Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) and AARP North Dakota are once again sponsoring free shredding events as part of Secure Your ID Day. At these events, which will take place Saturday, April 26, in Bismarck, Fargo and Jamestown, area residents and small businesses are invited to shred and properly dispose of up to two boxes of sensitive documents and compact discs free of charge. The three events, which run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., are part of a series of Secure Your ID Day events being hosted by BBBs across the country.

“Secure Your ID Day is a wonderful way for consumers and small business owners to take action and reduce their risk of falling victim to identity theft,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We are proud to be a sponsor of these events each spring and fall.”

The goal of Secure Your ID Day is to educate consumers about identity theft, which – for the 14th straight year – topped the list of complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2013. Of the two million complaints they received last year, 14 percent were related to identity theft, according to their annual report. The highest reported age group for identity theft was 20-29, comprising 20 percent of those complaints.

            BBB Secure Your ID Day Details  

Who: BBB and AARP North Dakota, along with local partners The Bismarck Tribune, The Forum, Recall, Wells Fargo (Bismarck and Fargo); The Jamestown Sun, RSVP+ND South Central, MinnKota Secured Document Destruction Services and First Community Credit Union (Jamestown). 

What: Free document shredding and distribution of tips and resources for protecting your identity.

When: Saturday, April 26, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Bismarck: Wells Fargo, 1050 E. Interstate Ave.

              Fargo: Wells Fargo, 2501 13th Ave S.

                          Jamestown: First Community Credit Union, 111 9th Street SW

BBB and AARP ND staff will also be on hand to provide tips and fact sheets on how to avoid identity theft. There will also be a drawing at each Secure Your ID Day location for a free shredder from AARP ND and Better Business Bureau.

For more information on Secure Your ID Day and identity theft prevention measures for consumers and businesses, visit bbb.org/minnesota/get-involved/shred-event-secure-your-id-day/. AARP has also launched a new Fraud Watch Network (www.fraudwatchnetwork.com) to help its members and others fight identity theft and fraud and give them access to information about how to protect themselves and their families.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is again calling for nominations for the premier award in business ethics – the BBB Torch Award for Ethics. The Torch Awards for Ethics recognize upstanding companies which display outstanding ethics in their dealings with customers, employees, vendors and their community. All for-profit businesses of any size, owned or operated in Minnesota or North Dakota, are eligible. Nominees must be in good standing with the BBB; however BBB Accreditation is not a requirement to compete for the award. The nomination deadline is May 6, 2014.

“Our Torch Awards for Ethics shine a light on those companies that set an example for all of us,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They recognize market leaders that stand out in their industries and demonstrate excellence not only to their customers, but also their employees, vendors and communities.”

Nominations for the 2014 BBB Torch Awards for Ethics are open to the public. Companies can be nominated online by visiting thefirstbbb.org/nominate or by sending the company name, contact name, address, phone number, and email along with the nominator’s name and phone number to: BBB, Attn: Mackenzie Kelley, 220. S. River Ridge Circle, Burnsville, MN 55337; or by faxing the information to 651-695-2487. Business owners or employees may also nominate their own firms.

Entrants are judged on six areas of their business: Leadership Commitment to Ethics; Communications of Ethical Practices; Organizational Commitment to Ethical Practice; Organizational Commitment to Performance Management Practices; Organizational Commitment to Ethical Human Resource Practices; and Organizational Commitment to the Community.

“This event is the highlight of our year,” added Badgerow. “It always serves as a reminder of all the exemplary businesses we have in Minnesota and North Dakota.”

Nominated companies will receive an official entry form from the BBB. An independent panel of judges will decide the award finalists and recipients. Winners will be announced live at the BBB’s 2014 Torch Awards for Ethics ceremony in October.

An estate sale is often held when a person is looking to liquidate and sell personal items within a home. Estate sales can take place during stressful or emotional situations such as a divorce, the death of a family member or the need to downsize before a move. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises consumers to do their research and choose a reputable estate sale business when deciding how best to liquidate personal property.

