack boxes, a la carte brand-name snacks and chocolate-covered Eli's Cheesecake on a stick -- will also be available for purchase.

      Prices will range from $1.50 for Pringles Original Potato Crisps to $8.25 for the grilled chicken spinach salad.

      "The new menu is a direct result of feedback from our customers, who told us they wanted more food choices on our flights," said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, Continental's vice president of food services. "With that in mind, Continental researched trends in the restaurant industry and tested and tasted a broad range of possible menu items in order to provide dining options that reflect today's customer preferences."

      Continental will continue complimentary food service in the front cabin (first class and BusinessFirst) on routes worldwide. Traditional non-alcoholic beverages will continue to be complimentary on every Continental flight, the airline said.



      Continental Airlines Adds Onboard Meals For A Price...
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      Wine Vending Machine Near College Draws Alcohol Abuse Complaints

      Critics' motives may not be 100 proof, though


      The presence of soft drink vending machines in schools has become an issue in efforts to curb childhood obesity. But a different kind of beverage machine has sparked debate at the University of Pennsylvania.

      It all began when a vending machine that dispenses wine was placed in a supermarket that serves the University of Pennsylvania campus. With underage and binge drinking still a major problem on many college campuses, the wine machine has drawn fire.

      But the opposition is coming from an unexpected source. David Wanamaker, President, and Michael Dusak, Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Independent State Store Union, have fired off a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, denouncing the decision.

      The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board placement of a wine vending machine in a supermarket servicing the University of Pennsylvania campus only underscores the hypocrisy of the PLCB's underage drinking prevention program, the letter states.

      The union chided the PLCB, asking whether it intends to extend the amenity to every college campus in Pennsylvania. The union, of course, represents the people who sell wine, beer and liquor in liquor stores, rather than machines.

      Safety issue

      The union claims the PLCB is too closely aligned with the liquor industry. Noting the dangers of underage drinking on campus, the letter asks are we to assume the alcohol beverage industry represented by the PLCB will make the campus safer with the addition of a wine vending machine?

      The day before Fresh Grocer received a permit to obtain a wine vending machine, the PLCB issued a press release touting the nearly $1 million in grant money it awarded to local communities and college/university campuses to fight underage and dangerous drinking among Pennsylvania's youth, the letter concludes. The placement of a wine vending machine at the University of Penn's Fresh Grocer makes a cynical joke of the PLCB/industry hypocritical alcohol education/prevention programs.

      With more grocery stores offering automated checkout, alcoholic beverage vending machines might not be an unexpected development. To use the machine customers must insert their driver's license. Their identity is then verified with cameras.

      If their identity checks out, customers must also breath into a breathalyzer to make sure they aren't already impaired. Unless they pass these tests, the sale is cancelled.

      The machines were tested in Pennsylvania earlier this year and the state says it plans to allow installation of as many as 100 units across the state.



      Wine Vending Machine Near College Draws Alcohol Abuse Complaints...
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      Black Leaders Question Crackdown On For-Profit Colleges

      Student aid limits called 'elitist, if not racist'


      A recent report showing many students at for-profit colleges aren't repaying their school loans has prompted the federal government to propose new oversight for these enterprises.

      The U.S. Department of Education has proposed rules that would make these for-profit colleges and universities ineligible for government-backed student loans if fewer than 35 percent of students and former students are paying their loans. Schools would also be denied access to federal funds if graduates are spending more than 12 percent of their income to pay back student loans.

      But the proposal is getting serious pushback from civil rights groups who say the rule would limit access to career colleges for many minorities.

      Among those voicing concerns about the regulations are Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Founder/CEO of Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Willie Gary, one the nation's leading trial lawyers; Harry Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce; Randal Pinkett, Chairman and CEO of BCT Partners; and 12 of the 39 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

      Devastating impact

      "There are widespread concerns that this regulation will have a devastating impact in African-American communities, where black unemployment is nearly twice as high as whites," said Milton Anderson, President of Virginia College's branch in Jackson, Mississippi. "Schools, such as Virginia College, do an outstanding job teaching skills that are needed for promotions and new jobs. The government should not close the door to opportunities for people willing to learn additional skills and training that will help them better provide for themselves and their families."

      Anderson, who is a spokesman for the Coalition for Education Success, noted that 43 percent of the enrollment at career schools, or 1.2 million students, are minorities.

      The so-called "Gainful Employment" rule would make entire programs ineligible for federal loans and grants if they fail to meet a broad new standard that black leaders say has little to do with academic quality. The proposal would require all programs offered at career colleges and trade schools to meet a specific definition in order to qualify for federal student financial aid.

      It would base eligibility on the ratio of student debt to potential student income following graduation. It does not take into account that most students benefit from the long-term benefits of their careers and not just the immediate increase in income.

      In a September 15 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Jackson wrote that the Department's approach will hinder the access of minority students to higher education and make it even more difficult to realize President Obama's goal of leading the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020.

