Your weekly ScamWatch

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A roundup of alleged scams, frauds and cons to watch out for:

Online holiday shopping – The Federal Trade Commission cautions consumers to use extreme care when making online purchases during the holidays. Consumers should confirm a seller’s physical address and telephone number before making a purchase; read the fine print, including shipping fees; print and save records of all purchases; and use caution when making purchases using public wireless networks. On top of that, the FTC said, consumers should pay with credit cards -- rather than debit cards, checks or money orders -- because they offer the best protection.

Stealing from children – A former Morgan Stanley stockbroker has pleaded guilty to defrauding the guardians of several disabled children by mishandling accounts intended to help provide for the children’s lifetime care. Charles Winitch, 51, had helped manage money that came from settlements of medical malpractice claims, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said in a news release. Instead of investing in Treasurys and municipal bonds as instructed, Winitch helped make risky trades to gain nearly $200,000 in commissions, it said. Winitch is scheduled to be sentenced March 18. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Kids’ vitamins – The marketers of popular children’s vitamins have agreed to repay $2.1 million to consumers, to settle FTC allegations that they made false and unproved claims. NBTY Inc. and two subsidiaries made unsupported claims that daily use of the Disney and Marvel Heroes lines of vitamins promoted healthy brain and eye development, the FTC alleged. The vitamins were sold at major retailers such as Target, Walgreens, Kmart and Rite Aid. A refund program will be administered by the FTC.


Sweepstakes fees – A federal judge has temporarily halted an operation that allegedly tricked people into paying $20 fees in order to collect nonexistent sweepstakes prizes, the FTC said. According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the operation was run through several companies, including National Awards Service Advisory and International Award Advisors. The companies sent out mass mailings with official-looking government seals, saying the recipient had won sweepstakes prizes that they could collect by paying the fee, the FTC said. The FTC wants consumers to know that legitimate sweepstakes do not require advance fees.


Dec 12: Telemarketing, investment fraud, price fixing

Dec 5: Payday loans, counterfeit goods, bank worker

Nov 28: Online dating, government grants, telemarketing fraud

-- Stuart Pfeifer