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Debt collectors, college roommates: Your weekly ScamWatch

September 4, 2011 |  3:46 am

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

Debt collection –- There are few things more intimidating than a telephone call from a collection agency. Some scam artists have been using that fear to bully people into giving up their debit card numbers on the telephone, then draining their bank accounts, the Better Business Bureau said in a recent alert. In some instances, the callers have personal information about the target, including actual debts, making the call seem legitimate. The bureau said anyone who receives a suspicious call about an outstanding debt should demand written proof of the debt and should never provide bank or credit card information over the phone until making sure the collection firm is legitimate.

Going away to college -– In addition to worrying about keeping up with their studies, new college students should take steps to prevent themselves from becoming victims of identity theft, the Better Business Bureau said. The group said it’s not always strangers who commit identity theft -– sometimes it’s a new roommate. To avoid being victimized, students should keep bank and credit card statements in a safe place and have sensitive mail sent to their parents’ homes, the bureau said. “In this day and age, you can’t always trust your peers,” said Stephen A. Cox, president and chief executive of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  “It’s extremely important for students to be vigilant in monitoring bank and credit card statements to spot unauthorized activity.”

Life settlement company –- The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained an emergency court order shutting down a Los Angeles company that claimed to invest in life insurance policies, but instead allegedly used investor money to finance the owner’s luxury lifestyle. The SEC accused Daniel C.S. Powell and his company, Christian Stanley Inc., of defrauding investors by making false claims that it invested in so-called life settlements. Powell raised at least $4.5 million from at least 50 investors nationwide but never used the money to buy life insurance policies as he said he would, the SEC said. Instead, he spent the money on luxury hotels, expensive cars and visits to nightclubs and restaurants, the SEC said. At the request of the SEC, U.S. District Judge George H. King issued a temporary restraining order freezing the assets of the company and placing a receiver in charge of the company’s assets. Powell could not be reached for comment. Life settlements are transactions in which policy holders sell life insurance policies to third parties.


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--Stuart Pfeifer

Photo: U.S. currency. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times