“Each business’s services vary, so consumers should ask about all of the details of the sale and if there will be any additional fees,” says Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “This process can be quite stressful; still, people have to be sure their interests are being protected.”

Consumers and businesses should have clear expectations when an agreement is drawn up to conduct an estate sale. Many estate sale businesses offer a variety of services before and after a sale, whether it is an initial consultation, setting up displays for the sale, or cleaning out a home after an estate sale has concluded. The BBB has received complaints from consumers about estate sale businesses, generally regarding the quality of the services offered or alleging that the details of the sale were not clearly explained.

One claim that generates confusion for consumers is the statement, “Licensed, Bonded and Insured” which some estate sale businesses advertise. A consumer might be led to believe a business which appraises personal property has to be licensed to do business – but this is not the case. Estate sale businesses do not have to be licensed in Minnesota or North Dakota. When deciding which business is right to conduct your sale, be sure to inquire about their background in personal property appraisals and ask them how they determine current marketplace values.

Each estate sale business has different policies and procedures when conducting a sale. A recurring pattern the BBB has noted in consumer complaints involves miscommunications between businesses and consumers in regards to the timetable for receiving a final check from a sale. In some cases, consumers have misinterpreted contract language about the date they were to receive their check; in others, the business did not fully explain their policies in regard to issuing the final check. The BBB advises consumers to study contracts closely to ensure all financial aspects of the sale are clearly understood and acceptable.

Consumers and businesses also need to be aware of potential legal issues when discussing an estate sale. If a consumer wants to have an estate sale for a deceased family member’s items, it is important to be aware of any legally binding documents which may determine what items are sold at an estate sale. A reputable dealer may even ask for proof of a consumer’s responsibility to contract for the sale. It is important for the business and consumer to address any and all legal issues before signing a contract for an estate sale.

Donation and clean out services are good ways for consumers to sort through or give away any remaining items after a sale. Consumers should also ask the estate sale business for an itemized inventory list of the items sold with the price each item was sold at. This helps consumers track sales on their items and calculate the total profit from the sale.

Always visit bbb.org when looking for a reputable estate sale business to liquidate your personal property.

When you mention Better Business Bureau (BBB), people usually say, “Oh, the place that handles complaints.”  And it’s true, BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota does work to help resolve disputes between consumers and businesses – we handled over 24,000 complaints for Minnesota and North Dakota last year – but that’s just a small part of what we do.

Another popular misconception is that we’re a government agency. However, we are NOT a government agency, nor do we receive tax dollars. Rather we are a non-profit agency supported by our 6,500 Accredited – or member – Businesses in Minnesota and North Dakota. In order to be an Accredited Business, a company must meet strict standards and agree to abide by the principles of the BBB.  The dues these companies pay help us offer most of our services and programs to the public free of charge

Here are just some of those free services and programs we offer to consumers and businesses:

·         Advertising Review. We monitor advertising in Minnesota and North Dakota newspapers, television, radio, and on the Internet each week, and then challenge ads that seem “too good to be true.”  Any business can also send their ads (pre-publication) to the BBB to be reviewed for adherence to applicable advertising rules and guidelines.

·         Business Reviews.  Consumers and businesses can receive a report on a company they are considering doing business with 24 hours a day by visiting bbb.org or calling 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Operators are also available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions from the public and provide pre-purchase counseling.

·         Conciliation Services.  If you have a marketplace issue with a business, the BBB will gladly work with both you and the company to try and resolve the dispute.

·         Community Mediation Center. Providing dispute resolution services since 1975, the BBB’s Community Mediation Center offers mediation and arbitration services. They also coordinate our Lemon Law program, which resolves warranty disputes with participating automobile manufacturers.

·         Industry Review.  When the BBB sees complaints rise within a certain industry, we ask companies within that industry to form a committee to discuss issues and create a set of standards they can all agree on. 

