Tag Archives: Better Business Bureau

Affordable Care Act calls may be attempt to steal your identity

Prescription medicationsThe final details are being put together for the health insurance exchanges that will start next January. The applications have been released, and processing of them will begin in October. Already, the Better Business Bureau says scammers are trying to use the program to steal your personal information. 

The BBB says the callers are claiming to be from the federal government. Consumers are told they’ve been selected to be a part of the initial group of Americans who receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. Before you can get the card, you need to provide your bank account information and social security number.

socialSharing personal information with an illegitimate source puts you at risk for identity theft. You should always initiate the call before providing such sensitive information. You should always question the legitimacy of any organization who calls you requesting that information. Instead of giving the information, ask for a call back number. Research the company and call it back.

If you did your research, you’d realize the application process doesn’t even start until October. 

Scammers are slick, and you need to be careful even with caller ID. There are ways to spoof a caller ID number to legitimize a fraudulent call. So, the thieves could prompt a government number to show up on your caller ID. That doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. 

Be careful who you tell what, as these ripoffs will only increase as we get closer to this new insurance program. 

Tuesday dedicated to charitable giving and green gifts

We’ve spent money for days shopping for those on our holiday wish list and perhaps ourselves as well. Now, it’s time to give back to our communities on “Giving Tuesday.” The holidays are about self-reflection and giving thanks for what you have and giving back to others. There are simple steps you can take to make sure your money is well spent.

If you’re not into giving back to others, how about giving a gift that is kind to the environment? Tuesday is also Green Tuesday, a day to promote green gift buying.

1. See how independent groups rank the charity
Charity Navigator – star system
Charity Guide from the Better Business Bureau

Continue reading

Apple iPad 3 and Gmail scam warning

It’s been an exciting few weeks for Apple fans with the iPhone 5 hitting the market and expectations of an iPad Mini by months end. If you’re on the hunt for an Apple product, don’t fall for a free iPad 3 giveaway making the rounds through email. It could cost you money or your identity.


The Better Business Bureau warned about a bogus email that claims to be from a Google Gmail provider.  The email says random Gmail users have been selected to receive a free Apple iPad 3. To claim, you need to clink a link. The link takes you to a survey site that requests personal information.


The BBB said if you complete the survey, you are inviting the scammers to sign you up for SMS services which will lead to more fees on your cell phone bill. The worst case scenario is that your information is used for identity theft.


These scams may be tempting because so many businesses give away iPads in promotions. To win a prize, though, you need to enter. In this case, you didn’t enter anything which should be the red flag. Only do business with legitimate companies to minimize your risk.


Securing your identity in 3 easy steps

Shredding! How frustrating it can be. My shredder and I have a love hate relationship. If I put too much into it, it jams. If I don’t use it enough I’ll compromise my identity. This weekend, you can ditch your tiny at home shredder for the giant mobile shredder that will destroy boxes of documents in seconds.

NewsChannel 5 is teaming up with the Better Business Bureau to offer Secure Your ID Day at the Strongsville and Westlake Rad Air locations.

Shredding is my number one tip to protect your identity.

Check your credit report
Second, check your credit report. You can check it once a year for free at Annual Credit Report. It’s the only truly free site. Don’t fall for imposters. You’ll be asked for personal information like your social security number, previous addresses, and asked to verify information like the last place you banked. While it seems like an intrusion of privacy, you’re asked all this information to verify you are who you say you are.

While the site advertises that you can check your report once a year for free, you can really keep tabs on your credit year round. There are three credit reporting agencies available through Annual Credit Report. Check one every four months. That way you can keep tabs on your credit year round. Just make sure you access the report every four months through Annual Credit Report.

There are 10 other consumer reports that are also kept on you including your insurance and rental history. It’s also a good idea to check these once a year. Click here to learn how

Reduce junk mail
Third, opt out of pre-approved offers for credit and insurance. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT.  You can also opt out online by clicking here.  When you opt out online, the opt out will last for five years.   If you want to permanently opt out, you need to mail in a form that you can find online on the website above.   If you opt out, and want to opt back in so you can get competitive credit or insurance offers you can opt back in online.