      "I am concerned that the proposed rule casts too broad and too general a brush on many institutions, some of whom are doing an excellent job at serving economically disadvantaged and minority students," Jackson wrote. "For many of these historically under served students, educational options must be more accessible than those that typically are offered by traditional higher education institutions if they are to be meaningful."

      Elitist and racist

      Gary says it is "extremely disappointing" that the Education Department seeks to implement this policy.

      "The Education Department has proposed rules that will harm all the schools, and all the students who may want to attend these institutions," Gary said. "This is bad public policy. Clearly, the Education Department's approach is elitist, if not outright racist."

      Gary asked why the restrictive regulations have not been proposed for the nation's leading liberal arts colleges and universities or even at state colleges where students with the similar socioeconomic backgrounds have similar default rates on their student loans.

      "Instead, the proposed regulations are aimed at institutions whose graduates don't often become CEOs, doctors and lawyers," Gary said. "Career schools produce nurses, auto mechanics, computer technicians and other skilled workers, whose services are often overlooked and devalued in our society."

      Read more about Education.

      Black Leaders Question Crackdown OnFor-Profit Colleges...
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      Jet Blue To Add Wi-Fi Service

      Entire fleet to offer in-flight Internet access


      The number of airline flights that will offer passengers Internet access is growing. JetBlue recently announced it would begin offering Wi-Fi services using ViaSat's satellite technology.

      "This system will be designed for the 21st century, not just for today's personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow's needs as well," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's Chief Executive Officer.

      "In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations. Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."

      JetBlue pioneered the use of television in the cabin, Barger said. The airline, since its launch, has provided video screens at each seat, allowing passengers to choose from dozens of cable TV channels during flights.

      ViaSat and JetBlue saiid they have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the provision of in-flight broadband access and other services for customers on JetBlue's fleet of more than 160 aircraft using ViaSat Ka-band satellites.

      Under the arrangement, ViaSat will provide Ka-band antenna components and SurfBeam2 modems for installation on the airline's EMBRAER E190 and Airbus A320 aircraft types along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue-1 and high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellites. JetBlue subsidiary, LiveTV LLC, will manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard the aircraft as well as providing the Wi-Fi enabled services into the overall cabin experience.

      LiveTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of JetBlue, will install and lead the certification process of the new system. Because the product will be the first of its kind for commercial aviation, the system must be tested, and certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration, prior to installation fleet-wide. JetBlue and ViaSat expect the first installations to occur by mid-2012.

      "Combining LiveTV's expertise in entertainment and content management with ViaSat's satellite technology means we can create products and services for airline customers that are unparalleled in the industry today," said Glenn Latta, LiveTV's President.

      Passengers will have to pay for the services, of course, though JetBlue has not yet announced a price structure. New York Times travel columnist Joe Sharkey says it remains to be seen if consumers will pay for something in the air they often can get for free on the ground. The cost of Wi-Fi access can be more than $12 on a long flight.

      But ConsumerAffairs.com's Truman Lewis, who commutes frequently between Los Angeles and Washington on Virgin America, which has offered Wi-Fi access throughout its fleet for about two years, said he can't imagine traveling without Wi-Fi.

      "Of course you have to pay for it, why wouldn't you?" Lewis said. "It's about $12 if you buy a day pass or around $30 per month on a regular subscription. Anyone who travels regularly for business will tell you that having email and Web access in flight is a lot more essential than movies, leather seats or fresh food."

      "I'm not sure where Sharkey finds free Web access on the ground," Lewis said. "Unless he's poaching it from his neighbor."

      Read more about JetBlue.



      Airline flights that will offer passengers Internet access is growing. JetBlue recently announced it would begin offering Wi-Fi services using ViaSat's sat...
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      Justice Scalia Stays Big Tobacco Class Action Ruling

      His opinion hints at big changes to come for consumer class actions


      Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in his role as circuit justice for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has stayed a $270 million tobacco verdict for Louisiana smokers, ruling that the lower court likely erred in failing to require that the plaintiffs show reliance on the tobacco companies advertisements.

      A bit of context: each Supreme Court justice also serves as a circuit justice for at least one appellate court, a role that often presents the question of whether a stay should be granted so that the full court can hear an appeal.

      The case involves a suit that was brought as a class action on behalf of all Louisiana smokers, accusing several tobacco manufacturers of misleading the public about the addictive effects of nicotine. A Louisiana state court eventually gave the plaintiffs a verdict for a whopping $241 million, plus around $30 million of accumulated interest. The money was to be paid into an account set up to fund smoking cessation programs.

      The defendant companies eventually petitioned for a stay pending a writ of certiorari to federal court, which is apparently in the works. Scalia, conceding that the companies bore a heavy burden in showing that such a stay is necessary, nevertheless found that the companies had met that burden.