·         Institute for Marketplace Ethics – Our Educational Foundation, which oversees:

    • BBB Senior Outreach – BBB’s Senior Outreach program travels throughout our service area to talk to seniors, listen to their concerns, and educate them how to “spot, stop and report fraud.” We provide education and practical resources to senior citizens helping them: increase financial literacy, make wise purchasing decisions, and avoid and report on scams.
    • BBB Military Line® – Supported by an established national network with a century of expertise in marketplace knowledge, the mission of the BBB Military Line® is “to improve financial readiness and consumer education for service members, their families, and the military community.”
    • BBB Center for Character Ethics – Designed with customized resources for our current and future workforce, the mission of the BBB Center for Character Ethics is “to serve the community of leaders and educators as a provider of research, training, and best practice recognition in character ethics through a working collaboration of experts and practitioners.”

·         Torch Awards for Ethics – If you know a Minnesota or North Dakota for-profit company that demonstrates ethics and integrity, nominate them for a Torch Award by visiting thefirstbbb.org/nominate. Up to four companies are awarded this prestigious honor each year. BBB also awards Student of Integrity scholarships each year, for high school seniors who demonstrate an understanding of the importance of ethics in their day-to-day lives.  

As you can see, the BBB serves both the public and businesses. In fact, Better Business Bureau was started back in 1912 by business owners! Ethical business owners were frustrated   by having to compete against companies that were using misleading advertising to attract customers, so they banded together to challenge these unethical companies and made their findings public. This was the genesis of Better Business Bureau and it all began right herein the Twin Cities. BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota was the very first Better Business Bureau in the world! Today there are 112 BBBs throughout the United States and Canada.

The Vision of the BBB:
We seek to maintain an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other.

Our Mission:
The BBB’s mission is to promote the highest ethical relationship between Businesses and the Public. Our goal is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. We accomplish this by:

·         Creating a community of trustworthy businesses

·         Setting standards for marketplace trust

·         Encouraging and supporting best practices

·         Educating and empowering consumers

·         Celebrating marketplace role models, and;

·         Denouncing substandard marketplace behavior

 

 


 

Consumers regularly inform Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) they’ve received notices in the mail informing them they’ve won a Publisher’s Clearing House, Reader’s Digest, or some other official-sounding sweepstakes. Along with these notices, consumers usually receive checks ranging from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. BBB always advises the public not to cash these checks, as they are not legitimate.

Sweepstakes scams regularly make the BBB’s Top Ten list of scams each year. They begin when consumers receive a letter in the mail claiming – falsely – to be from Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) sweepstakes or any number of phony lotteries, stating the recipient has won a significant amount of money; sometimes even millions of dollars. These letters are usually accompanied by checks that supposedly represent only a small portion of the total winnings. In order to get the rest, people are told to deposit the check and then wire funds back to the scammers, supposedly to cover taxes, insurance or other bogus fees. Unfortunate people who follow these instructions quickly discover their “prizes” are non-existent and they are out any funds they sent away.

On their website, Publishers Clearing House states they will never call on the phone announcing winners, and will never ask for fees. Their website also states:

  • Whether contacted by mail, phone or e-mail, remember: no legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask you to pay or send money to claim a prize. It’s prohibited and unlawful.

Scammers also use email and phone calls to attempt sweepstakes fraud. A tactic phone scammers will use to “sweeten the pot” is the promise of a new BMW – or other luxury car – in addition to the alleged sweepstakes win. Though these calls sound good and the callers will even promise to deliver the prizes right to your front door, it’s all bogus. None of it is real.

Consumers can often spot a fraudulent sweepstakes notice by simply applying common sense. Commonly, the postmark on these letters doesn’t match up with the organization that supposedly drafted the accompanying check. Many of these notices also – fraudulently – use the logos of national companies in an effort to make the letters look more official. Also, the phone numbers listed on these notices often have Canadian prefixes. Many sweepstakes scams originate in Canada.

