Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) now offers verified customer reviews in their free BBB Business Reviews. This provides consumers the option of submitting customer reviews after dealing with a business. Though these reviews will not affect companies’ BBB ratings, they will be publicly available after BBB’s review process has run its course.

“When we asked consumers and businesses what else they wanted from our BBB, time and again we heard ‘customer reviews,’” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “So this is another tool we now offer, and our reviews are verified, which is fair to both consumers and business owners.”

BBB rules state that customers may not file a complaint and a customer review in regard to the same transaction. In situations where customers are seeking a resolution from a given company, they are encouraged to file a formal complaint. In other situations where they are looking to commend a business or simply share their experience, they can file an online customer review.

All customer reviews are processed by BBB staff and sent on to the business referenced. Businesses then have 10 days to respond and/or inform BBB the person writing the review wasn’t a customer. From there, the person writing the review is asked to provide verification of the transaction. Once the 10 days have passed and/or BBB’s verification process is complete, the customer review and business response, if one is provided, are made available online at bbb.org. BBB also monitors for duplicate customer reviews – and complaints – and multiple reviews filed by the same IP address, to prevent possible abuse.

Since January 1, when BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota launched their customer review option, more than 1,100 reviews have been received, with nearly 70% of them positive.

“We are pleased to note that a solid majority of customer reviews filed so far reference positive experiences,” added Badgerow. “We know most businesses in our marketplace are upstanding, and we’re pleased to offer this feature to them as a way to stand out and be recognized, and to consumers as another free BBB tool they can use to find reliable businesses.”

BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota is one of 44 BBBs that offer customer reviews. Consumers can file or read customer reviews online at www.thefirstbbb.org. Since March of 2012, BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota has also published complaint details in their free Business Reviews.

For the latest fraud alerts and marketplace news, visit bbb.org.

The mission of 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 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 proud to announce the 2014 finalists for our BBB Torch Awards for Ethics. The Torch Awards recognize worthy companies that strive to go above and beyond in their dealings with customers, employees, vendors and their community. These awards are open to all for-profit businesses located within the Minnesota and North Dakota region which are in good standing with BBB.

“We are very pleased to announce another distinguished group of businesses as finalists for our Torch Awards,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “These organizations are standard-bearers in our marketplace.”

The 2014 BBB Torch Award finalists are:

  • Category I (1-10 employees):
    EDS Builders, Inc., Lakeland, MN
    JD Haas and Associates PLLC, Bloomington, MN
    Space2Burn New Media, Minneapolis, MN
  • Category II (11-50 employees):
    DFC Consultants, Fargo, ND
    Electrical Production Services, Chanhassen, MN
    ICC Restoration & Cleaning Services, Woodbury, MN
    Vujovich Design Build, Inc., Minneapolis, MN
    Woods & Thompson, P.A., Minneapolis, MN
  • Category III (51+ employees):
    I.C. System, Inc., St. Paul, MN
    KleinBank, Chaska, MN
    Park Dental, Roseville, MN

The 2014 Better Business Bureau Torch Awards for Ethics ceremony will be held Wednesday, October 29, from 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.

BBB will once again present Student of Integrity Scholarships to high school seniors in Minnesota and North Dakota who demonstrate through essay or a short video their understanding of the impact ethical decisions have made in their lives. Scholarship money is awarded directly toward winners’ post-secondary education expenses (tuition or room/board only) at any accredited institution. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, September 23 at 4 p.m.

This year’s Torch Awards keynote speaker is Tony Heredia, Vice President, Strategy and Operations, within Community Relations at Target. He was previously Vice President of Corporate Risk & Responsibility and Director of Assets Protection.

BBB presents the Torch Awards for Ethics each year to companies who exemplify ethical behavior and display integrity in all aspects of their operations. Nominees are offered the opportunity to submit an entry to the BBB, where a panel of independent volunteer business and community leaders review the entries and choose the winners.

