The recession has killed jobs by the millions, but it's been a boon to one sector of the population: con artists.

They've been offering consumers help in repairing bad credit, landing new jobs, starting lucrative work-at-home businesses and obtaining government money to pay off bills. These scams -- which are surging along with the jobless rate -- are touted on websites and infomercials, and have bilked consumers out of hundreds of millions of dollars, said David C. Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

One of the FTC's new cases alleged that five Van Nuys companies had bilked consumers out of about $300 million by selling fraudulent programs related to real estate or online businesses. The cases are part of a federal crackdown dubbed Operation Short Change.

The companies -- John Beck Amazing Profits, John Alexander, Jeff Paul, Mentoring of America and Family Products -- and five people who had founded or run those companies were accused of violating federal laws related to telemarketing and consumer fraud.


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