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Scam watch: Beauty queen, energy bills, e-pickpockets

April 01, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer
  • Consumers should take steps to protect their money.
Consumers should take steps to protect their money. (David Paul Morse / Bloomberg )

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

Beauty queen – Prosecutors in Santa Clara County have accused the former Mrs. Pakistan World of using her good looks to entice desperate homeowners into paying her tens of thousands of dollars in a loan-modification scam. The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office charged Saman Hasnain and her husband, Jawad, with 17 counts of grand theft for allegedly bilking 17 homeowners, the San Jose Mercury News reported. In the scheme, Hasnain and her husband told homeowners that, for an advance fee of at least $4,500, they would negotiate with banks to reduce their mortgages and forgive overdue payments. But the couple did not negotiate with banks, absconded with the money and returned to Pakistan, prosecutors said. Consumer advocates recommend never paying an advance fee to a loan-modification firm. Instead, payments should be made only after the loans have been modified.

Energy bills – Law enforcement officials are warning the public that a computer virus is being transmitted through emails that appear to be from utility companies. The email says that a utility bill needs to be paid and instructs recipients to click a link to view the bill. People who click on the link have reported that their computers were infected with viruses, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Computer-security advocates caution that people should only click on email links if they are confident they know -- and trust -- the person who sent the email.

Electronic pickpockets – New technology is allowing thieves to steal credit card numbers simply by swiping a small scanning device near a victim’s wallet, the Better Business Bureau said in a recent alert. The devices are able to read information contained in chips contained in about one-third of all U.S. credit cards, the BBB said. The stolen information can be used to make duplicate credit cards, which are then used to make unauthorized purchases. The BBB suggests that consumers protect themselves by using wallets designed to block the reading devices or by asking banks to provide them with credit cards that do not contain the chips.

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