2014 BBB Torch Award for Ethics

Wednesday, October 29 – McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota Campus
11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased online at: thefirstbbb.org/events 

$45/Accredited Business $405/Table of 10, Accredited Business
$65/General $585/Table of 10, General


Sponsors for the event are: CHS, Inc.,Clear Channel Radio (Cities 97, KDWB, KFAN, News Talk 1130, K102, KOOL 108); Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; NFP/Financial Concepts, Inc; Master Communications Group; and Rippe Print

Scholarship sponsors: CenterPoint Energy and Northland Group

Timeshare reselling schemes continue to plague the marketplace and just two recent cases have defrauded victims out of more than $40,000 and $20,000, respectively. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) regularly receives inquiries about, and helps uncover, bogus timeshare reselling firms claiming addresses in the Twin Cities. Though these entities look legitimate at first glance, a closer review of their operations reveals they are not actually located here and exist solely to defraud consumers.

“Timeshare reselling scams have really ramped up in recent years,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “People who own timeshares should understand they’re dealing with professionals. Recently, a consumer’s attorney reviewed an agreement sent by one of these fraudulent entities. Even the attorney stated the documents looked legitimate.”

In most cases of this type of fraud, timeshare owners receive calls from individuals claiming to represent companies which had secured buyers or renters for their timeshares. The callers are told there will be no upfront fees. However, after receiving official-looking contracts, consumers are eventually informed they have to wire escrow funds to Mexico – or money to cover transfer fees, closing costs and/or taxes and liens – in order to close the deal. Upon wiring the funds as requested, customers are then usually told that still more unexpected costs have arisen and they will need to wire yet more money to complete the transaction. This process often continues until consumers realize something is amiss.

Just some of the fraudulent entities – claiming addresses in our area – which BBB has uncovered in recent months are: Business Events International, Century Title Escrow Inc., Corporate Services International Group and Financial Planning 2Go. More recently, BBB has learned Minne Realty Services and NSR Services, Inc. are not legitimate timeshare resellers.

BBB advises people looking to sell their timeshare properties to always:

  • Be wary. If you currently own a timeshare and are approached by a company saying they have buyers or renters lined up, exercise caution.
  • Investigate. Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website or one that has photos of exotic locales. Creating websites is fairly easy. Use a business you can trust by accessing free BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org.
  • Look for an established track record. Does the company have a history or did they just “pop up on radar”?
  • Watch out for upfront fees and requests to wire funds. Remember, unless it’s negotiated into the purchase agreement, only buyers pay closing costs. Many complaints to the BBB regarding supposed timeshare reselling entities involve situations where people were told they needed to wire “escrow funds,” or that they just had to pay taxes or closing costs and their timeshare would be rented or sold. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
  • Confirm licensing requirements – Verify where the company is located and in what states it does business. Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, confirm that with the state licensing board.
  • Get the facts on the figures – Find out if the business charges a commission. Do they handle the entire closing and provide escrow services? Do they charge an upfront listing or advertising fee? What does it cover and is it refundable?
  •  Don’t fall for an offer that sounds too good to be true – Don’t agree to anything over the phone but instead ask the salesperson to send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured. Remember, scammers have gotten very good at creating official-looking contracts.
  • Watch out for third-party companies. Fraudulent timeshare reselling entities often associate with alleged third-party title or escrow services in an effort to appear more legitimate. Be sure to research those companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
  • Be realistic. In regard to timeshares, it’s generally a buyer’s – not a seller’s – market. Unscrupulous timeshare resellers may claim that your property is in demand and they can sell it immediately; unfortunately, these promises often prove to be false.

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 


High school students and young adults pursuing their college degrees may be targeted by schemes preying on their lack of real-life experience. Some of these schemes are called pyramid schemes. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns that this shady business model is dangerous because it promises earnings it cannot deliver and leaves scores of hopeful individuals empty-handed. Pyramid schemes are also illegal, per FTC rules.

Much like a Ponzi scheme, pyramid schemes use the entry fees from new recruits to line the pockets of earlier investors. This works well for those at the top of the pyramid, but the pyramid sales model eventually becomes unsustainable and collapses because those on the lower levels have nobody left to recruit and wind up losing their money.

