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Free trial offers, investment scams, shady movers: Your weekly ScamWatch

May 22, 2011 |  6:12 am

‘Free’ trial offers -- The Federal Trade Commission has accused an Alberta, Canada, man and several companies of defrauding consumers of more than $450 million  by luring them into “free” trial offers and then charging them for products or services they did not order. The FTC filed a lawsuit in the federal courthouse in Seattle against Jesse Willms and 10 of his companies, accusing them of obtaining victims’ credit card numbers as part of free-trial offers and then billing the credit cards for products that were not ordered. Consumers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand were victimized in the scam, the FTC said in a news release. The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the companies from engaging in similar practices and an order freezing their assets, as well as restitution for victims.

Pre-IPO schemes -- Investors should be careful when responding to opportunities to buy pre-initial public offering shares of Facebook, Twitter, Groupon or other popular companies, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a recent alert. A number of these unsolicited offerings are scams that have been promoted through social media, the Internet, telephone and email, the SEC said. Investors should be wary of the risks of such investments and carefully research the investment product and the professional making the offering, the SEC said.

Movers -- Consumers should be careful when selecting a professional mover, the Better Business Bureau said in a recent bulletin. The BBB received more than 8,900 complaints about dishonest and unlicensed movers last year. Most of the complaints alleged that the movers charged more than original estimates or that they lost or damaged property. In some instances, dishonest movers hold consumers’ belongings “hostage” until they are paid thousands of dollars, the BBB said. To avoid such problems, consumers should research companies thoroughly and get in-person estimates, the BBB said.

Guaranteed returns -- The SEC is warning consumers to avoid investment offerings from a company called Imperia Invest IBC, which the agency said has fraudulently raised more than $7 million from investors worldwide. The SEC alleged in a lawsuit that the company guaranteed on the Internet that it would provide 1.2% daily returns but has not paid any returns to consumers. More than half the funds were collected from U.S. investors who are deaf, the SEC said. The agency cautioned that investment pitches guaranteeing spectacular rates of return are an indicator of possible fraud.

-- Stuart Pfeifer

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