To further help consumers identify a lottery or sweepstakes scam, BBB provides the following checklist:

  • Was the lottery notification delivered to you by mail or email? If you receive a winning lottery notification by regular mail or email, it’s fraudulent. Legitimate lottery companies will usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL delivery services.
  • Does the notification appear to come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
  • Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters will sometimes send a check or money order along with the notification to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
  • Are you asked to wire money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Shady operators will ask you to deposit the check or money order and then instruct you to wire money or send a personal check back to them to cover what may seem like legitimate costs, such as processing, administrative, or handling fees – or taxes. They also may instruct you to load funds on a prepaid debit card. Be aware that if you share the number on the back of that card with another person, that person will have access to those funds.  Also, if you deposit a bogus check in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to someone else.
  • Does the lottery promoter’s name and address on the check match the name and address on the envelope? In many instances it does not. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on their checks and on the envelopes.
  • Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys, or a high ranking government official? Scam artists will use any number of titles in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate. They have even – falsely – claimed affiliations with BBB and the FTC.

BBB wants everyone to understand that on a national level lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. If you receive any form of notification that you’re a prize winner in a lottery or sweepstakes, contact BBB (bbb.org) before you become the next victim in this type of scheme.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see pop-up messages which sometimes threaten people with a fine or prison unless they pay up. These viruses, meanwhile, lock up affected computers, holding them hostage, thus its name: “ransomware.” Computer users pick up this virus by clicking on malicious links in emails and messages sent through social media sites, or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and advice on what to do if you become the next victim.

“This scam is insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or making computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Still, we advise people not to pay these criminals.”

People who have been hit by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for larger amounts of money and some claim to be from the FBI, local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Users are told they need to pay requested amounts via prepaid Green Dot MoneyPak cash cards – or Bitcoin – or they will be locked out of their computers permanently and face possible criminal charges. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, all of these messages are fraudulent.

People with infected computers will want to have the issue addressed as quickly as possible. It will likely take a computer repair expert or firm – one that’s been checked out first at bbb.org – to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, while computers may be restored, in many cases encrypted files are not recoverable. It’s always a good idea to back up your files on a regular basis.

A newer version of this virus is called CryptoLocker, which targets computers running versions of Windows. CryptoLocker is usually spread via compromised email messages or through social media. People who receive such emails are usually asked to open a PDF document or a ZIP file. This, in turn, launches the CryptoLocker virus, which basically locks you out of your own computer.

To avoid ransomware, consumers should: 

  • Make sure their computer has the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
  • Avoid questionable websites and don’t click on any suspicious links – even if they’re sent by a friend or loved one.
  • Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.

If your computer becomes infected by ransomware, you should contact a computer expert or repair firm immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.  

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 


Do you have unclaimed property? If so, how would you know? Is it worth it to pay a service to help you identify unclaimed property? The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) aims to help people who might fall into this category understand what they need to do to reclaim their assets and possessions.

Unclaimed property refers to accounts or assets held in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity or account holder contact with the owner for one year or more. This can include savings or checking accounts, refunds, customer overpayments, as well as contents of safe deposit boxes. 

To begin searching for lost property, check legitimate sites like missingmoney.com, which is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA).  This website has official records of unclaimed property from every state and most U.S. territories. Check for property in every jurisdiction in which you have resided.  Though it is free to search, you may have to pay a small fee to obtain the property. 

According to NAUPA, there are many businesses (sometimes called finders or locators) that find legitimate lost property for owners and inform them how to obtain it for a fee, usually a percentage of the total (some states limit the fee to 10 percent). Sometimes, companies will hire these firms to find you before they turn the funds over to the state. Ultimately the finder will ask you to sign a contract.

The majority of firms that provide these services work within the law, but there are also some unclaimed property scams around. To ensure the firm you’re working with is legitimate, do some research at BBB (bbb.org) or with the unclaimed property office before signing a contract. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has an Unclaimed Property Unit, which refers people to missingmoney.com. North Dakota’s Department of Trust Lands oversees their Unclaimed Property Division: land.nd.gov/unclaimedproperty

NAUPA offers the following tips to prevent your accounts or possessions from being designated as unclaimed property:

·         - Deposit or cash all checks for dividends, wages, insurance settlements, etc. without delay.