      No reliance, Scalia says

      In his opinion, Scalia wrote that, while the tobacco companies had potentially been subjected to many violations of due process, one especially stuck in his craw: in Louisiana, Scalia wrote, a fraud case requires the plaintiff to prove that the plaintiff detrimentally relied on the defendants misrepresentations.

      But, according to Scalia, the Louisiana court held that this element need not be proved since the defendants are guilty of a distortion of the entire body of public knowledge regarding tobacco, which the class on a whole relied on.

      Consequently, Scalia continued, the [Louisiana] court eliminated any need for plaintiffs to prove, and denied any opportunity for applicants to contest, thatany particular plaintiff who benefits from the judgment (much less all of them) believed applicants distortions and continued to smoke as a result.

      Future of class actions

      Scalias ruling is certainly a victory for the defendant companies, which previously tried unsuccessfully to get the ruling thrown out by a state court. But his opinion is more noteworthy for its sweeping language regarding class actions in general -- and what it could mean for their future.

      The extent to which class treatment may constitutionally reduce the normative requirements of due process is an important question, Scalia wrote, adding that the issue is reflective of what he says is national concern of the abuse of the class action device.

      The alleged due process violations to which Scalia refers include the inability to cross-examine every member of the class to ensure that they relied on the defendants advertisements, inaccurate estimations of the classs size, and constant revision of the plaintiffs claim during the course of litigation.

      These concerns, along with Scalias prediction that it is significantly possible that the award will be reversed, suggests that the Supreme Court is looking to make sweeping changes in class action law. And a decision making class actions harder to bring would be in line with the courts recent corporate-friendly trend.

      That trend came to a head earlier this year, when, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that corporations must be allowed to use general treasury funds to support political candidates, a major shift likely to change the nature of political advertising. That case, which essentially embraced the theory of corporate personhood -- that corporations are subject to the same rights as individual people -- offers a glimpse into class actions under the Roberts court. Its not likely to be pretty for consumers.



      Justice Scalia Stays Big Tobacco Class Action Ruling...
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      Mini Cooper Power Steering May Fail, Feds Say

      Safety regulators open investigation into reported failures in popular BMW model

      By Truman Lewis
      ConsumerAffairs.com


      Federal safety regulators say the power steering mail fail in some Mini Coopers, possibly causing a crash.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation after receiving 54 complaints from owners of 2004 and 2005 Minis about unexpected loss of power steering. About 80,000 vehicles are covered by the probe.

      In July, NHTSA opened an investigation into the BMW Z4's power steering following 107 complaints and one crash involving vehicles from the 2003 to 2005 model years.

      ConsumerAffairs.com has received more than 965 complaints from Mini Cooper owners, including more than 60 involving the power steering, although most of them list the power steering problems as only one of a lengthy litany of woes.

      "Just a few days ago, the power steering began working only intermittently. Looking on different forums on the internet, Minis have these issues over and over and I am beyond the warranty. I have a 1960 Karmann Ghia that is more reliable than this car. I won't ever buy another Mini again," said MK of Visalia, Calif.

      "Took in for new brakes ($2000 to replace calipers & rotors) and now told power steering will cost at least $1000 and they're not even sure what's causing the problem," said Kathy of Nanuet, N.Y.

      Some Mini owners, like Michael of Klamath Falls, Ore., have reported fires in connection with power steering problems: "Parked to have dinner with mother-in-law at retirement home, next thing I hear is someone calling out, does anyone own a yellow Mini Cooper, it's on fire."

      "Googled Mini Cooper engine fire, and sure enough many Mini Coopers with a power steering problem have experienced this," said Michael, whose Mini was a 2005 model.

      BMW spokesman Tom Kowaleski said the company will cooperate with the investigation.

      Read more about Mini Cooper problems.

      The NHTSA has opened an investigation after receiving 54 complaints from owners of 2004 and 2005 Minis about unexpected loss of power steering....
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      Debt Collectors Harassed Military Families, New York Charges

      State files felony charges against firm, seeks restitution for families


      Felony charges have been filed in New York against the owner of a debt collection company accused of targeting military personnel and harassing active members of the military and their families.

      Charged is Stephanie Lowinger of Buffalo, owner and operator of Neimen, Rona & Associates -- formerly Morgan, Stone & Associates and now known as Gordon, Cappolli & Associates -- all of which are debt collection companies based in the Buffalo area.

      In addition to the criminal charges, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has filed a civil lawsuit seeking to shut down Lowinger's operation and secure restitution, penalties, and costs. The action is the latest in Cuomo's probe of illegal practices in the debt collection industry.

      Harassing actions

      The investigation found that Lowinger specifically targeted military personnel, referring to their alleged debts as "special accounts." Lowinger instructed employees to find out where the military members were stationed and identify their commanding officers, according to the charges, and had employees threaten to call and -- in some cases -- actually did call the commanding officers, both of which are illegal debt collection tactics.

