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Mystery shoppers, flood relief, real estate: Your weekly ScamWatch

May 15, 2011 |  5:14 am

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

Mystery shoppers –- A New Jersey man has agreed to pay $919,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission that accused him of defrauding unemployed Americans who paid fees to get work-at-home jobs that rarely materialize. Wayne Verderber II and his company, Marketing Exchange Inc., agreed to surrender three rental properties, a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, precious metals and other assets to satisfy the judgment, the FTC said in a news release. The FTC alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that Verderber and his company had offered to help customers get jobs stuffing envelopes or working as mystery shoppers but did not get them such jobs. As part of a settlement, Verderber and his company agreed to never again promote work-at-home jobs. The FTC, Better Business Bureau and other organizations caution people to be wary of companies that ask to be paid for job opportunities.

Flood relief charities -– People who want to contribute to those affected by the Mississippi River flooding should be careful to select reputable charities, the Better Business Bureau cautioned in a recent bulletin. Donors should be wary of companies that are not registered with their states to solicit charitable contributions and view the charity’s website to make sure it’s reputable, the BBB said.

Real estate funds –- The Securities and Exchange Commission has sued a New York-based investment advisor, accusing him of fraudulently selling securities in two real estate investment funds. The SEC alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday that Lloyd V. Barriger fraudulently told investors that the Gaffken & Barriger Fund was a safe and liquid investment fund that generated a minimum 8% return annually. He was also accused of defrauding investors in Campus Capital Corp. by using their money to "prop up" the troubled Gaffken & Barriger Fund without disclosing it to investors. The two funds collected $32 million before closing in 2008. In the lawsuit, the SEC seeks the repayment of ill-gotten gains, plus interest and civil penalties.

Children’s personal info –- The FTC has sued a company that develops online multiplayer games, alleging that it illegally collected and disclosed children’s ages and email addresses without the approval of their parents. The FTC accused Playdom Inc., which operates such Web-based games as 2 Moons, 9 Dragons and My Diva Doll, of violating a federal law that requires them to obtain parental approval before collecting such information. In addition, the lawsuit said, the company inappropriately allowed children to post personal information such as their names, locations and instant messenger addresses without parental approval.

-- Stuart Pfeifer