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Beauty queen accused of loan-modification scam

Also: A computer virus is being spread via emails that seem to be from utilities, officials warn. And thieves can steal credit card numbers by swiping a scanner near victims' wallets, the BBB says.

April 03, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times

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

Beauty queen — Prosecutors in Santa Clara County have accused a former Mrs. Pakistan World of enticing desperate homeowners to pay 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, accusing them of bilking 17 homeowners, the San Jose Mercury News reported. In the scheme, prosecutors allege, Hasnain and her husband told homeowners that for an advance fee of at least $4,500, they would negotiate with banks to reduce the homeowners' mortgages and forgive overdue payments. But the couple did not negotiate with banks; rather, they absconded with the money and returned to Pakistan, prosecutors said. The newspaper said the couple had fled to Lahore, Pakistan. Consumer advocates recommend never paying an advance fee to a loan-modification firm. Instead, payments should be made only after 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 a utility bill needs to be paid, and it instructs recipients to click a link to view the bill. People who click the link have reported that their computers were infected with viruses, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Computer security experts caution that people should click email links only if they are confident that they know — and trust — the person who sent the email.

Electronic pickpockets — New technology is enabling 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 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 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.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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