Mister A.C. HVAC Company Pleads Guilty for Fraud and Bid Rigging

On November 7, Mister A.C., a New York-based heating and air conditioning company, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to conspiring to rig bids on HVAC services provided to New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH) as well as conspiring to defraud the hospital. 

The owner of  Mister A.C. admitted to rigging bids to NYPH from approximately 2002 until January of 2006, resulting in more than $1 million worth of contracts. He also pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the hospital by paying more than $130,000 in kickbacks to hospital employees from 2001 to 2006. 

Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division, said, “The Department of Justice remains vigilant in its efforts to protect competition for American non-profit organizations by prosecuting those who defraud their customers and deprive the public of a competitive bidding process.”

The owner of Mister A.C. is looking at a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $1 million fine for bid-rigging conspiracy, and a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine for fraud conspiracy.

New Phone Scam Warning Issued by Ohio State Highway Patrol

The State Highway Patrol is warning people of a new phone scam after a central Ohio woman got a call from someone claiming to be a state trooper.  The caller asked the woman to dial *72 (star 72), which is commonly used for call forwarding.  The threat of the scam is that once calls are forwarded, the consumer can be left paying hefty collect call or third party call charges made by the person at the forwarded phone number.

Luckily the Ohio woman called the police rather than following the fraudulent caller’s instructions.  Anyone who receives such a call from anyone, no matter who the caller claims to be, should not follow through in dialing *72 (star 72).  This is simply a new way for con artists to hijack phone lines and create big bills for scam victims.

Salesforce.com Warns Customers of Phishing Scam

Salesforce.com is warning customers of a malicious phishing scam they may be targeted for since a Salesforce.com employee was tricked into divulging a corporate password.  Salesforce.com’s warning note states that online criminals have been sending fake invoices to customers, along with viruses and key logging software. 

A few months ago, a Salesforce.com employee was tricked into giving up a password for the company’s contact list.  This gave the criminals access to customers’ names, email addresses and telephone numbers.  First, customers began receiving fake invoices from the company.  Many customers were duped into giving up their own private information.  Salesforce.com only decided to issue a general alert to its 1 million subscribers after Salesforce.com began noticing malicious software being attached to these bogus emails. 

According to the Washington Post, Suntrust Banks was one of the customers victimized from this scam.

Salesforce.com is working with law enforcement to resolve the problem.  Meanwhile, it is recommended that customers implement higher security measures to cut down on the phisher’s chance of success.  Salesforce.com’s note of warning to customers can be found here: http://trust.salesforce.com/security.html

Online Dating Services Scam Daters: It’s Just Lunch Being Sued, Others Just Bad Matches

In effort to find suitable mates, even the most well-to-do women are turning to online dating and matchmaking services, and these women aren’t afraid to pay high prices for what they want.  High end dating and matchmaking services charge anywhere from $1000-$5000 to make their matches, and the cost would be well worth it to these women if they actually got what they paid for.  However, many unsatisfied customers are describing these services as shots in the dark.  Others contend these companies make outright deceptions and false promises.

A group of furious New York women have filed suit against It’s Just Lunch, an online dating service charging up to $1500 to make its matches, claiming the company is making its millions by duping daters.  Although the company claims to have arranged millions of meetings which have resulted in millions of marriages, it may be just luck or simply just lies. 

In court papers filed in this Manhattan’s District Court case, complaints filed with ConsumerAffairs.com are cited, including one woman’s claim that she specifically requested no Republicans or ‘religious types’ but was set up with a Catholic Republican and a Seventh-day Adventist.  Another said the man It’s Just Lunch set her up with was still legally married and had told the company this, but this information was conveniently left out of the otherwise detailed introduction It’s Just Lunch gave her.

It’s Just Lunch isn’t the only online dating service women are angry about. 

Great Expectations, whose members typically paid between $1,000 and $3,500 for their matchmaking service, has been sued on more than one occasion for deceiving its customers and for other fraudulent business practices.  Match.com has been sued for deceptive practices, including sending an employee on a date as bait to gain a subscriber.  Yahoo has been sued for creating fake profiles to lure in memberships.  eHarmony, which faces legal action for excluding those seeking same-sex relationships, has received multiple complaints at ConsumerAffairs.com for turning people away (after filling out the lengthy ‘personality profile’ questionnaire) saying they’re “unmatchable.”  Still, being turned away may be preferable to being charged thousands of dollars for an elite dating service claiming to have ‘thousands of suitable matches’ only to get set up with losers.

ConsumerAffairs.com has also received complaints about All About Singles, Confere Dating Service, Elite Personal Search, Executive Dating, InstantBlindDate.com, Lifemates, Matchmaker, NewYorkGaySingles.com, singleslibrary.com, Social Spark, Successful Singles, The Right One, Together, Trusted Singles, udate.com and UltimateSingles.com.  All of these complaints were on grounds that the dating and matchmaking services didn’t deliver as promised.

Check Fraud Scheme a Rising Problem for Home Sellers

Anyone with property on the market should be aware of the latest check fraud scam. It generally goes like this: someone makes an offer on the house sight unseen, issues a check and requests that a percentage of the cashed check to be forwarded on to a real estate agent. Trouble is, the check bounces, but not before the happy home seller is out that phony “agent” commission.

