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Your Weekly ScamWatch

October 17, 2010 |  6:00 am

Tax "relief" — The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to use caution before paying so-called tax relief companies to help them negotiate tax debts. Many of these companies advertise on television and radio that they can reduce or eliminate tax debts, when in fact most consumers don’t qualify, the FTC said in a recent advisory. Consumers should use caution with companies that demand upfront fees before negotiating to reduce debt, the FTC said.

Patent ideas — A Northern California man who represented himself as a patent law expert has been arrested and accused of stealing inventors’ patent ideas and selling them for tens of thousands of dollars. Franklin Michael Beninsig, who operated Hot Pepper Ventures in El Dorado Hills, is accused of offering to represent inventors in the patent process, but instead listing himself as the inventor, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said. Beninsig, 53, is charged with four felonies, including theft and embezzlement. The charges carry a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

Green marketing — The Federal Trade Commission said companies that portray themselves as environmentally conscious may be more greedy than green. In a practice known as “green washing,” some companies make false or inflated claims about the environmental value of their products, the FTC said. As a result, the agency is reviewing its guidelines for environmental marketing claims.

Data theft at gas pumps — Three Los Angeles men who allegedly installed devices that recorded consumer credit and ATM card numbers from Northern California gas station pumps have been charged with 42 felony counts of identity theft and conspiracy. The men allegedly used the stolen information to create phony credit and ATM cards that were used to make more than $150,000 in purchases and withdrawals, Atty. Gen. Brown said. Banks have reimbursed the victims, Brown said.

--Stuart Pfeifer