      According to a former employee, Lowinger also contacted the military personnel's family members in order to compel them to pay -- another illegal tactic. In addition, the investigation found that Lowinger falsely told military members or their families that she worked for the Department of Justice and illegally demanded immediate payment. She allegedly said that if payment were not made immediately, the active duty family member would be arrested by the military police and would face a dishonorable discharge.

      "This individual is accused of operating her businesses in a lawless fashion, instructing her collectors to do anything necessary to collect on an alleged debt -- even if it meant harassing and threatening members of the military and their families," said Cuomo. "We will continue to investigate debt collectors who try to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals facing hard economic times and we will bring them to justice."

      Other charges

      Among the allegations detailed in Attorney General Cuomo's court papers, Lowinger and her collectors:

      • Falsely claimed to be lawyers, investigators, detectives, and mediators

      • Threatened consumers with arrest, jail, and lawsuits

      • Threatened to seize the assets of consumers

      • Inflated the amount allegedly owed

      • Attempted to collect debts from consumers not knowing if the consumer actually owed the debt

      • Targeted family members of consumers, wrongfully disclosing the existence of alleged debts to family members, and attempted to collect the alleged debts from family members

      • Harassed consumers through repeated and constant calls, using abusive language

      • Levied unauthorized charges on the credit card accounts of consumers

      On the move

      According to court papers, Lowinger operated Morgan, Stone & Associates out of 1211 Hertel Avenue in Buffalo beginning in May 2009. After complaints began to rolling in, she shut down and then reopened as Neimen, Rona & Associates using the same address, contact information, and even the same logo.

      In the fall of 2009, Lowinger moved Neimen, Rona & Associates to 255 Great Arrow Avenue, and in August 2010, changed her business name to Gordon, Cappolli & Associates. Despite the appearance of being different companies, all three firms are controlled by Lowinger.

      The AG's Office, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have received dozens of complaints regarding violations of law by the Lowinger operation. The BBB has given Lowinger's businesses an "F" rating.

      Cuomo's lawsuit seeks to shut down Lowinger's debt collection businesses permanently and require restitution to those defrauded, as well as penalties and costs to the state. Lowinger and her companies are charged with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (class E felony), which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

      Vulnerable to abuse

      Military service members can be vulnerable targets for abusive debt collection practices since their status, rank, or security clearance can be adversely affected. Complaints already received and evidence uncovered during Cuomo's investigation show that military service members and their families were subjected to wrongful practices, including:

      • Unauthorized calls to commanding officers

      • Threats of arrest by military police

      • Threats of a dishonorable discharge

      • Threats of loss of security status

      • Threats of court martial

      While military personnel may be easy targets for these types of operations, they aren't the only ones.

      Cynthia of Fresno, CA, complains of abusive tactics by Allied Interstate. "This company has been calling my in-laws trying to track me down for what they claimed was an unpaid credit card debt," she writes ConsumerAffairs.com. "I know I don't have any unpaid debts, so we checked my credit reports to make sure no one had taken out a credit card in my name. Nothing on any of the three major agencies. So we then called the company to talk to them. They made the claim again and were very rude and intimidating even after we told them they were mistaken."

      "I received a letter from Midland Credit Management (MCM)requesting a settlement on an account with Citibank USA," says Lucile of Miami, FL. "I have never had an account with Citibank in my entire life! MCM made an offer to settle this balance by using an Acceptance Certificate requesting that I enclose a check for $2,567.60 for a debt reported in the amount of $10,270.39, which I have never incurred. I consider this a form of fraud and harassment as well as damaging my good name!"

      There's a Website available to consumers who wish to learn more. It explains consumers' rights, gives victims of abusive debt collection and debt settlement companies quick access to the Attorney General's Office to file complaints and outlines the stages of the investigation.

      Debt Collectors Harassed Military Families, New York Charges...
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      Online Auction PennyBiddr Agrees to Refunds to Settle Washington State Charges

      Auctions online often use 'cheap tricks to cheat consumers,' state warns


      Penny auction sites lure consumers with cheap prices on brand-name electronics, designer handbags and discounted store gift cards. But an investigation by the Washington Attorney Generals Office shows how some of these sites can fool consumers into paying big bucks on an auction with no winner. These sites use shill bids to drive up prices by one unlucky penny at a time.

      The owner of PennyBiddr, based in Federal Way, Wash., agreed to shut down the site and refund consumers nationwide as part of a settlement announced today by Attorney General Rob McKenna and Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein. Documents filed by the state in King County Superior Court accuse the company of using phony bids to artificially increase prices and sometimes make it impossible for consumers who had already spent money to win an auction.

      Heres my two cents on penny auctions, Bernstein said. Theyre essentially a form of entertainment in which you to pay to play. In a legal auction, a consumer may be able to buy an expensive item for an incredibly low price. But if you dont know how these auctions work or you find it difficult to stick to a spending limit, you can easily be suckered out of lots of money. Worse, some site owners collude with friends or even use an illegal software code to place bogus bids.

