Air conditioner, adjustable bed scams

In a recession, crooks are hungrier

Recessions always bring out the vultures, and these days they are a step ahead of technological trends, as scam haven San Diego is learning once again. Con artists claim they can fix your credit, rescue you from foreclosure, make your mortgage easier to handle, and provide you with debt relief. “Loan modification programs can be legal, but these people can’t take up-front money to do loan modification,” says Steve Robinson, deputy district attorney. “These people are going out and about, saying they will modify your loan, they will deal with the mortgage company, but the crooks take the money and run.”

So give the boot to one offering to deal with your mortgage company if you are supposed to pay a fee in advance or sign for a so-called rescue loan. There are legitimate nonprofit organizations that help people rearrange their debts, but the for-profit outfits often smell. So-called credit repair is an old scam: the Federal Trade Commission says it has never found a reputable company that can erase problems on a credit report. Indeed, many of the credit repair outfits are multilevel marketing (also called network marketing) organizations that are essentially pyramid schemes.

Computer hackers are getting important information from people seeking employment. The bandits hack their way into a company’s job-application site and swipe email addresses and Social Security numbers. You could be the victim of identity theft. It’s best not to give your Social Security number on a job application. Bandits are also posting phony job listings on craigslist in attempts to “phish” (trying to get critical personal information via the internet) that could set you up for someone stealing your identity and draining your bank account.

When unemployment soars, people are more likely to get suckered into employment-opportunity scams. Many are the so-called work-at-home schemes — stuffing envelopes, etc. Normally, these involve some kind of an up-front payment (say, to buy a kit) and should be avoided. Then there are the letters from Nigeria — and almost everywhere else — promising you quick money. All are scams.

San Diego’s Edward Bevilacqua touted a classic business-opportunity scam. He was convicted this year on multiple counts of securities fraud and is now in prison serving a seven-year term. Operating out of such places as Fallbrook and Escondido, he ran companies with the names Bikini Vending and 360 Wireless. In tandem with a character in Orange County, who was also sentenced to prison, Bevilacqua told people that they could make a fortune by owning freestanding internet kiosks that housed a computer and a mechanism to accept payments. Presumably, the kiosks would allow the public to access the internet for a fee from convenience stores, hotels, bowling alleys, and the like.

More than 450 consumers bit. They were promised that they would own a kiosk, from which they would get substantial monthly income. But, said the Federal Trade Commission and the San Diego district attorney’s office, it was a Ponzi scheme. Those monthly payments supposedly generated by the kiosks “were in fact monies received from new investors,” said deputy district attorney Steve Davis, who recently retired. After the Federal Trade Commission stopped the scam and got a multimillion-dollar judgment, the district attorney took up the case and won a criminal conviction.

Every time there is a technological advance that should benefit consumers, the scamsters seem to streak ahead of the curve. According to security firm Webroot, 30 percent of social networking users have experienced an attack, such as a phishing scam or a virus. CSO Online says that celebrity news, such as Michael Jackson’s death, springs the malefactors into action. Facebook and Twitter messages will promise secret information. Those who bite end up with malware (malicious software) on their computer. Such a ploy could be a phishing expedition. Or, says CSO, a user might get a message: “Did you see this picture?” with a link included. Click the link, and you will be entering log-in credentials on a fake screen.

Watch out for other scams. “Skimmers” install an overlay device on a gas pump or ATM. It swipes your name, account number, and expiration date off the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. There are variations on phishing, says the Credit Union National Association. “Smishing” targets cell phone users who use text messaging. You might get a message thanking you for signing up for a dating service and saying you will be charged $2 a day unless you cancel your order. When you try to cancel, you’re sent to a phishing hole. “Vishing” is a variation on an old theme: you get a phone call from an automated random dialer saying your credit card has been used illegally; you’re told to call a special number where you will be asked to give out critical account information.

Today’s best advice: when in doubt, don’t click.

In a recession, crooks are hungrier. Therefore, scams against the elderly pick up. Shaun McGrady, lead attorney for Senior Shield, a new program of Elder Law & Advocacy of San Diego, says home workmen will take advantage of frail elders. He cites the case of a contractor who did work for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. “She said she didn’t have cash, so he went out and had loan documents prepared to pay for repairs that did not need to be done. She hadn’t driven in 25 years, and he convinced her to have the garage redone. He charged seven times the going rate for replacing the air conditioner.” The district attorney’s office is looking into it, says McGrady.