Pyramid schemes often masquerade under the guise of multi-level marketing opportunities where you can recruit others to sell a product. The focus of multi-level marketing, though, is the selling of a product to end users. With a pyramid scheme, the focus is less on the product and more on the recruitment of others. You can be approached by someone operating a pyramid scheme in several ways, some of which include social networking or an enticing internship offer. People who operate pyramid schemes have also been known to use bait-and-switch tactics to gather unsuspecting audiences to listen to their sales pitches.

Knowing how destructive pyramid schemes can be, here are some BBB tips on how to avoid being victimized by one:

  • Research the business at www.bbb.org.
  • When confronted with a marketing opportunity, ask the presenter about the product they are selling. If the presenter avoids answering your question, it is likely a pyramid scheme.
  • Be wary if the start-up cost for the investment is substantial. Legitimate multi-level marketing companies usually require a small start-up cost. Pyramid schemes, on the other hand, pressure you to pay a large amount to become a “distributor.” The promoters behind these schemes make most of their profit on the signing up of new recruits.
  • If you are being guaranteed a large and swift return on your investment, watch out. As the adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Ask about the commission structure if there is one. If your compensation depends more on the recruitment of others than the sale of a product, or if it is unclear how the structure works, that should raise red flags.
  • If you are subjected to high-pressure sales or told you must recruit others as a condition of your involvement in the offer, walk away.
  • Keep your eyes open. Often people trying to recruit others into a pyramid scheme will use bait and switch tactics to get people to listen to their proposition. If you’re not interested in what they’re offering, move on.

For the latest consumer news, fraud alerts and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org.

The mission of 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 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 warning the public and business community about Superior Heavy Machinery, an online entity claiming a Duluth (MN) address and purporting to sell used heavy equipment. BBB has determined they are nothing more than a fake company created solely to defraud consumers and business owners seeking to purchase used heavy equipment online.

Superior Heavy Machinery came to BBB’s attention recently when a consumer reported a suspicious interaction with the company. After finding an ad the company had placed on EquipmentTraderOnline.com, the consumer contacted the company expressing interest in a bulldozer. The representative from Superior Heavy Machinery sent the consumer paperwork claiming that the cost of the machinery – $25,000 – would have to be wired to its parent company in England, Atlas Darius Group, before it would be delivered. The consumer had suspicions and contacted BBB. A Google search for Atlas Darius Group brings up no results and BBB believes this is another fictitious entity. Though there is an Atlas Group in England, BBB has no reason to believe they are associated with Superior Heavy Machinery.

“The amount of money in question is jaw-dropping, which is why we’re so pleased the consumer chose not to go through with this transaction,” ‘said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Had they done so, their money would be lost and likely unrecoverable.”

BBB has also reached out to alert law enforcement in the Duluth area and contacted two other sellers of heavy equipment in that region. The owner of one of those two businesses, also located in Duluth, said consumers from as far as Michigan and Denver have come to their store to inquire about equipment they saw advertised online by Superior Heavy Machinery. The business owner said he has never heard of a Superior Heavy Machinery.

“This is another excellent reminder not to wire money overseas or to people you don’t know,” added Badgerow.

To avoid falling victim to fraudulent online entities such as Superior Heavy Machinery, BBB advises the following:

  • Research the business at bbb.org.
  • Watch out for requests to wire money overseas – or domestically – or to place funds in escrow with a third-party company. Fraudulent online entities will often reference another company in an effort to appear more legitimate. Research these companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
  • Don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true. Have the salesperson send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured.
  • Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website. Remember, creating websites is fairly easy. Be sure to verify that the company has a track record. Be leery of companies that just “pop up” on radar.

For the latest fraud alerts, consumer news and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org.

 

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 


 

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) says area consumers are reporting they’re receiving illegal marketing calls that display their own phone number on caller ID. Though it’s natural to be curious about such calls, BBB advises the public to ignore the calls or let them go to voicemail – and then delete the messages.

“This is another clever ruse scammers have devised to get people to answer their phones,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “You look down, you see your own number on caller ID…obviously you want to know what it’s all about. We’re advising people to override that instinct.”

Since the start of summer, Better Business Bureaus across the country have been hearing from harried consumers who are confused – and annoyed – by these calls, which are often dialed by computerized calling centers.