      Bernstein said the Attorney Generals Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit began investigating PennyBiddr after receiving a referral from the Federal Trade Commission. The company was launched by LionHeart Mint, LLC, owner Kanwal Preet Singh, a.k.a. Laly Singh, in November 2009. Singh, who complied with the states investigation, recently shut down the site.

      In a traditional Internet auction such as eBay, a bidder decides what item they want and how much theyre willing to pay for it. If no one bids higher, they win the item. Consumers who lose the auction pay nothing.

      In a penny auction, a consumer pays to bid. The price varies; bids cost $1 each on PennyBiddr. All auctions are time-limited, usually starting with several days. But as the time ticks down to a few minutes or seconds, each bid extends the auction by a few more seconds and increases the product purchase price by a cent. In this fashion, continued bidding prevents an auction from concluding until no more bids are placed. When the auction closes, the individual who placed the last bid must pay the final price of the item, plus shipping and handling. Thats on top of whatever was spent on bids. For every winner, there are also losers who are out whatever they spent on bids.

      Some sites including PennyBiddr use shill bids, which Bernstein said are illegal. These bids are placed automatically by a software program or people may be hired to manually place bids. Each fake bid inflates the price and extends the auction time and the number of bids required to win an item. Moreover, the program used by PennyBiddr would allow an auto-bid to win an auction, in which case nobody received the item and the company simply pocked the money spent by real bidders. Bernstein said the software program used by PennyBiddr was created in the United Kingdom.

      The states settlement doesnt require any finding of wrongdoing or admission of guilt. As part of the agreement, Singh will refund every consumer who paid for a bid on PennyBiddr. The Attorney Generals Office estimates about 85 consumers are owed money. Refunds will be made through PayPal and are expected to total more than $7,700.

      Online Auction PennyBiddr Agrees to Refunds to Settle Washington State Charges...
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      What's Better -- Online Bill or Paper Copy?

      Tips on when to use online billing and when to stick with paper


      Going paperless can save trees and save you money -- but it's not for everyone or every situation.

      More companies are giving customers the option of receiving bills, notices, and other paperwork electronically, as well as making payments over the Internet. There are several factors to consider before trading hard copies for electronic ones.

      The September issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser offers tips on the potential advantages for consumers to go paperless and when to stick to paper.

      "You might want hard copies of certain documents like your tax returns, as well as electronic ones," said Noreen Perrotta, Editor, Consumer Reports Money Adviser. "In other cases you might not have a choice. Electronic statements are a requirement if you want a high-interest checking account, and some companies now make annual reports and proxy materials available online automatically, requiring shareholders who want paper copies instead to request them."

      Benefits of going paperless

      • Cost savings. Paying bills online eliminates the cost of postage. You often can direct a company to take the payment from your bank account the day it's due, maximizing the time your money is earning interest. Also, some companies have started charging for paper bills. ECG Long Distance charges. Other businesses offer incentives for you to go paperless. Citizens Bank and Charter One pay account holders ten cents every time they conduct certain transactions electronically, including using their debit cards and paying bills online.

      • Reduced clutter. All those paper bills, notices, and statements tend to pile up, and they need to be stored somewhere. Eventually you'll have to shred many of them before you discard them. Electronic versions don't take up any space-except on your computer hard drive.

      • Convenience. You might be able to search and sort electronic bills and statements or import the data into financial programs, such as spreadsheet applications, for analysis. Bank statements often contain interactive features that let you find out more about a charge and reconcile your checkbook. And electronic documents are portable. If you need to, you can keep years of records in a laptop or on a thumb drive.

      Stick to paper?

      Consider sticking with paper if:

      • Your computer isn't secure. Having all your documents in one place is convenient, but they're an easy target if a hacker or an unauthorized user in your home gets access to your machine. And electronic records aren't for you if you don't keep your security software up-to-date or use a log-in password

      • You can't manage electronic copies. Some bills and other electronic communications arrive directly in your e-mail inbox. For others, you'll receive a notice that the document is ready to be viewed and downloaded. You'll have to log into your account on the company's Website to get it. If either seems like too much trouble, perhaps you need the arrival of an actual envelope to get you motivated to look at whatever's being sent.

      • It has to be in hard copy. Even if your credit-card issuer lets you initiate a challenge to an unauthorized charge by phone or through its Website, you must mail a letter about your dispute to the address your issuer provides. Otherwise you'll lose your rights under federal law.

      What's Better -- Online Bills or Paper Copies? Tips on when to use online billing and when to stick with paper...
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      Online Pet Medications Can Be Dangerous, FDA Advises

      Using prescription drugs without a physical examination can endanger pets' lives

      Consumers lured by online ads that promise deep discounts on pet medications -- without a prescription -- could be endangering the lives of their dogs and cats, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned today.