·         - Respond to legitimate requests for confirmation of account balances and stock holder proxies. Keep close track of your assets and investments.

- If you have a safe deposit box, record its number, bank name and address, and give the extra key to a trusted person.

- Prepare and file a will clearly outlining the disposition of your assets.

For more information on how to recover unclaimed property, check out unclaimed.org/what/, and for additional consumer tips, please visit bbb.org

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) turns its attention to the favorite tool of many scammers: the telephone. Each and every day, shady operators work the phones to defraud consumers and business owners. Though there’s no way – short of disconnecting your phone – to protect yourself completely from phone scams, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming the next victim.

If you receive a phone call from someone who makes threats, tells you that you’ve won a cash prize (or sweepstakes) or demands immediate payment in regards to a debt you’re unfamiliar with, those are all signs the call is likely fraudulent. If you receive calls like this, or requests for personal information, BBB advises the following:

·         Don’t panic. If the calls are abusive or if the callers threaten you with arrest, stay calm. Keep in mind that scammers are hoping that you’ll pay them off quickly just to make the matter go away. Always get verification of any alleged debts in writing. Remember, legitimate collection agents cannot threaten you with arrest, and even if you owe a debt, you still have rights through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

·         Never give out any financial information, such as your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone.

·         Be realistic. You can’t win a lottery or contest you didn’t enter, and if you have to pay money upfront to receive your “winnings,” you haven’t won anything.

·         Think about what you’re being told. If a caller claims to be with your bank or your credit card company and wants your account information so they can verify it, they aren’t telling the truth; your bank and your credit card company already have this information.

·         Listen closely. If the caller uses poor grammar and/or has a heavy accent, be on alert. Many fraudulent calls originate overseas.

·         Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call or ask the caller to call back later, after you’ve had time to research their claims.

·         Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses.

Another phone scam which has been making the rounds again lately is the “one-ring” scam. This scam targets cellphone owners and tries to entice people to dial an unknown number back by ringing just once and then disconnecting. People who return these calls don’t realize they’re calling international numbers – with normal-looking prefixes such as 473, 809, 876, 284 and 268 – in the Caribbean, where charges can add up quickly. If you receive a call from an unknown number, it’s best to ignore it and let it go to voicemail.


Suspicious phone calls can be reported to BBB (bbb.org) or the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov).

 

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 

# # #

 

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, which takes place this week (March 2 – 8), Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering North Dakota consumers advice on companies offering credit repair services.

Under FTC rules, firms offering credit repair services must offer you a contract describing their fees and services. BBB advises people seeking to repair their credit to be wary of any company that promises a quick and painless way to get out of debt – and then asks for upfront fees.

“Running into credit issues usually doesn’t happen overnight, and the same goes for repairing your credit – despite what some firms might tell you,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Credit service organizations offer education and personalized advice to consumers for a fee. They advertise that they can improve your credit rating or history, help you obtain credit, and offer credit advice or assistance. While there are reputable firms and non-profit organizations that can help you get out of debt, there are also companies that seek to victimize debt-ridden consumers.

The Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) makes it illegal for credit repair companies to lie about what they can do for you, and to charge you before they’ve performed their services. CROA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and requires credit repair companies to explain:

  • your legal rights in a written contract that also details the services they’ll perform
  • your three day right to cancel without any charge
  • how long it will take to get results
  • the total cost you will pay, and any guarantees.

