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Payday loans, gold mines, rental housing: Your weekly ScamWatch

July 24, 2011 |  5:23 am

Payday loans -- At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has ordered a Redwood City, Calif., company to pay more than $4.8 million for deceiving hundreds of thousands of payday loan applicants into paying for unwanted debit cards. Swish Marketing Inc. operated websites that offered to connect loan applicants with lenders. Applicants who applied for short-term or “payday” loans often ended up unknowingly ordering debit cards for which they were charged $54.95, unless they checked a box saying they didn’t want them. In addition to the fine, the court order prohibits Swish from promoting any product for which customers will be charged unless they opt out.

Housing rentals –- The Better Business Bureau is cautioning consumers to be careful when searching for rental housing on the Internet. Scammers have posted phony ads on Craigslist and other sites and tricked renters into paying deposits for homes they did not own. The “landlords” claim to be out of the country and unable to show the houses, asking renters to base their decisions on photographs posted on the Internet. Often the actual homeowners have their house up for sale — not rent — and have photos posted online that the scammers steal for their phony listings, the BBB said.

Gold mines -– The FBI is hunting for a La Habra resident accused of defrauding a couple in their 80s out of more than $4.7 million. John Arthur Walthall, 55, faces multiple counts of wire fraud for allegedly tricking a Laguna Niguel couple into investing in “Advanced Recycling General Partners,” which he said would use new technology to extract gold from abandoned mines. Walthall, who was arrested in 2009, used the couple’s money on personal expenses, including alimony and child support payments, the FBI said. A federal judge in Orange County issued a warrant for Walthall’s arrest when he failed to appear for a June 27 court hearing. His trial had been scheduled for September.

-- Stuart Pfeifer