Here’s how the scam works: Your phone rings and you see your name and phone number pop up on caller ID. If you answer, a computerized message claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates, which of course, means they will require your credit card number. In some cases, consumers are informed they can supposedly opt-out of future calls by pressing “1.” People who do so can count on receiving more calls of this nature from other shady telemarketing firms. Any action consumers take tells fraudsters that a phone number is ‘good,’ and that number is added to phone lists which scammers then sell to other scammers. In any case, these promises of lowering your credit card interest rates are not legitimate.

The practice of using technology to alter or disguise the true number of an incoming telephone call is known as “spoofing,” and its use is growing among criminals who also use this technique to pretend they are calling from a well-known company or government agency. By hijacking the names and phone numbers of organizations with which you are familiar, the callers attempt to gain your trust in hopes they can trick you into handing over personal or financial information.

Per FTC rules, telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages are generally illegal unless you have given the company written permission to call you. Some prerecorded messages are permitted — for example, messages that are purely informational. That means you may receive calls to let you know your flight’s been cancelled, reminders about an appointment, or messages about a delayed school opening. Prerecorded messages from a business contacting you to collect a debt also are also permitted, but messages offering to sell you services to reduce your debt are barred.

Other exceptions include political calls and calls from certain health care providers. For example, pharmacies are permitted to use prerecorded messages to provide prescription refill reminders. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.

“The most ingenious aspect of these ‘spoofing’ calls is the lack of information available to consumers,” added Badgerow. “If they report the issue to the FTC, what are they to report – their own phone numbers?”

Nevertheless, BBB has confirmed the FTC does want to hear about these calls and other suspect robocalls. People can file complaints by visiting www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC is interested in the time and date the call (or calls) occurred and what product is being offered.

Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, BBB advises:

Never give out any financial information – If you did not initiate the call, do not provide bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone. It’s best to end calls that make you uncomfortable or that you’re not sure about and follow up with your bank or financial institution – or government agency – directly.

Don’t rely on caller ID – Remember, scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations – or even from your own phone number. Caller ID is a helpful feature, but it’s far from foolproof. Keep your guard up.

Trust your instincts – If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call and report your experience to BBB, by calling 800-646-6222 or visiting bbb.org.

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 


 

 

Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been hearing lots of complaints about various fun runs that have been cancelled with short notice, often with no refunds offered. Last week, BBB of Greater Cleveland reported on a 5K Foam Fest that was cancelled with just four days’ notice. An email to paid participants said “Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide you with a refund.” A similar event scheduled for August in St. Paul was also cancelled. The race website says they have ceased operations as of July 17. Another race company has offered Foam Fest participants a discount code for future theme races.

These 5K Foam Fest events were to be put on by Round House Racing Team, which is based in Utah. Since the cancellation was announced, BBB Utah has received 90 complaints from participants looking for refunds of the $45-75 registration fees they were charged. BBB is processing those complaints now, and an Alert was added to the company’s BBB Business Review.

This cancellation news came just a month after Runners’ World reported that the Electric Foam 5K had shut down after numerous race cancellations and an F rating with BBB for its parent company, Color Mania 5K. A number of BBBs and at least one national media outlet had been investigating the cancelled Electric Foam 5Ks when the company announced it was closing down all the events. Some participants received refunds through Groupon. The company’s website said it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If you are thinking about participating in a themed fun run, here are some BBB tips:

  • Do your research. Check out the company’s BBB Business Review and search online for additional information before signing up.
  • Understand the terms and conditions. In some cases, promoters say on their websites that they don’t offer refunds, but many consumers don’t read the fine print before hitting “I agree” to long online documents.
  • Check the local venue. Contact the park or other venue to confirm that the event is scheduled.
  • Pay with a credit card. Charges made on a credit card can be disputed after a purchase, whereas debit, cash or wire transfer transactions cannot.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online registration process, you should receive a confirmation receipt. Print out and keep a copy of the confirmation and any supporting documentation for future reference.
  • Check out the charity. Most fun runs are for-profit, but if the promoters claim a portion of the proceeds will go to charity, check it out on give.org to make sure your donation is going to a trustworthy charity. Be wary of sound-alike names similar to more famous charities.

