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Japan donations, lottery scheme: Your weekly ScamWatch

March 27, 2011 |  5:18 am

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

Japan relief –- Just hours after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, scammers were at work setting up websites, emails, pop-up ads and other ways to steal money intended for victims of the disaster, according to a news release by the Internet security company McAfee Inc. The company suggests that consumers never respond to unsolicited donation requests by email, text or social media, especially if they sound desperate or overly dramatic. Consumers wishing to make donations should search for well-established international organizations, McAfee suggested.

Elderly investors -– The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against three executives of an Ohio company for allegedly operating a $230-million scheme that targeted more than 5,000 investors, most of them elderly. Executives with Fair Finance Co. were accused of stealing investor money, which purportedly would be used to make consumer loans, and spending it on themselves or diverting it to other businesses.

Business complaints -- Consumers submitted 1.1 million complaints against North American businesses to the Better Business Bureau in 2010, a 10% increase from the previous year, the BBB said in a news release. The cable and satellite television industry received the most complaints, followed closely by the cellphone industry and new-car dealerships, the release said.

Lottery scheme –- Seven residents of Israel have pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to a lottery telemarketing scam, according to the U.S. attorney's office in New York. The defendants admitted participating in a scheme in which they contacted consumers, most of them elderly, by telephone and told them they had won substantial prizes but would need to pay fees in advance to cover taxes. Each of the defendants faces up to 20 years in prison.

 -- Stuart Pfeifer