You will have to give your social security number because your social is linked to your credit score.  Someone asked me a few weeks ago why the service can’t just use your address. While it seems like it would work, addresses change so often it would be hard to guarantee the opt out for several years, and it’s not your address but your social that definitively links you to the pre-approved credit offers.

You also need to reduce junk mail from direct marketing lists like catalogs, magazines, etc. by signing up for the DMA Choice Mail Preference Service. You can enroll online or by mail. The mail option will cost $1.

Then, sit back and wait. Within six to eight weeks, you should begin to notice less mail.   DMA can take ninety days to take effect.

After three months have passed, begin saving any junk mail that’s slipping through the cracks. If it really bothers you, call that company and request that your name be removed from their mailing list. In not time, you’ll have no junk mail.

Related links you may like:
Free identity theft protection services
Top identity theft services
“Google” to protect your good name

Better Business Bureau launches app in Apple store

Want to file a complaint against a business on the go, or want to find out what others think about a business at the last minute? The Better Business Bureau launched an Apple Store app that allows you to access their database of more than 4 million businesses on the go.

You’ll be able to search for local businesses by name, phone, URL, or category, your current zip code, state, city, or location. The search results can be displayed in list or map views. The app works on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

BBB testing customer comments / reviews for businesses

Feel strongly, good or bad, about a business? Now, you can have your voice heard by posting your feelings on the Better Business Bureau’s website.  The pilot program is being tested in 10 cities including Cleveland.

The BBB will review the comments to make sure fake ones don’t slip through, and they will be edited for foul langauge. The business will get 24-48 hours to respond to the comment.

Greater Cleveland BBB President, David Weiss, said, “We’re also limiting reviews to consumers who actually had an experience with the company. If you don’t like what your employer pays you, that review is not going to be posted on this site.”

Some of the comments already appearing include, “Have received great service every time I visit.”  Another customer wrote the following comment under another business profile, “You have to be prepared to be annoyed. These people need a class on how to operate a business.”

The BBB says this will give consumers another option beside filing a formal complaint. The comments will become part of the business’s profile on the BBB site.

BBB says Oslo & Winehouse tragedies linked to scams

The Better Business Bureau warns of scams tied to recent tragedies. There’s a bogus post on Facebook regarding the shootings in Norway, and the death of Amy Winehouse.

The Norway shooting tragedy link claims to take you to video from an Oslo security camera showing a car bomb detonating. The BBB says the post says “[Video] OSLO Security Camera Captures Blast!”

You’d think people wouldn’t fall for it, but Help Net Security says the scam is infecting one user per second.

The BBB says the other scam deals with the death of Amy Winehouse luring in victims with allegedly leaked video of her final moments. According to data security firm, Sophos, the post variations include “Leaked Video!! Amy Winehouse On Crack hours before death,” “Video leaked of Amy Winehouse’s death!!! Warning: Graphical Content,” and “SHOCKING – Amy Winehouse’s Final Minutes.”  The post has a link to the video but you have to like the page and take a survey before you can see the video.

The BBB says the scammers earn a commission off the survey you take, and you’re asked to like the page to keep the scam going.

If you fell for this, delete it from your news feed and likes and interests.  In general, don’t click on a link that doesn’t come from a trusted URL.

Better Business Bureau warning: hotel scam

If you got a phone call in your hotel room in the middle of the night asking for your credit card number would you divulge it? According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving east Texas, hotel guests are falling for the scam.

According to the BBB, the caller identifies themself as a hotel employee and tells the guest the hotel computer system crashed. The BBB says the guest is told their credit card information is needed, and a discount on the room is offered for the inconvenience.

There is no indication this is a widespread ripoff at this point, but it caught my attention because it’s unique. If I got a call in the middle of the night, I’d probably tell the hotel employee to call back in the morning. I wouldn’t get out of bed to grab my wallet in the middle of the night. However, when people are awoken they are not thinking as clearly so someone may fall for the ripoff.

