Mortgage fraud, prescription drugs, boiler room: Your weekly ScamWatch
Here is a roundup of alleged cons, frauds and schemes to watch out for.
Mortgage lawsuits -- The Better Business Bureau recommends that homeowners not respond to a mailing asking them to join a "national" lawsuit against their mortgage companies. Michelle L. Corey, president and chief executive of the St. Louis BBB, says the mailings are a new twist on schemes to obtain upfront payments of $5,000 or more from homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. Several property owners in Boone County, Mo., recently got letters saying 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, the BBB said. The BBB has issued two warnings on Ehlinger and Capital Debt Management since last summer for allegedly deceptive activities.
Prescription drug extortion –- The Food and Drug Administration is cautioning consumers about criminals who pose as FDA special agents in an extortion scam. The criminals call victims and tell them they are under investigation by the FDA or another agency for illegally purchasing prescription drugs from foreign pharmacies. 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 Eneterprises. Federal prosecutors have charged Berke with fraud for allegedly telling clients that he would use their money to make short-term loans to businesses, but instead spending it on personal expenses and to make interest payments to early investors. An FBI “wanted” 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 lawsuit 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 a company called mUrgent Corp. The father and twin sons that ran the company used investor money to pay themselves salaries and bonuses of more than $1.3 million and to purchase luxury cars and other personal items, the SEC alleged. The lawsuit seeks a court order that would force the company to reimburse investors and refrain from similar practices.
-- Stuart Pfeifer