      The federal agency said it has discovered some companies selling unapproved pet medications, outdated drugs, and counterfeit products for dogs and cats on the Internet. Other unscrupulous online businesses often make fraudulent claims about their pet medications or dispense prescription drugs without written orders from a veterinarian.

      Some foreign Internet pharmacies are even advertising veterinary prescription drugs to U.S. pet owners without a prescription, the FDA warned.

      Those medications, however, could be extremely dangerous to pets.

      "There is a risk of the drugs not being FDA-approved, said Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). That agency regulates the manufacturing and distribution of animal drugs.

      Many foreign and domestic pharmacies also claim one of their vets will "evaluate" a pet by reviewing a form filled out by the owner. After the so-called review, the online vet will then prescribe the medication.

      Dr. Hartogensis cautioned pet owners not to fall for that ruse.

      A veterinarian should physically examine an animal prior to making a diagnosis to determine the appropriate therapy," Dr. Hartogensis said.

      The CVM said its particularly worried about pet owners using the Internet to buy two types of veterinary drugs: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm preventives.

      "Both drugs can be dangerous if there is no professional involvement," Dr. Hartogensis said. "It's not generally a concern if the owner uses a legitimate online pharmacy and mails in a prescription from their veterinarian, who is monitoring the animal. But if there is no veterinarianclientpatient relationship, it's a dangerous practice."

      The CVM cited four reasons why pet owners should not buy NSAIDs -- medications used to relieve pain in dogs -- without consulting a veterinarian:

      • Dogs should undergo blood testing and a thorough physical examination before starting NSAIDs;

      • Dogs should be monitored by a veterinarian while they are taking NSAIDs; * Veterinarians should discuss possible side effects of NSAIDs with the owner;

      • The prescription should be accompanied by a Client Information Sheet that explains important safety information to the owner.

      The CVM also warned pet owners to be wary of buying medications to prevent and treat heartworms online.

      Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal condition transmitted by mosquitoes that carry the infected larvae of the heartworm parasite, the CVM said.

      Dogs should be tested annually to make sure they're not infected with heartworms, the agency said.

      "Testing is important even in dogs regularly treated with heartworm preventive products due to the occasional reports of product ineffectiveness," Dr. Hartogensis said.

      But an Internet pharmacy veterinarian cannot draw blood from the animal to perform the test. And if the test isnt done, a pet owner could give heartworm preventives to a dog that has the parasitic worms action the CVM said could lead to severe reactions.

      What to do

      While there are many unscrupulous companies dispensing pet medications online, there are also some legitimate Internet pharmacies.

      How can pet owners tell the difference? The CVM offers the following advice to consumers who want to purchase their pets medications online:

      • Order from Vet-VIPPS accredited online pharmacies: The Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) is a voluntary authorized partner program of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). That organization gives the Vet-VIPPS seal to online pharmacies that dispense prescription animal drugs and comply with NABP's policies, which include federal and state licensing and inspection requirements, protecting patient confidentiality, quality assurance, and validity of prescription orders. This is a new program -- launched in 2009 -- and only a small number of pharmacies are Vet-VIPPS accredited;

      • Ask your vet to recommend an Internet pharmacy service: There are state-licensed Internet pharmacy services that work directly with veterinarians. They require that a prescription be written by the veterinarian and also support the veterinarian-client-patient relationship;

      • What out for red flags: Beware of any Web sites that do not require veterinary prescriptions for drug orders. Other warning signs include Websites that do not have a licensed pharmacist available to answer questions; do not list a physical business address, phone number, or other contact information; are not based in the United States; are not licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy where the business is located; do not protect consumers personal information; advertise prices that are drastically lower than other Web sites or a vets office, or ship medications consumers didnt order or that look different than the ones pets normally take.

      Pet owners can report any suspicious online pharmacies to the companies that make the drugs, the FDA said. Pet owners should also report any adverse reactions their animals have to medications purchased online to the CVM. They can also call the agency at 1-888-FDA-VETS.



      Online Pet Medications Can Be Dangerous, FDA Advises...
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      Foreign Object in Cat Food Was a Paper Clip

      Petcurean 'can't conceive' how the paper clip got into the can of cat food


      Tests by a Canadian pet food maker revealed the piece of metal a New Jersey woman recently found in her cats' food was part of a paper clip.

      But how that quarter-inch piece of metal ended up in a bag of Petcurean Go! Natural dry trout food remains somewhat of a mystery.

      We dont have paperclips anywhere in our plant, Michele Dixon, spokeswoman for Petcurean told ConsumerAffairs.com. There is controlled access into our plant and if there had been any metal in the bags, it would have been picked up when we screened them.

      Pet owner Leslie K. of Tabernacle, New Jersey, discovered the metal piece in late August when she accidentally knocked over the bag of food.

      When I saw the piece of metal it scared me, she told us. I grabbed the piece of metal as my two cats were eating the food on the floor.

      Despite fears for her cats safety, Leslie says the way Petcurean handled her concerns renewed her confidence in the company and its products.