Free trial offer leads to millions in refunds

The Florida Attorney General announced an agreement with a company selling dietary aids, nutritional supplements, and teeth-whitening products. According to the AG, the company, XM Brands, did business as XM LABS, LLC.  The good news is the AG’s Office says the company is cooperating and approximately $3 million has already been reimbursed to consumers nationwide.

The AG began investigating the company in December of 2009 when consumers said they received and were billed for products they did not order.  The AG says if you agreed to the trial product, you were automatically billed for products.

If you have not been reimbursed, you have until April 29, 2011 to file a claim with the AG.   The company’s website says it’s no longer accepting new orders for products on its site.

Many companies have come under fire from consumers over free trial offers. Make sure you read the fine print or site’s terms and conditions before you place your order or provide your credit card information.

Many trials work under what’s called a “negative option” plan. That’s when you get the product unless you say you don’t want it. Often, this is on a monthly basis so your credit card will be billed unless you cancel. Sometimes, it’s tough to cancel in time. So, look for hidden fees and catches to the free trial offer. They are all different, but look for the length of the trial period. When does it start? Is it the day you place the order or the day your shipment arrives at your home? How long do you have to decide you like the product? What’s the method of contact to confirm cancellation? Google the company and see if other consumers have had a positive or negative experience. Finally, check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.

Don’t just think a negative option plan covers trial offers. Some companies use these to extend your agreement or contract once an initial term is over.  This may happen with your cell phone provider or cable or satellite provider. You have a small window to cancel the service contract, before your term is re-upped.  So, read your contract if you’re forced to sign one and always ask about the terms and conditions of every offer before you give them your credit card or bank account number.

Top 10 scams to avoid

Better Business Bureau logo.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s always a good idea to take a look back to help us on the road that lies ahead. The Better Business Bureau put together a list of the top 10 scams and ripoffs from 2010. Glance through them, so you know what to look for in 2011.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I can tell you some of the same scams that existed when I started in this business still exist today and still “get” consumers everyday.  Below you’ll find tips to protect yourself.

“With the economy still on the mend, scammers had a field day targeting struggling families who were looking for work and trying to make ends meet,” said Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

1. The economy has put many people out of work. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of people with 20 years work experience who can’t find a job. Scammers prey on that desperation, and job hunting scams are a big problem.

The Internet is essential to finding a job, but it’s also made it easy for scammers to thrive. Don’t give out your personal information to a company until you background them. Don’t be lured in by the promise of making big bucks. Instead, “Google” the company and make sure it’s legit. Or, check it out with the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce where it’s located. Make sure it actually exists and that it’s a company you’d want to work for before handing over your personal information.

I’ve also seen job applications that ask for social security numbers or require a credit check of some sort upfront. If it’s a legitimate company, you can get around this at the beginning. Just ask. Hold that information close to your chest and don’t reveal it right away.  If possible, wait for a face to face meeting or until you have verified it’s a legitimate company.

The Better Business Bureau says other companies ask you to pay a fee to be considered for the job. Reputable companies don’t charge you money for the possible opportunity to make money.

Consumers have also forwarded applications to me that ask for your bank account number so they can begin depositing money in your account for the job you’re pre-qualified for. Don’t fall for it. Companies are not going to give you seed money like this until they thoroughly background you. During that process, you should be doing the same with them.

Finally, try to do business with a U.S. based company. Don’t fall for a phony U.S. address. Verify who you are doing business with. Have I said that enough yet?  It’s because you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow that basic advice!

2. We all want to make a quick buck in this bad economy, but stuffing envelopes is not going to earn you much. I haven’t found a person yet that’s made money doing this work-at-home job. There are some legitimate work-at-home jobs, but  be leery.

Here’s some red flags: promises that seem to good to be true, a job that requires you to assemble products at home, or to hit the malls as a mystery shopper.