For tips you can trust, visit bbb.org and for the latest, check out our blog, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Note: Groupon and Facebook are BBB Accredited Businesses.

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 

Summer is a great time for getaways, but while you’re on vacation, criminals are still hard at work. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns consumers that they can find themselves tripped up by their own vacation plans if they don’t first take some precautions.

“Scammers never stop thinking, so consumers have to be looking ahead too,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “The stakes are always high.”

According to Javelin Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study, more than 13 million Americans had their identities stolen last year, and it cost an average of $3,500 to fix related problems. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), ID theft has surpassed drug trafficking to become the most prevalent crime in the nation.

BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota advises consumers to be on the lookout for fraud in all of its forms, particularly technology-based schemes. Here are steps people setting out on vacation can take to protect themselves:

Keep an eye on your credit cards – When standing in line at a ticket counter or restaurant, don’t leave your credit card in plain view. Someone can snap a photo of it over your shoulder and use the information fraudulently.

Copy vital cards and documents – It’s a good idea to keep a record of your credit card, passport and other important numbers – in a safe place – in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Leave identity documents and cards that you don’t need at home. Make sure you keep a record of customer service numbers in case you run into a problem while you’re out of town.

Check receipts during vacation and after – When you get home, go through your bank and credit card statements to look for any unauthorized charges. If something is amiss, contact your financial institution immediately.

Manage your mail and newspaper delivery online – Before leaving town, visit www.usps.com/manage-your-mail to have your mail held while you’re away. It’s a good idea to do the same thing with the daily newspaper and ask a neighbor to collect any packages shipped special delivery.

Be careful with social media – Make sure nobody in your family announces that you’re going away for an awesome vacation. If your account settings are public, people you might not want to have that information can easily access it. Always be careful when posting photos from out of town for the same reason. Be sure you’re clear about your privacy settings on your social media accounts, and remember, people talk. There will be plenty of time to post your fun photos when you’ve returned from your trip.

Don’t get skimmed – Always inspect the card reader slot before using a standalone ATM or gas pump. Law enforcement agencies warn that criminals can place a fake card slot cover on these machines to enable them to capture customers’ financial information.

If you plan to use your credit cards while away, it may also be a good idea to contact your credit card provider or bank ahead of time. In an effort to prevent losses from fraud, financial institutions may refuse some credit card transactions from out of state if they do not match your typical spending pattern. Letting your credit card provider and bank know when you are leaving town – and returning – and where you are going might prevent a hold from being placed on your credit or debit card.

For more helpful tips, the latest consumer news and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 


Almost a year to the date from when they hit the Upper Midwest last summer, suspicious travel offers are once again landing in area mailboxes. Consumers in our area are contacting Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) to say they’ve been offered two round-trip airline tickets from Cheap Tickets – although a disclaimer on the mailer says “This promotion is not sponsored by or affiliated with Cheap Tickets.” BBB is advising people to watch out for high-pressure sales tactics and be aware, based on the Cheap Tickets distinction alone, there is likely much more to this offer than meets the eye.

“Mailings like these have been going around for the last few years,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Experience has shown us these offers always come with strings attached and consumers trying to redeem their tickets – or travel vouchers – find the process is anything but straightforward.”

The BBB employee who received this mailing secret-shopped the company via telephone recently and the representative that answered identified the company as Grand Travel Worldwide, which purportedly offers discount travel services. As stated in a disclaimer on the company’s mailing, the company’s customer representative said people have to attend a 90-minute seminar at a Twin Cities-area hotel to receive their travel vouchers. They must also bring their spouse or partner and a valid credit card.

Though the representative said repeatedly there is no obligation to purchase anything, the company passed through the Spokane, Washington area last fall and attendees of seminars in that area reported rude behavior and poor customer service to the BBB in that region.

A review of the company’s mailing reveals that ‘Certain restrictions apply” and “Taxes, deposit, fees and/or surcharges are the responsibility of the recipient.” The mailing also says “Because previous attempts to reach you have been unsuccessful, this will serve as your final notification. If (we) do not hear from you within 10 days these travel vouchers will be given to an alternate.” However, the BBB employee who received this mailing said no other attempts had been made to reach them. A disclaimer very similar to this one appeared on the travel mailings which hit our area last year.  There is also a disclaimer which says, “Promotion may be canceled at any time.”

