Beware of counterfeit luxury items online, BBB warns

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

Counterfeit luxury items — Bargain hunters should take extreme care when shopping for discounted brand-name merchandise on the Internet, the Better Business Bureau said in a recent bulletin. Websites such as Craigslist and EBay have been used to sell counterfeit items, the BBB said. But some firms have also set up their own websites to market knockoff luxury goods, which are often of poor quality and likely to disappoint the consumer, the group said. “In a tight economy, consumers are always looking to save a buck or two,” said Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Too often, what looks to be a great deal is really a shoddy knockoff in disguise.” To avoid buying counterfeit merchandise, consumers should deal with reputable, known vendors, avoid deals that sound too good to be true and beware of ads that use phrases such as “genuine” or “authentic,” because those words are often a sign of trouble, the BBB said.

Checking accounts fleeced — A Culver City man has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for his role in a sophisticated scheme that stripped more than $1.6 million from Wells Fargo Co. checking accounts. Sean Bazille, 45, was convicted of charges that included conspiracy and bank fraud. He is one of 17 people convicted in the scam. The scheme’s organizers paid Wells Fargo employees to provide account holder information, then used it to produce and cash bogus checks, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said in a news release. They also had bank employees change customers’ telephone numbers on file with the bank so that someone involved in the scam would answer the phone if the bank called to inquire about suspicious activity. Wells Fargo has modified its procedures so that this tactic won’t work anymore, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. More than 100 customer accounts were compromised during the fraud, which ran from 2002 to 2006. Wells Fargo replaced the stolen money to customer accounts, incurring a loss of $1.66 million, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. This case is an example of why it’s important for bank account holders to carefully check monthly statements for mistakes or fraud.

Ponzi scheme — A federal jury in New York has convicted the founder of a real estate consulting firm of charged related to a Ponzi scheme that caused victims to lose more than $14 million, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Joseph Mazella was accused of telling investors that he would use their money on real estate projects, then spending it instead on personal expenses and to pay returns to early investors. “The evidence at trial showed that the defendant callously and systematically defrauded his victims of their lives’ savings,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch. “Mazella’s victims, many of whom are senior citizens on a fixed income, turned to him to ensure their security in their golden years. Instead, their security was raided to fund his fraud. They will feel the impact of Mazella’s crimes for the rest of their lives.”


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