3.  Along those lines, be aware of those phony sweepstakes offers, lotteries, or checks that appear in the mail. You can’t win money if you don’t play the lottery or you didn’t enter a sweepstakes. The Better Business Bureau says the scammers even use legitimate companies like Reader’s Digest and Publisher’s Clearing House to get you to think they are legit money-making schemes.

4. Another component of this is when you post something for sale online, and the buyer sends you more money than the purchase price for the item. The BBB calls this the over-payment scam. You’re often told it was a mistake, and the extra money is to cover shipping fees, a middleman, etc. and you’re asking to wire the excess money. Then, the check you cashed bounces and you’re out the bank fees and the excess money you wired.

Don’t cash a check unless you know who it’s from. You are responsible, not the bank. That’s a hard lesson for consumers to learn. Verify the check is legitimate before you cash it if you are unsure. That’s as simple as calling the issuing bank.

5.The government has targeted debt relief services to try to put an end to debt relief and settlement schemes.  The Better Business Bureau says companies require upfront fees and may leave you in even bigger debt.  According to tentative year-end estimates by the BBB, complaints about this problem increased by 30% in 2010.

Click here to read all about these new debt relief rules

6. As the housing crisis continues, timeshare resellers are becoming a problem. People in many of the coastal cities have taken a huge hit on the market value of their property and they’re desperate to unload their timeshare or home. Don’t be too desperate.

The BBB estimates  timeshare reseller complaints increased by over 40% since 2010.  The BBB says owners are contacted by  a company who claims to have an eager buyer. The consumer has to pay several thousand dollars upfront to cover fees and then you never hear from the company again.

I’ve noticed a lot of these companies are start-ups so there may not be extensive information you can find about the company. Ask for references and call them. Make sure they are not the business owner’s neighbor or relative. Try to get the company to do something to earn your trust before you hand over fees.

7. Acai berry and other health cleansing companies were popular in 2009 and 2010, and they often were advertised as “free” to try to them out.  There are dozens of free trial offers that are not free.

Diet supplements are not the only category that’s targeted by these free trials. Penny auctions, money making schemes, and credit offers are also popular targets. Make sure you read the fine print to see how low-risk that offer really is.

Usually there is a promotional period, and I’ve seen some offers where you have to return the item before it ever arrives at your house. How is that possible? It’s not. That’s how these companies make money off their so-called “free offer.”  It’s often very difficult if not impossible to get a refund.

8. As spring arrives, be careful of door to door salesman and home repair contractors and roofers offering to work on your home.  The BBB says roofing complaints appear to have increased 40% according to early estimates of 2010 data.

This data is perhaps a little skewed, in my opinion, because of the problems with American Shingle. The BBB and consumer reporters across the company received many complaints about American Shingle. It went bankrupt and did not provide new roofs to customers.

Ask your insurance company for a good reference. Often if you go with a company they refer, the work is guaranteed.  Don’t hand over the entire insurance check before any work starts. If you’re a homeowner paying out of pocket, only pay a third upfront or better yet buy the supplies yourself. Finally, make sure you get a lien waiver before any work begins so if the contractor doesn’t pay a supplier or subcontractor you’re less likely to end up with a lien on your home.

9.  Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes, and tough to recover from if you’re a victim. The BBB says look out for low-tech theft, phishing emails, vishing phone calls, and smishing text messages.

Bottom line, shred your information and never give out your personal information to someone you don’t know, and shred your information for the best protection.

Here are some good ID theft tips: Google yourself
Identity theft resources
Monitor your personal information

10. The BBB rounds out its list of top ten scams with advance fee loan scams. That’s when you’re told you qualify for a large loan but you need to pay upfront fees. The BBB says they’re often over a thousand dollars. A legitimate company won’t ask you for upfront fees. They’ll ask for the fees for the service (loan origination usually) at the time of closing, when you get your money, or roll it into the loan. In advance fee loan scams, the victim wires the fee money but never gets the loan.