Scam Watch: FDA warns of extortion scheme

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

Prescription drug calls — The Food and Drug Administration is cautioning consumers about an extortion scam that involves criminals who pose as FDA agents. The criminals call victims and tell them they are under investigation by the FDA or another law enforcement agency for illegally buying prescription drugs from foreign pharmacies, the agency said. The callers tell victims that they'll face prosecution unless they pay a fine over the phone with a credit card, the FDA said. Anyone who receives such a call should refuse to make the payment and hang up, the FDA said.

Ponzi scheme — The FBI is asking for the public's help in finding Gerald Berke, who is accused of defrauding investors of more than $80 million through a Ponzi scheme operated out of a Los Angeles company called GJB Enterprises. Federal prosecutors said Berke told clients that he would use their money to make short-term loans to businesses, but instead spent it on personal expenses and to make interest payments to early investors. An FBI bulletin said Berke is believed to be living in Vancouver, Canada. Anyone with information about Berke's whereabouts can contact the FBI or any U.S. embassy or consulate, the FBI said.

Boiler room — The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint accusing a Santa Ana company and three executives of defrauding investors of $10 million through a telemarketing scheme that sought investments in a proposed initial public offering of stock in MUrgent Corp. The father and twin sons who ran the company used investor money to pay themselves salaries and bonuses totaling more than $1.3 million and to buy luxury cars and other personal items, the SEC alleged. The complaint seeks a court order that would require MUrgent to reimburse investors and to refrain from similar practices.

Mortgage lawsuits — The Better Business Bureau of Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois recommends that homeowners not respond to a mailing asking them to join a "national" lawsuit against their mortgage companies. Michelle Corey, the St. Louis-area BBB president and chief executive, said the mailings were a twist on schemes to obtain upfront payments of $5,000 or more from homeowners struggling with their mortgages. Several property owners in Boone County, Mo., recently got letters saying that their loans "may be eligible for national litigation aimed at fraudulent lender actions," the BBB said. The letters listed no company name or return address, but public records connect the mailings to John J. Ehlinger and his company Diversified Financial Protection Agency Inc., the BBB said. The BBB has issued two warnings on Ehlinger and Capital Debt Management since last summer, alleging deceptive activities.

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