Furniture companies convince older people that they can get adjustable beds paid for by Medicare. But those companies may be in no position to make such a statement, says McGrady.

Sue Macomber of Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) says that there are Medicare scams. “The Medicare drug discount card is available to people enrolled in Medicare, but not everyone on Medicare is eligible,” says Macomber. Approved cards may be offered by private companies but should display the “Medicare Rx Approved” symbol. “If these cards are pitched door-to-door, by email, or come in the mail, start performing the needed due diligence,” she recommends.

Sweepstakes and lotteries tend to suck in the elderly more than others. You’re told you have won a sweepstakes, for example. “Enclosed is a check for $5700,” says Paul Greenwood, head of elder abuse prosecutions in the district attorney’s office. “You’re told you must send $3700 for taxes and expenses. You send it and their check bounces,” he says. You’re stuck. The scamsters are in Canada, but he can’t locate them.

“The smoking-car scam is another,” says Greenwood. An elderly person is driving. “Your car is about to explode,” shouts someone who says he is a mechanic. He gets the victim to take money out of the bank. The purported mechanic does a lot of unneeded work and pockets the money. Greenwood says a chap named Sonny Mitchell has just pleaded guilty to stealing from the elderly in pulling this scam.

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The best job board I've ever was the one from the University at the school I attended. I'd venture to bet that most schools have some form of job boards for their students. Another good option for students are job fairs on campus. Before scouring online job postings on craigslist, monster.com, or any other site, I'd suggest applying to positions on individual company websites and networking with people in your classes.

re: #46 Those should do nicely :) Now, you just need a bevy of girls and a condemned building to squat.

Per post #9, Don, you recently reported the Qualcomm earnings as something negative and disappointing. The U-T, who else?, had them as good news. I think both parts of the story should get equal billing. As in the earnings are down, BUT not as much as the analysts thought. More often than not, the whole report is based around the expectations, and the historical value is never mentioned.

Barron's has had a roundtable for years, and nearly all of the participants are uniformly bullish about stocks. When we had the "dotcom" bubble burst, I don't remember a single one of those smartmoney people predicting it. A couple may have sounded mildly cautionary notes. Someone in that group must have seen it coming, yet sat silent. One of them, a woman named Abby Joseph Cohen, is a perpetual pollyanna, and if her track record were examined in the same way as an athlete, would have been benched and then released years ago. But no, she still sits and spews her happy-face nonsense twice a year. She knows exactly where her bread is buttered.

re: #18 Thanks pellis; yes, these options have been provided them. However, it is sometimes necessary to expand your searches outward.

Response to post #18: Agreed. Job boards and job fairs at your school may be the single best source of employment opportunities. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #19: Yes, Abby Joseph Cohen is a joke. The stock market goes up 4 out of every 5 years. So it is financially rewarding to be a perma-bull. When it plunges in that 5th year, wiping out your four years of gains, the perma-bull runs and hides. Yes, most analysts are bullish; how many "sell" recommendations do you ever see? It gets even more interesting with economists and stock analysts with a macrovision. Tell me now, how many foresaw the current crash? I can name just a few: A. Gary Shilling, Henry Kaufman, Nouriel Roubini, James Grant, Jeremy Grantham. There were some others. I consider myself lucky that I became a devotee of both Shilling and Kaufman as soon as I landed at the San Diego Union in 1973, and continued to follow them. As a financial/economic commentator, I was certainly wrong often, but I had the big picture in my sight better than most, thanks to Shilling and Kaufman. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #18: Yes, you must expand your search. But be careful. Best, Don Bauder

Recruiters are the worst...pimps, really. Rarely met one I considered ethical or trustworthy.

But then so much of the work we do in the modern economy can be equated to intellectual prostitution. Just like at a brothel, my clients pay me for a specific act or for a period of time during which they do with me as they like (within certain limits -- I never do marketing for example -- I do have my dignity).

Visduh: "The specialty of the HR dept is saying NO. If you apply for a position and land it, the good news will come from the boss. If you hear from HR it will be to tell that you didn't get the job."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Cordially yours,

S. "US Hater" Daniels

SDaniels, if your students are looking for tech jobs, I've found www.dice.com to be pretty good.

