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Be wary of gemstone sellers in Afghanistan, BBB warns

August 23, 2011|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times

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

Fake gems

Military personnel in Afghanistan have been falling victim to local merchants selling fake gems they claim can be resold in the United States for huge profits, the Better Business Bureau announced.

Janice Zerbe, who owns a jewelry store in Colorado Springs, Colo., said members of the military have come to her store to sell stones bought overseas.

"Unfortunately, the majority of the stones are fake, and even those that are authentic are not cut correctly or are downright unattractive," Zerbe said.

The BBB has asked military families to alert loved ones to avoid buying gems from merchants in Afghanistan unless they have good references.

Upfront taxes

Thousands of Americans have been victimized by a long-running scam in which they are told by email or telephone that they've won a lottery or sweepstakes prize and need to pay the taxes up front before they can receive their prizes, the Better Business Bureau said.

Recently, a disabled maintenance worker from Florissant, Mo., said thieves tricked her into giving them $3,000 after they told her she won two multimillion-dollar sweepstakes prizes.

"All of us dream about winning the lottery or a sweepstakes prize," the BBB's Michelle Corey said. "But in the vast majority of cases, these prize notifications are nothing more than attempts to steal money from unsuspecting consumers."

Identity theft

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has advice to help avoid becoming victims of identity theft. Criminals often use strangers' names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth to obtain credit cards in their names and run up thousands of dollars in charges.

Among the district attorney's suggestions: Don't give anyone a credit card number or related information over the phone unless you initiated the call or are dealing with someone you know. Don't carry your Social Security number with you. And order your credit report at least once a year to look for suspicious activity.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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