      I received an immediate apology, she said. I didnt get the standard automatic response that many pet food makers give customers, like weve never had a complaint like before, or you did this, or that piece of metal must have been on the floor. They took my concerns seriously and said they wanted to do something right away.

      Petcurean said it immediately launched an internal investigation and identified the metal piece as part of a paperclip.

      But how it got in there (the bag of cat food) is something we cant conceive, Dixon said. If it had been through one of the grinders, it would have been ground up. But it wasnt.

      We even took a paperclip and put it into a bag of food, she added. And then we ran the bag through our detectors and it set off every one of them. So were confident it didnt come from the plant.

      What about possible post-production sources?

      Dixon didnt want to speculate. This could have happened post production, she said. But at what level, who knows. For now, the company is confident this was an isolated incident.

      This lot of cat food (Go! Natural Grain Free Trout Formula, Best by date Dec 16 10, 91016 2B42258, UPC 15260 00040) successfully passed our four critical control points, Dixon said. But were going to keep all this information on file. We take our customers concerns seriously and were always open with them about what we discover.

      Leslie appreciates that transparency and remains a loyal Petcurean customer.

      They are satisfied that this can't happen again and so am I, she said, adding the company is also covering the cost of one of her cats X-rays. I dont know what else they could look for.

      Other pet food companies should take notes on how Petcurean handled this situation, she said.

      I hope they will learn a lesson from Petcureans customer service and maybe we have had no other complaints and you must have done something to it wont be the standard answers anymore.



      Tests by a Canadian pet food maker revealed the piece of metal a New Jersey woman recently found in her cats' food was part of a paper clip....
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      Hearing Aid Dealer Settles Pennsylvania Consumer Complaints

      Microtone accused of unfair, deceptive business practices

      A Pennsylvania hearing aid business has agreed to pay $48,000 to reseolve consumer complaints about unfair and deceptive business practices.

      Attorney General Tom Corbett Corbett said that the settlement, known as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC), was reached with Russell Hollinger, the owner and operator of Microtone Hearing Instruments, which operated throughout Pennsylvania, and was based in Williamsport.

      According to the agreement, Microtone will pay $47,900, including more than $26,000 for restitution. Microtone will also notify customers that they can contact the Attorney Generals office if they feel that their rights have been violated.

      The agreement also provides a 60-day open restitution period for consumers who have concerns about their business with Microtone. Online complaint forms are available in the Complaints section of the Attorney Generals website, www.attorneygeneral.gov.

      The Attorney Generals Health Care Sections investigation revealed that Microtones sales and financing paperwork did not meet the standards required by Pennsylvania consumer protection law.

      Corbett said that specific concerns included:

      • Selling hearing aids without obtaining a required medical referral or properly executed waivers

      • Failing to provide consumer refunds within 30 days of returns

      • Selling hearing aids without fully completing the receipt

      • Not registering all fictitious business names, which could potentially confuse consumers.

      Hearing Aid Dealer Settles Pennsylvania Consumer Complaints...
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      Macy's Employee Sold $900,000 Worth of Stolen Goods on eBay

      California man pleads guilty to stealing merchandise, selling it on the Internet


      A Fresno, Calif., man has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $900,000 worth of goods from a Macy's department store and selling it over the Internet.

      Richard Earl Norton Jr., 48, of Fresno, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill to interstate transportation of stolen property.

      In his guilty plea, Norton admitted that from October 2005 to September 2009, he stole goods and merchandise including designer purses, wallets, satchels, and other items, valued at more than $900,000, from the Macy's store in Fresno where he worked. Norton admitted that he sold many of these stolen goods to buyers in other states through Internet sales using his eBay account and other Internet sales sites.

      Norton directed buyers to make payments for these online sales to his PayPal account, and after receiving the buyers' payments, caused the stolen goods and merchandise to be shipped from California across state borders to the buyers in other states. He admitted that he knew the goods he was shipping interstate were stolen, that he had himself stolen the items, and that he obtained more than $900,000 from this scheme.

      Norton also agreed in his guilty plea to forfeit to the United States the following assets:

      (i) over a half million dollars in cash, consisting of approximately $346,610 seized from Norton's PayPal account, approximately $5,362 seized from Norton's bank accounts, and approximately $157,989 seized from Norton's residence;

      (ii) Norton's residence, which is a house located in Fresno; and

      (iii) vehicles consisting of two 2005 BMW Z4 cars, a 2002 Ford truck, a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire, and a 2007 Pontiac Solstice.

      Norton is scheduled to be sentenced on December 17, 2010. The maximum statutory penalty for interstate transportation of stolen property is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years supervised release.

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      Macy's Employee Sold $900,000 Worth of Stolen Goods on eBay - California man pleads guilty to stealing merchandise, selling it on the Internet...
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      California Realtor Charged With Scamming Elderly Homeowners, Lenders

      Century 21 agent allegedly chiseled seniors, banks out of more than $10 million


      A Modesto, Calif., real estate agent and his roommate have been charged with 49 counts each of mail fraud and one case of bank fraud in an alleged scheme to defraud elderly homeowners and lenders.