Response to post #34: I guess we are all pimps in one way or another -- at least part of the time. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #35: I have to defend modern HR people to some extent. At the U-T circa the 1990s, HR instituted opinion tests measuring various things such as workers' feelings toward management, working conditions, etc. Those tests were helpful -- and quite embarrassing to management. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #36: I think the apt question is: What is your charge in relation to the quality of services your client provides? Best, Don Bauder


The best job board I've ever was the one from the University at the school I attended. .... I'd suggest applying to positions on individual company websites and networking with people in your classes.

By pellis

Best jobs I ever had were off of a college job board.

The better/best jobs at gov and private employers are filled mostly through personal connections/recommendations. I find this to be especially true within gov, where the top paying jobs are almost exclusively filled by cronyism and nepostism hires, the reason behind this is you can get hacks in gov all day long and not have to worry because the gov cannot go BK, or out of business. As a former public school teacher I saw this up close and personal everyday, in virtually the entire system.

Response to post #10: I have not heard complaints about Career Builder, but this is definitely a scam area.

By dbauder

One of San Diego's most notorious head hunter/job finding firms was named Culver Personnel, and they used to run phony ads all the time, then they wluld call the people who sent in resumes and try to get you to purchase their job placement services.

Hopefully they have folded by now.

S. "US Hater" Daniels

By SDaniels

So wha does the "S" stand for???

They can't go out of business but they can go BK -- at least, the municipality can go BK.

By dbauder

True. Respect to Mr Bauder.

re: #37 "I guess we are all pimps in one way or another..."

Mr Bauder, it is pretty difficult to imagine you with a cane and "pimp cup."

re: #38 That sounds like improvement in communications, but it is still wise to bypass HR when looking for a job.

re:39 The client is always right.

re: #40 "So wha does the "S" stand for???

That's for me to know, and you to find out, SurfPup :)

Response to post #12: I do see that there have been complaints about Career Builder. I don't know if they are valid, but I would be wary of such web sites. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #13: If you vouch for it, Fred, that's a good recommendation. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #48: I have no access to those. I am eliminated from the procurement profession. Best, Don Bauder

SDaniels, try this with your students:

Ask them what company they admire. What company makes something they find useful and interesting enough that they would work there gladly just to have their name associated with such a company.

Most students, if they're thoughtful, can find more than one company like this.

Then tell them to go online, find the contact information for the most senior person possible at that company, and hand write a letter (yes! on paper!) telling the reasons they admire the company and what they could offer (what they'd bring to the company).

Send that handwritten letter along with a brief resume, all printed on good paper, through the post. Be sure to include contact information.

Chances are the students will get a response of some kind. It may lead to something great.

At any rate, they'll know how to approach a company and make a good impression by investing time and effort learning about the company and finding out who works there, then considering what value they could bring...the reasons they might be hired.

The most important thing however, is a shift in mind set. You don't have to wait for someone to advertise a job. Go to the companies you admire and ask for a job.

I wish your students the best,


Thanks, Fred. I don't teach job-searching skills, but this is always good information to pass along. One thing I do tell them from experience is to avoid HR at all costs, and to address cover letters and correspondence to the head of the department of interest.

re: #29 Mr. Bauder, could you direct us to a link for the story?

Thanks, Fred! Many of my students are looking for nursing, business management, and yes-- tech jobs. I'll check it out.

Response to post #24: They can't go out of business but they can go BK -- at least, the municipality can go BK. You have contributed many enlightened posts to that discussion in re San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #25: In the past I did a number of columns about phony personnel/job placement firms. I remember getting into trouble at the U-T when I exposed one that was a big advertiser. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #26: Handwritten letter? Would the company think the student was a Luddite and toss the letter away? Anything going to a top official would get kicked downstairs to somebody lower on the totem pole. That said, you seem to speak from experience, so I won't gainsay your message. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #27: Interesting advice -- avoiding HR. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #16: Let's hope Fred doesn't have half the equity in dice.com. Just kidding. I don't think he does. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #40: Posters' identities are to be a secret, if they so desire. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #41: Nobody knows that better than you, SurfPuppy. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #42: Among many things, we collect antique canes -- both African and American. We have two American ones with a long knives concealed inside. Would a pimp use such a cane? Best, Don Bauder

In my estimation, HR people rank lower than used car sellers and even lawyers. Those jobs were once filled by folks who had failed elsewhere in the company or agency, but who were retained for various reasons that had little to do with effectiveness. Or they were true "people persons" who actually aided with employee satisfaction or motivation.

