The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.

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Before renting, make sure the apartment or house exists.

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: July 12, 2013 - 1:44 PM


Are you moving to a new city? Moving across town, but have limited mobility? Don't be fooled by bogus apartment rental scams, the Federal Trade Commission warns.


Here's how the scams work:

Scammers clone legitimate rental listings and alter them to include different contact information. They then place the modified ads in newspapers and online. Scammers also create listings for rentals that don't exist or aren't available.

When a person agrees to rent and wires money to the scammers, they have just kissed that money goodbye.

"Never wire money or send a check to someone you've never met for an apartment you've never seen," the FTC advised.

Run from high-pressure sales tactics and consider that the better the deal the more likely it is to be a scam, the commission said.

Landlords can also get scammed when a bogus renter sends a fake check to secure the rental. The check is for more than the agreed-upon amount and the scammer tells the landlord to cash the check and wire the difference back to the renter. Later, when the check comes back as fake, the landlord is left having to repay the bank, the FTC said.

If you wired money and then realized you've been taken, call the money transfer company to report the fraud. You can also file a complaint with the FTC.


Refund checks sent out for dubious weight-loss shoes

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: July 11, 2013 - 1:09 PM

Consumers who filed refund requests following a $40 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Skechers USA, Inc. should expect a check in the mail soon, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

The lawsuit alleged that Skechers deceptively advertised its toning shoes, namely Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups shoes. The shoes sold for about $60 to $100 dollars.

The company made "unfounded claims that its Shape-ups shoes would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles," the FTC said.

According to a complaint filed by the FTC in 2012, the company's advertising claims included:

"Get in shape without setting foot in a gym."

"Shape-ups will help you lose weight and improve your circulation, creating a healthier you!"

"... once my Skechers Shape-ups are on snug and comfy, I'm toning my muscles, strengthening my core, burning calories."

The FTC also alleged in the complaint that clinical studies conducted for Skechers, upon which some advertising claims were made, used faulty methods. Two of the studies were conducted by a chiropractor who was married to a senior vice president of marketing at Skechers. One study lasted only six weeks, had only eight participants and included no control group, the complaint said. Another study allegedly included falsified data.

The settlement administrator will begin mailing the 509,175 refund checks on Friday. The checks must be cashed by October 10. The deadline for filing a refund request has passed.


Mpls. tornado victims complain about contractors

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: July 9, 2013 - 11:11 AM

On Sunday Whistleblower wrote about 10 of the 104 residential building contractors disciplined by the Department of Labor and Industry for misconduct in the first half of 2013.

Some contractors accepted downpayments but failed to do any work or return the money. Some did shoddy work and failed to fix it. Others failed to take out permits or received insurance payouts for certain work but provided something different.

Of the 10 contractors, two provided work to a total of three north Minneapolis homeowners whose houses suffered damage when a tornado ripped through the area in 2011. The contractors signed up the residents the same day the tornado hit or a couple days later.

Whistleblower asked the department if it has kept a tally of the number of tornado victims who contacted the state about the work done by contractors they had hired.

The answer: 23.

If you have a complaint about the work a contractor has done for you and want to alert the state, click here or call 651-284-5069

Here's some advice from the department if you find yourself needing a contractor after disaster hits.

Health plans fraudulently offered before law changes

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: July 8, 2013 - 2:29 PM

Watch out for scammers selling health care before it's actually available.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers are being contacted with offers to sign up for discounted health care through the Health Insurance Marketplace, a feature of the Affordable Care Act.

But enrollment through the Marketplace doesn't begin until October 1. Scammers are just trying to get consumers to "give up money or personal information. Scammers want to get to you before you have time to think," the FTC said.

Colleague Jackie Crosby wrote about the state's efforts to get its MNsure exchange up and running by October 1.

The Commission urges consumers to let them know about any such attempts to sell you insurance. You can file a complaint by clicking here.

If you would like more information about the upcoming changes under the Act, click here.

Burned if you do, burned if you don't

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: July 5, 2013 - 12:02 PM


Don't use sunscreen spray near an open flame or you may find yourself on fire.


That's the message from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which received five reports last year of people doing just that and sustaining burns serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital.

In each of the incidents the fire occurred after the sunscreen had already been applied and the victim neared an ignition source, such as a lighted match. In one case, the victim began welding after applying the sunscreen.

Though the specific products involved in the incidents were recalled, other sunscreen sprays contain a flammable ingredient such as alcohol. Sunscreen spray is not the only product to worry about. Spray insect repellants, hairspray and even non-spray sunscreens may contain a flammable ingredient.

Read the full warning here.


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