Supreme Court Limits Whistleblower Lawsuits

The Supreme Court has ruled to limit the grounds for some lawsuits brought by whistle-blowers claiming fraud in US health care, defense and other programs.

The effect of the decision is likely to be narrow because Congress amended the disputed provision as part of the health care overhaul that became law March 23.

At issue was the scope of the False Claims Act, first enacted during the Civil War to elicit help from ordinary citizens against contracting fraud.

The law permits people to sue in the name of the United States and to collect some of the settlement.

Pundit Hannity accused of spending children’s charity money against claims

A civil watchdog and several veterans groups have filed federal complaints against FOX News personalities Sean Hannity and Lt. Col. Oliver North, claiming each is making false claims about money a charity collects.

In a complaint filed with the IRS and Federal Trade Commission, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington allege Sean Hannity and Oliver North make deceptive claims about money they make on behalf of children of fallen soldiers.

Hannity heads the charitable foundation, Freedom Concerts. The scholarship charity’s aim is to raise money for children in that circumstance to go to college.

However, CREW and VoteVets, among other groups, argues that not all the money collected goes toward that charity fund, as Hannity and Lt. Col. North suggest. North heads Freedom Alliance, another charity for veterans.

VoteVets Chairman Jon Soltz said 80-90 percent of the money collected is spent on overhead, a problem plaguing numerous charities and non-profit groups.

Other reports suggest even less money is spent on the charities themselves, but instead on ushering Hannity and his friends and family across the country.

Both Hannity’s and North’s groups defended themselves against the charges in a report for Huffington Post.

Dave & Buster’s settles security breach charges with FTC

Arcade franchise Dave & Buster’s Inc. has settled charges it allowed more than 130,000 credit and debit card numbers to be hacked in a security breach.

Leaving these numbers vulnerable resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bogus charges on credit and debit cards the company had stored on its database in 2008, according to a Dallas Morning News report.

Financial terms of the settlement reached with the Federal Trade Commission were not available. Regulators charged that Dave & Buster’s did not take sufficient steps to protect their customers’ identity and could not prevent outside access to its computer database.

Dave & Buster’s must establish a proper computer security system, and it must perform professional audits every other year to ensure that system actually works.

FTC mulls changes to 2000 law protecting child ID online

The Federal Trade Commission is debating changes to a 2000 law governing children’s privacy online.

Few changes have been made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act since it was first adopted and the FTC is currently seeking public input on whether those laws need to be ammended to reflect the current online environment.

Ten years ago, there weren’t smart phones and today they’re almost the norm. Online gaming and interactive TV are Internet-based media that heavily target children, so their identity is more real than it was just a decade ago.

The FTC wants to know if it should expand the definition of “personal information” and whether it should include persistent IP addresses, mobile positioning data or other data collected for behavioral-based ads.

Most privacy advocates are supportive of a ban on the collection of a child’s personal data.

Further, the use of cookies on commercial sites specifically geared to children is also a proposed amendment to the COPPA rules.

Walgreen, other drug stores settle charges over generic supplement claims

Drug store chain Walgreen Co. has agreed to settle charges it illegally marketed its brand of dietary supplement.

According to an AP report, Walgreen will pay $6 million as part of the settlement. Charges against the company claim it illegally marketed a dietary supplement – a generic version of the Airborne product – that could prevent colds, fight germs and boost immune systems.

Walgreen sold its generic version of the popular but also misleading Airborne supplement as Wal-Born. It may not longer sell the product and make those same claims.

Customers who entered a lawsuit over the deceptive claims will split $1.2 million and $4.8 million of the fine will be paid to the Federal Trade Commission. The terms still must be approved by a U.S. District Court judge in Illinois.

Also part of the settlement, other drug store giants settled similar charges over its store brand of Airborne.

CVS Caremark must pay $2.8 million to duped customers who bought its AirShield products. Rite Aid must pay $500,000 to consumers who bought its Germ Defense products.

All of the generic supplements were manufactured by Improvita Health Products. Officials at that company agreed to pay the FTC $565,000 to settle charges over these products.

Census gathering means identity theft risk rises

As the federal government collects Census 2010 data in coming months, it’s very likely consumers will encounter an identity theft scam.