But now HR has gone "professional" and utterly bureaucratic. They have so-called professional groups that grant so-called professional certifications. Usually the employer pays for the HR "pro" to attend the conferences that accumulate credit toward a certification. Then once the title is conferred, the HR type can come back to the employer and demand more salary. They write the rule book and then exploit it to the hilt.

If you've ever been subjected to a telephone interview, just remember that such a wretched thing was invented by the HR cabal. Doing interviews that way is much less work for the HR type, and thus a popular way of doing things. The specialty of the HR dept is saying NO. If you apply for a position and land it, the good news will come from the boss. If you hear from HR it will be to tell that you didn't get the job.

Oh, and they love to handle dismal tasks such as layoffs and other terminations. HR needs to be relabeled Henchmen Resources. Stay as far away from HR as you can.

Response to post #32: In the old days, I knew some very good HR people. Back then, the function was called Personnel. I agree that the value of these people slumped in later years. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #23: They are inacessible. You can't get anything earlier than the year 2000. Even if they appeared after 2000, I can't remember the names of the companies, so would never find them. Best, Don Bauder

check out directbuy if you want to see a real scam that the tv networks and local stations help propagate ( they don't want to loose ad revenue)

one link that may point out how they are fleecing customers


Response to post #1: That is definitely worth checking. Best, Don Bauder

Don, let’s face it, U-T "Ballot Recommendations" and your Blog have proven it is has been far too easy to Scam San Diegans for far too many decades.

The worst-case scenario proof is that the U-T has elected three corrupt and incompetent Nero class mayors in a row, literally crashing and burning San Diego.

Response to post #3: Historically, the U-T has enthusiastically backed mayors, councilmembers, county supervisors, and nefarious other pols who were in the pockets of the real estate development industry. And the U-T has consistently denigrated or smeared reform politicians such as Donna Frye and Mike Aguirre. It's a pathetically sorry journalistic record. It is one reason the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. Best, Don Bauder

Great article Don,

This is an terrible story. It is sad to see the elderly getting taken in this kind of scheme. It seems that scams like this are on the rise during this recession.

I work on a blog that focuses on elder care and we often posts new scams that we hear about. We also answer questions on this topic. If you are interested, check out blog out at http://www.rightathome.net/seniorhomecare.

Keep up the good stories, Bill

Response to post #5: Seniors are always vulnerable; congratulations for keeping a blog on senior scams. However, not that many seniors tap the Internet. Thus, so many of the tech frauds victimize the younger folks. Best, Don Bauder

Ever since the Dominelli saga, I've wondered how people who were smart enough to accumulate wealth, often multimillions, can get so stupid about "investing" it. As I get older, I become more skeptical, not less.

Response to post #7: Yes, it's amazing how many scams the seemingly intelligent bite on. Best, Don Bauder

NOTE: Add on my response to post #7: I was talking about scams people bite on. One of the biggest is going on right now. When the talking heads on TV report profit news, they don't focus on actual results. They zero in on whether the results beat the consensus of Wall Street analysts. Earnings for a company can plunge 90% but the talking heads will beam that the Street expected them to go down 95%, thus they beat analyst estimates and the stock goes up. What happens is that analysts and managements conspire to keep the earnings estimate low. The brokerage house at which the analyst works surreptitiously gets word that earnings for XYZ will go down 60%, but the analyst consensus had been a drop of 65%. So the houses take a long position on the stock; it rises after the announcement and the brokerage makes a fat buck. Are you wondering why the big Wall Street houses are reporting fat trading profits? This is one of the reasons. Economist Joseph Stiglitz won a Nobel Prize for his work on asymmetric information -- that is, some people have more information than others. This is a classic example. Best, Don Bauder

Have there been complaints against Career Builder for phony jobs? Some of the links are really flaky.

Response to post #10: I have not heard complaints about Career Builder, but this is definitely a scam area. There are phony job websites which are actually phishing operations -- they want to get your vital information so they can make you a victim of identity theft. Best, Don Bauder

Re: post #11: Mr. Bauder, I am always looking for sites to recommend to job-searching students, and certainly do not want to recommend to them a phishing scam! Do you mind relating your specific source for this info on Career Builder and other such phony sites?

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