Such has been the case of Guy and Joanne Duncan, who after putting their South Florida home on the market received a cashier’s check for a down payment on the home sight unseen from someone who said he’d seen the house listed for sale online. Fortunately, the Duncans are retired police officers and, suspicious, turned the check over to the U.S. Post Office fraud inspectors. The inspectors determined it was a forgery.

The catch in this phony check scheme is often that the person’s bank cashing the check doesn’t recognize the check as phony right away, but when the bank does catch on to the fraud, it’s the person who cashes the check who is left in debt – not the bank. People often believe cashier’s checks and money orders are fool-proof, but that’s far from the case.

In South Florida alone, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service intercepted 90,000 pieces of mail containing fraudulent checks, with a potential total loss of $420 million between January and August of this year.

WiBank Card Fraud a Common Fear, Says Unisys Security Survey

Unisys Corp., a technology consultant, has started regularly polling consumers from around the world to find out which security threats consumers fear most.  At the top of this survey’s list is a common fear of bank card fraud.  Regardless of income level, people around the globe fear having their banking information ripped off from performing online transactions.  And it’s no wonder.

Every 15th credit card user is a victim of credit card fraud.  According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were over 100,000 complaints filed regarding online credit cart theft in 2005.  A FBI report indicates credit cards represented the majority of the total $315 billion U.S. financial fraud loss for 2005.  A recent European study found that more than 22 million adults fell victim to credit card scams in 2006.  The Banque de France showed a credit card fraud loss of $319 million for 2005.  Clearly, credit card fraud is a global problem, and every year these statistics rise.

FTC Bogus Email Warning

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a warning to consumers about a bogus email circulating which appears to come from the FTC itself.  The email references a complaint filed by the recipient and includes links and attachments which, if clicked on or opened, will download a computer virus.  The FTC advises anyone who receives this email not to open the attachment or click on any links.  Opening the email itself has not been reported to do any harm. 

The virus is reported to install a key logger, which can grab passwords and account numbers.  Anyone who has clicked on the links or attachments has likely already downloaded the virus and should run an anti-virus software immediately in order to protect their personal security. 

Recipients of this spoof email are being asked to forward the email to spam@uce.gov and then delete it.  For more information about bogus emails, phishing, and virus protection, go to www.OnGuardOnline.gov.

Medicare Fraud Puts Senior Citizens at Risk

As November quickly approaches, seniors will once again be eligible for enrollment in government-subsidized prescription insurance.  For those on Medicare, it’s a difficult decision made even more complicated by scam artists looking to take candy from the purses of the elderly.  Phony phone calls, mailed letters and even emails asking for credit card numbers are just a few of the con tactics. 

At a New England educational gathering, one senior citizen reported having her credit card number stolen from a telemarketer claiming to be an employee of a company offering Medicare Part D benefits.  Another reported a fake door-to-door salesman asking for personal checks.

Senior citizens are being cautioned to avoid financial risk by taking the following precautions:

• Don’t give a telemarketer or salesman your credit card, bank account or social security numbers.
• Don’t sign any document you don’t understand.
• Don’t cash checks from strange companies. 

One of the increasingly common Medicare scams is sending senior citizens checks for a small amount of money.  The small print on these checks states that cashing the check grants permission for automatic enrollment in their program for an exorbitant monthly fee.  The print on these checks is so tiny that even someone with perfect eye sight couldn’t read the type without a magnifying glass.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), seniors are victims of consumer fraud more often than any other age group.  Senior citizens and those whose family members are eligible for Part D Medicare should take extra precaution to guard themselves and their loved ones against these scams.

Indiana Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against Buzz Telecom for Telephone Slamming

The Indiana Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against the owners of Buzz Telecom, which also operated as Business Options, after receiving over 50 complaints that the telephone company switched customers’ phone companies without their consent and charged them a fee to do it (a process known as “telephone slamming”).  When customers contacted Buzz Telecom to complain, the company refused to reverse the unauthorized charges.

Unfortunately, it’s become common practice for telephone slammers to attempt to convince customers that what they’re doing is perfectly legal.  Meanwhile, the customer is slapped with a hefty “change of carrier” charge. In a service industry where customers feel forced to either pay up or go without, many people (especially elderly folks) aren’t fighting the charges.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a customer’s telephone service cannot legally be switched from an existing telephone company to a new company unless the new company verifies the switch by one of the following methods:

1) Obtains customer’s signature of consent.
2) Receives oral customer authorization via an independent third party.
3) Provides customer with a toll free number to confirm the switch.

Customers who have been slammed by any telephone company may contact the offending company and refuse payment.  Then inform the original/preferred phone company of the slam practice and request to be reinstated with their original calling plan.  Specifically request that all “change of carrier charges” (the charge to switch phone companies) be waived.  If all else fails, contacting the appropriate State Attorney General couldn’t hurt.

Foreign Securities Fraud Claims Barred from US Courts

The Supreme Court has ruled that foreign securities-fraud claims could not enter US court in order to avoid incompatibilities with laws in other countries.

The ruling provides a powerful defense for multinational companies who face fraud claims by some of their investors.

The ruling will likely save millions of dollars for companies like BP PLC, which is facing securities lawsuits due to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Investors such as US public pension funds, could see a smaller amount of recoveries in a number of pending securities actions, which include cases against Toyota Motor Corp in relation to its handling of the sudden acceleration claims.