      United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said that a federal grand jury returned indictments against James Lee Lankford, 71, and Jon Vance McDade, 46, also of Modesto.

      The indictment alleges that Jim Lankford, who is the owner/broker of Century 21-Apollo Realty in Modesto, and Jon Vance McDade, who is Lankford's roommate, devised a scheme to defraud elderly property owners and lending institutions out of money and property.

      Specifically, the indictment alleges that Lankford and McDade would find elderly property owners who wanted to sell their property with no listing agent. Lankford and McDade would then induce the elderly property owner to sell their home to one of them and enter into a "straight note" contract for a portion of the purchase price, under which the defendant would make interest-only payments to the seller for five to 10 years, with the principal amount owed to the seller at the end of that period.

      The defendants then obtained conventional financing to purchase the same properties in the form of a mortgage from a lending institution, but did not disclose to the lending institution the seller-backed financing. The indictment alleges that the defendants would divert the proceeds of the mortgage loan to themselves, and would lull the elderly property owners by mailing them monthly interest-only payments.

      The indictment also alleges that Lankford and McDade made material misrepresentations on the loan applications, and in some instances, submitted falsified documents regarding monthly income to the lending institutions. The defendants allegedly caused fraudulent loan applications to be submitted to Countrywide, World Savings Bank, GreenPoint, Wachovia, Seaforth Mortgage, Aegis, Sierra Pacific, and Alliance Bancorp.

      The indictment alleges that in many instances Lankford and McDade subsequently sought to refinance the property with another lending institution to draw out any remaining equity in the property. In connection with refinancing transactions, Lankford allegedly deceived some of the elderly property owners into signing documents indicating that they had been paid in full.

      Many of the properties were later allowed to go into foreclosure, or were sold in short sales through Lankford's real estate business. The indictment alleges that the defendants' conduct caused losses to the victim elderly property owners, lending institutions, and banks of at least $10 million.

      The indictment also charges Jon Vance McDade with one count of bank fraud for submitting a loan application for the refinancing of property in Modesto that contained false salary information and false representations regarding his assets and debts. According to the indictment, this bank fraud caused a loss of approximately $580,000 to Wachovia/Wells Fargo Bank.

      The maximum statutory penalty for each count of mail fraud is 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years supervised release following incarceration. The maximum statutory penalty for bank fraud is 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and up to five years supervised release following incarceration. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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      California Realtor Charged With Scamming Elderly Homeowners, Lenders...
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      China Airlines Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing

      Airline will pay $40 million criminal fine for illegally boosting cargo rates


      China Airlines Ltd. has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $40 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices in the air transportation industry, the Department of Justice announced.

      According to a one-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Taiwan-based China Airlines engaged in a conspiracy to fix the cargo rates charged to customers for international air cargo shipments to and from the United States from at least as early as January 2001, until at least Feb. 14, 2006.

      The department said that China Airlines joined an ongoing conspiracy among cargo carriers that began at least as early as Jan.1, 2000. Under the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, China Airlines has agreed to cooperate with the departments ongoing antitrust investigation.

      Air cargo carriers transport a variety of cargo shipments, such as heavy equipment, perishable commodities, and consumer goods, on scheduled international flights.

      According to the charge, China Airlines carried out the conspiracy by agreeing during meetings and other communications on certain components of the cargo rates to be charged for shipments on certain routes to and from the United States and by levying cargo rates in accordance with the agreements reached. As part of the conspiracy, China Airlines monitored and enforced adherence to the agreed-upon cargo rates.

      China Airlines is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum fine of $100 million for corporations. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

      Including the current charge, as a result of this investigation, a total of 18 airlines and eight executives have been charged in the Justice Departments ongoing investigation into price fixing in the air transportation industry. To date, more than $1.6 billion in criminal fines have been imposed and four executives have been sentenced to serve prison time. Charges are pending against the remaining four executives.

      The airlines that have pleaded guilty, or have agreed to plead guilty, as a result of the departments ongoing investigation into the air transportation industry are: British Airways Plc, Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd., Qantas Airways Limited, Japan Airlines International Co. Ltd., Martinair Holland N.V., Cathay Pacific Airways Limited, SAS Cargo Group A/S, Socit Air France, Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines), EL AL Israel Airlines Ltd., LAN Cargo S.A., Aerolinhas Brasileiras S.A., Cargolux Airlines International S.A., Nippon Cargo Airlines Co. Ltd., Northwest Airlines LLC, and Asiana Airlines Inc.

      Additionally, on Sept. 2, 2010, Polar Air Cargo LLC was charged in this investigation and is scheduled to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced on Oct. 15, 2010.

      Read more about China Airlines.



      China Airlines Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing...
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