Millions of Americans will be surrendering personal data, and those preying on that information are already hard at work devising ways of tricking consumers into thinking they are participating in the Census.

Government-benefits fraud is reported at higher rates annually than credit card fraud, according to the director of Consumer Affairs in Tennessee, in a report from WTVC-TV.

Scam artists will often use the guise of operating a government-related program. This recently happened often in recent federal programs like Cash-for-Clunkers, the Stimulus Package and for several one-time giveaways of federal funds.

These scams are often perpetrated on the Internet, through email or other sites.

It’s important for consumers to remember the federal government does not contact anyone via email. Thus, it does not collect Census information on the Internet.

The Census Bureau never asks for a FULL Social Security number. It also never asks for money or donations.

Census Bureau officials do not work for an individual political party and should never represent one.

Connecticut residents to be wary of storm-related scams

Local police in Connecticut are warning residents to beware of storm-related scams.

According to an NBC affiliate in Connecticut, police departments around the state are warning residents to be wary of contractors or other imposter professionals offering to complete services in the wake of the massive wind and rain storm over the past weekend.

More than five inches of rain and near-hurricane-strength winds combined to kill at least two people in Connecticut and knocked-out power to hundreds of thousands of people in the Northeast.

As is typical following natural or man-made disasters, a criminal element usually lay in its wake. Police advise residents to rely on known contractors to complete any work on their property, such as to their homes or to remove storm debris.

If residents must go outside their trusted circle of those service professionals, they should seek identification and some credentials from those offering to do the work.

People following disasters are more likely to pay more for services like debris removal, or to fix property damage. All contractors should have insurance and state licensing information on-hand when offering to do work.

Consumers should contact the local police department or the state’s Department of Consumer Protection before fully entering into a contract if they have any doubts on the legitimacy of a contractor.

Internet crimes on the rise

Consumers were defrauded on the Internet twice as much in 2009 as they were the previous year.

According to a Financial Times report, consumers reported losing at least $560 million online last year. In 2008, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received complaints totaling $265 million in losses.

Experts believe that Internet crime is skyrocketing and these reports only confirm those suspicions. Much of the crime originates overseas, especially in eastern European countries.

At least 127,000 complaints were filed with law enforcement officials in 2009. The most reported crime was not receiving goods purchased online. Identity theft, credit card and debit card fraud were also among the crimes most often reported.

The Federal Trade Commission also logged more than 1.3 million complaints of Internet fraud: 278,000 reports of identity theft, 216,000 complaints about fraud that began with e-mail contact and 55,000 fraud complaints where the first contact was through a Web site.

According to the statistics, Internet-based fraud surpassed identity theft in 2009, after identity theft reached record numbers in 2008.

Report May Aid Prosecutors File Charges Against Lehman Brothers

A report by a court-appointed examiner on the collapse of Lehman Brothers may prove to aid prosecutors bring criminal cases against the bank’s former executives.

The 2,200-page report could lay the groundwork for felony charges under securities fraud laws, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or New York’s Martin Act.

The report details how Lehman used an accounting gimmick to move $50 billion in assets off its balance sheet, amongst other fraudulent acts.

The move made the now-bankrupt banking firm appear financially healthier than it was.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ oil company sued in fraud case

An oil and gas company owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been sued in connection to a fraud case.

In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week in Dallas, the AP reports, Jones’ Blue Star Oil and Gas company knowingly did business with a man it knew was defrauding his customers.

The charges stem from an investigation in 2008 that Louisiana businessman James Gurgainers touted his relationship with Jones to get $12 million from 160 investors on the promise of inflated returns. Gurgainers could not deliver on these promises and was ultimately sued.

Blue Star Oil and Gas and its exploration manager Lonnie Williams are named as defendants, not Jones himself. The suit alleges Williams knew Gurgainers was scamming his investors but still gained at least $1.8 million in profit from business dealings with him.

The suit filed by a Securities and Exchange Commission-appointed receiver seeks to get that money back from Blue Star and Williams. It also accuses Blue Star and Williams of aiding Gurgainers in the commission of this fraud.

Jones did not respond to an AP request for a statement on the charges.