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BEWARE OF SECRETS, PAYMENTS

With the unemployment rate on the rise and household finances under siege, more people are being duped by work-at-home and other job-related scams.

These scams include the "mystery shopper" scheme and various check-cashing and package-delivery schemes, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said recently, warning that, in his state, complaints about bogus job offers and at-home money-making ploys have jumped dramatically since the beginning of the year.

"In nearly every job-related scam, consumers will be asked to wire-transfer money to their 'employer' - a clear warning sign of a scam," Corbett said. Consumers also are often encouraged to keep their activities secret or are told they are helping businesses save money by avoiding fees, inspections or other regulations.

Complaints about lottery and sweepstakes scams also are on the rise, Corbett said.

"Legitimate lotteries withhold all state and federal taxes, along with any other fees, before they distribute the prize winnings, so there's no need for consumers to ever send money to lottery operators," he said.

Corbett's office said it filed a lawsuit against a Florida company for failing to deliver training and other materials needed to become a notary in Pennsylvania.

The packages, advertised via the Internet for between $100 and $150, supposedly included training materials, supplies, state applications, fees and a $10,000 bond required in Pennsylvania.

Some consumers said they never received the packages, while others seeking to renew their notary licenses said their licenses expired because they did not receive the materials within the state-required 30 days.

The lawsuit, against Marc C. Zinman of Pompano Beach and his company, Atlantic Bonding Co., seeks restitution, civil penalties and an order stopping the company from doing business in the state.

Schemes and swindles

Mystery shopper

Consumers are offered a high-paying, part-time job evaluating how stores treat customers. The jobs don't exist and consumers end up losing several thousand dollars that they are told to wire to a "training officer" to get the job, investigators say.

Check-cashing

In bogus work-at-home jobs processing payments, consumers are told to deposit checks in their personal bank account, keep 10 percent to 20 percent as payment and wire-transfer the rest to the con artist's account. The deposited checks turn out to be stolen or counterfeit, meaning consumers must repay the missing funds.

Package delivery

Consumers hear they are being hired by a foreign company to help ship packages from residential addresses in the United States to save on postage. Consumers repackage computers, electronic equipment and other items and mail them to a foreign address. The merchandise typically was purchased with stolen credit cards, ensnaring consumers in an international theft scheme.

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