Your weekly ScamWatch

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Here is a roundup of alleged cons, frauds and schemes to watch out for.

Telemarketing fraud -- The FBI wants to help you avoid giving your money to criminals on the telephone. Once you fall victim to telemarketing fraud, you’ll almost certainly never get your money back. Before you buy, the FBI recommends that you take these precautions: Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company, ask for written material by mail and check out companies on the Web. Websites for the Better Business Bureau, the state attorney general and the National Fraud Information Center are good places to start your search.

Investment fraud -- A West Covina resident has been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for running an investment scam that targeted the Southern California Spanish-speaking community and caused more than $2.2 million of losses to more than 100 victims. Ruben Gonzalez, 34, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, money laundering and misuse of a social security number. He admitted that he advertised an investment program in Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, guaranteeing returns of 120% per year. As part of the plea bargain, he admitted that he told victims he would use the money to invest in gold and silver, real estate and a gold mine in Mexico. Most of the money was used to make interest payments to early investors; he diverted more than $400,000 to himself. In addition to the prison time, Gonzalez was ordered to pay more than $2.2 million of restitution to victims. Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, warn investors to steer clear of investment advisors who offer unrealistic, guaranteed returns.

Price fixing -- The president of an Iowa ready-mix concrete company pleaded guilty recently to a felony charge that he conspired with a competitor to fix prices, the Justice Department announced.
Chad Van Zee, president of Tri-State Ready Mix of Rock Valley, Iowa, is the third person convicted in an ongoing federal antitrust investigation. Van Zee pleaded guilty to a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.


Giving to reputable charities -- Each holiday season, Americans donate billions of dollars to charity. But before you give, you might want to heed some suggestions from the Better Business Bureau.
Among the group’s suggestions: Research charities carefully on the Internet, don’t make on-the-spot donations when pressured by a door-to-door solicitor or on the telephone and make sure you don’t mistake one charity for another with a similar name.


ScamWatch, Dec 5: Payday loan scheme, counterfeit goods

ScamWatch, Nov 28: Online dating, telemarketing fraud

ScamWatch, Nov 21: Identify theft, phishing

--Stuart Pfeifer