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Scam watch: Grandparent scheme, debt collection, investment fraud

October 28, 2012|By Stuart Pfeifer
  • Scammers have bilked older victims out of cash by impersonating family members in need of emergency funds.
Scammers have bilked older victims out of cash by impersonating family… (Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg )

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

Grandparent scam -- This scheme has been highlighted before in this space, but it’s so common it’s worth sounding the alarm again. There have been numerous reports about bad people trying to trick older Americans into giving them money by calling and pretending to be relatives, often grandchildren, who are in desperate need of money because of a fabricated emergency. In some cases, it can be for bail or to repair a car. Consumer advocates caution that anyone who receives such a call should ask questions that an imposter would not be able to answer correctly -- the date of their mother’s birthday or the city they were born in, for instance. Before sending money, anyone who receives such a call should try to call the family of the person who is asking for assistance to see if it’s legitimate.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles said they recently arrested a man who ran such a scam out of a boiler room in Canada. Many victims were from Southern California. Pascal Goyer, 29, whose last known residence was Montreal, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday after his flight landed from Mexico. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Goyer and five other people in September after an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The suspects were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and aiding and abetting. According to the indictment, Goyer and his co-defendants called elderly victims in Southern California and invented scenarios involving legal or financial crises they claimed had befallen the grandchildren or other relatives of the victims and instructed victims to wire them money. Victims typically sent between $2,000 and $3,000, the FBI said in a news release.

Investment fraud -- A Nevada man has been arrested on suspicion of mail and wire fraud for allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme that brought in $15 million from investors, many of them from Southern California. Gordon Driver of Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas, is accused of falsely telling victims that he made 1% to 5% per week by investing in commodities. In reality, his trading was overwhelmingly unprofitable, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said in a news release. Driver also used investor money to pay personal expenses and to pay returns to early investors, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Victims lost an estimated $9 million in the scheme, prosecutors said. In a Ponzi scheme, the perpetrator uses money from recent investors to pay returns to early investors, deceiving them into believing the investment fund is healthy and profitable. When investments stop coming in, the schemes collapse.

Debt collection -- A California man who worked with bogus debt collectors in India has agreed to pay a settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC had accused Varang K. Thaker of Villa Park and two affiliated companies of working with bogus debt collectors to threaten and intimidate consumers into making payments for debts that did not exist. As part of the settlement, Thaker and his companies will pay about $170,000, the FTC said. The FTC had obtained a judgment against him and his companies for $5.4 million. That order was suspended because of the defendants’ inability to pay, the FTC said.

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