If a credit repair company you hired doesn’t live up to its promises, you can:

  • sue them in federal court for your actual losses or for what you paid them, whichever is more
  • seek punitive damages — money to punish the company for violating the law
  • join other people in a class action lawsuit against the company, and if you win, the company has to pay your attorney’s fees

Here are some things to consider before choosing a credit repair firm:

  • Avoid offers of a quick debt reduction or a debt settlement plan with high upfront fees (in the hundreds or thousands of dollars) – this should be a red flag that you are not working with a legitimate firm.
  • Some fraudulent agencies will get away with using a non-profit status just to collect your money. Legitimate agencies should be willing to sit down with you and discuss your spending habits and help you come up with a budget.
  • Beware of unrealistic promises, such as erasing your debt for pennies on the dollar in a short time span or promises to reverse a bad credit score. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Check to see if the company has a debt settlement license with the North Dakota Department of Financial Institutions: http://www.nd.gov/dfi/.
  • Research the company at bbb.org. Check to see if the firm is a member of a major association, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org) or the Association of Independent Credit Counseling Agencies (www.aiccca.org), where the members are nonprofit agencies using certified financial counselors that meet certain quality and ethical standards using certified financial counselors.

Though some credit repair companies may be able to assist certain customers, BBB echoes the view of the FTC: “The fact is there’s no quick fix for creditworthiness. You can improve your credit report legitimately, but it takes time, a conscious effort, and sticking to a personal debt repayment plan.”          

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

Suspicious travel vouchers that have been flying across the country have now landed in the Midwest. Consumers in Minnesota and North Dakota are reporting they’ve received airfare vouchers from American Travel Deals (also doing business as Travel Union), a company given an F rating by the Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Arizona (BBB) due to unanswered complaints and advertising issues. As of April 1 of this year, that BBB has been unable to confirm a physical address for the company after numerous attempts to locate them. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is telling area consumers the vouchers in question are likely a one-way ticket to trouble.

“These travel check vouchers might look like welcome news to travel-minded recipients, but a closer examination reveals that something is clearly amiss,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “For example, the accompanying letter is vague, amateurish, and the airlines referenced aren’t even real.”

The company’s Business Review with the BBB of Arizona notes “the BBB has confirmed that “US Airlines” or “American Airways” are companies that do not exist. The BBB has also confirmed US Airways and American Airlines (legitimate airlines that have similar names) are not affiliated with this offer or the company sending the offer in any way.” 37 complaints filed with the BBB of Arizona have been closed as unanswered with another nineteen stuck in limbo as there is no valid address for American Travel Deals on file.

The travel vouchers may list “US Airlines,” “American Airways,” “American TAD,” or simply “American” as the issuing companies. The mailers are usually postmarked “Phoenix, Arizona” or “Scottsdale, Arizona” and do not provide a return address. The check vouchers are generally in the amount of roughly $1,200 to $1,400. The mailer will include a phone number and a deadline to redeem the voucher. The letter may also claim, “We have attempted contacting you on several occasions. This will be your last chance to respond.” However, consumers have stated that claim is untrue. Recipients are instructed to call and redeem the voucher for a travel certificate, but in the end they’re likely just providing unknown persons access to their personal information.

On July 9, the BBB called the number listed on the supposed vouchers. A BBB staffer pretended to be a curious consumer and, after asking a series of questions, learned that they would have to attend a presentation to redeem their travel certificates. At the end of the call, after telling the customer service representative they were single, the BBB staffer was told this offer was only good for couples, though they could still be eligible for the promotion if they referred two others to attend the presentation – a stipulation which seems more than a little unusual. The company’s customer service representative directed the BBB staffer to the website “featuredtravel.com” for more information on the company.

“We encourage consumers to contact the BBB if any deal seems unusual, suspicious or too good to be true,” added Badgerow. “We can help people find companies they can trust and also warn them about scammers looking to deceive them.”

Here are some BBB tips to avoid suspicious travel offers:

·         Never give your credit card number, Social Security number or bank account information to pay for fees, taxes, or shipping costs for anything that you may have ‘won’ or are getting for ‘free.’ If you have to pay something to collect a prize, you haven’t won anything.

·         Don’t give your personal information to collect ‘prizes’ or sign up for free trials.

·         Check your bank statements and credit cards regularly for unauthorized charges.

·         If a company name is provided, go to bbb.org and research the business.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.