A few months ago I spotted an Austin, Texas ad for astoundingly cheap plasma tvs. At the time I couldn't get through the phone number and even drove by the alleged address - no avail. Well, that place was indeed bogus. I hope no one here actually managed to get through and lose money. From today's local Austin newpaper: FBI probing bogus newspaper ads Phony ads appeared in Austin, four other cities Compiled from staff and wire reports Tuesday, December 16, 2003 The FBI is investigating a scam in which bogus ads were placed in the Austin American-Statesman and five other newspapers across the country. Investigators say they think the scammers were out to get credit card numbers they could use for other fraudulent purposes. Some people who responded to the ads said their credit cards were billed for far more than they had authorized. In a full-page ad in the July 20 American-Statesman, a company calling itself Brauner Electronics said it was selling a 42-inch plasma television for $1,850. In fact, the company didn't exist. The phone number in the ad was to a call center. The address turned out to be for the Arboretum shopping center. A similar ad ran last week in two Connecticut newspapers, The Advocate in Stamford and The Greenwich Time. The ads listed nonexistent companies with fake addresses. Other bogus ads, offering two down comforters and four pillows for $49.95, were placed last month in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post-Intelligen- cer. George Gutierrez, the Statesman's vice president for advertising, said Monday that the paper realized the ad was phony only after the cashier's check used to pay for it was returned as counterfeit five days after the ad ran. "We were not aware (of the scam) until after the fact," Gutierrez said. Gutierrez said some readers later reported that they never received a television and that their credit cards had been charged for more than the advertised price. "We notified the (Better Business Bureau) and recommended that they do so as well," he said. Gutierrez said he didn't realize until recently that the case was more than an isolated incident. But on Thursday, the Seattle Times reported that other newspapers had been victimized as well. "We thought it was just a matter of someone passing a bad check," he said. "That happens, unfortunately, from time to time." The Seattle Times reported that investigators think the ads were designed to gather credit card numbers. Some people who responded to the comforter ads reported that their credit cards were billed for much larger amounts than they had approved. Federal authorities said consumers who see such charges should challenge them and cancel their accounts. The FBI office in Seattle did not return calls for comment on Monday. Scott Hager, a spokesman for Americall, a Tacoma, Wash.-based call center that was hired to handle calls for the comforter ads, told The Seattle Times that his company lost $5,600. He said about 1,200 people called in response to the ads, which ran Nov. 9 in Seattle and Atlanta. The six newspapers also lost an estimated total of $130,000 for the ads because they were paid for with counterfeit checks, the Times reported. The scam artists placed the ads at the last minute. "They called late Thursday, just after the deadline, to place the ad," Gutierrez said. "The material and check came in the next day in overnight delivery." Gutierrez said that despite the last-minute placement, "there were no red flags in the ad. It was a very straightforward ad," he said. Gutierrez said the paper now is more diligently checking ads placed at the last minute.