“There are a lot of unknowns here and that always gets our wheels turning,” added Badgerow. “Past offers similar to this one have led to headaches; people being pressured to enroll in pricey travel clubs or finding themselves beset by hidden charges and poor customer service.”

Grand Travel Worldwide’s customer service representative directed the BBB staffer to the website “Tripz4U.com” for more information on the company. However, it offers little in the way of additional details. BBB is currently developing a file on this company.

Here are some BBB tips to avoid suspicious travel offers:

  • Don’t be afraid to say no. If you’re feeling pressured or if a company representative asks you to make a decision ‘now,’ they may not be a company you want to transact with.
  • 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.
  • Ask a lot of questions and get all the details. Make sure you’re clear on contract terms and all stipulations.
  • Do the math. Monthly fees add up over time. Also, make sure you understand what you will need to do should you sign an agreement and then decide to cancel within three business days, per the FTC’s 3-day Cooling Off Rule.
  • After attending a travel club seminar, check your bank statements and credit cards for unauthorized charges.
  • If a company name is provided, go to bbb.org and research the business.

The mission of 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 BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

 

 

 

The installation of a home security system is much more common than in years past. In fact, many newer homes come already equipped with them. Not only can a security system provide a line of defense against intruders, it can, in some cases, help lower insurance premiums as well as help ensure personal safety and the safety of family members. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers some advice on things people should consider before signing an agreement with a home security company.

“Security systems can offer homeowners additional peace of mind, but people should always pay attention to warning signals when searching for the right company,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

A good place to start this process is to determine whether you are going to purchase the alarm or lease it. If you purchase the system, you’ll own the equipment outright. A leased system may cost less initially, but it won’t belong to you and could be removed from your home once you discontinue your service or switch companies.

Most alarm systems are linked to a central monitoring center. It’s a good idea to see if the company installing the alarm will be the one monitoring your system. If not, make sure you obtain the name, address and phone number of the company providing monitoring services. You’ll want to research them as well at bbb.org.

Another good question to ask a salesperson is, ‘What is the process?’ For instance, when an alarm is triggered, some security firms call the homeowner first and only alert the authorities if no one answers or if the property owner confirms there’s a problem. Ask for their procedures in writing as far as exactly what will happen when your alarm goes off, so you know what to expect. The monthly cost of monitoring can vary, so it’s also worthwhile to get an idea of the market rate. Systems that are not monitored rely solely on a siren as a form of deterrent.

Since alarm systems are available in a wide range of prices and technologies, customers have a number of options to choose from. The most economical systems usually include a control panel, keypad, door and window sensors, and a siren. More advanced systems may include advanced keypad options, glass break sensors, and heat and carbon monoxide sensors. Some households only need the basics while others want the deluxe package – which now includes video security systems so that homeowners can actually see what’s happening inside their house. Decide which options best suit your needs.
In recent years more and more households have switched from traditional landlines to cell phones and Internet-based lines. Making a switch midway through your contract may affect your alarm service. Ask the sales representative what your options are in the event you decide to discontinue the use of a landline.

It’s also important to know that most companies will require you to sign anywhere from a 24 to 60 month contract for monitoring. This is especially true if they installed the alarm system. Consumers who cancel before their contract expires are often subject to hefty cancellation fees. Before you sign up with anyone, be sure to ask how long your contract is for and what the cancellation policies are. In discussions with your sales representative, ask what would happen if the company were to be bought out. Also, don’t rely on oral promises; get everything in writing.

Furthermore, be aware that it is a common practice within this industry to use “evergreen contracts.” If proper notice has not been given, an evergreen contract automatically renews upon expiration. Companies often require consumers to provide notice of their intent to discontinue service at least 30 days in advance. It is the consumer’s responsibility to know when the contract expires and to give notice by the cut-off date stipulated in the contract. If you end up signing an evergreen contract, it’s a good idea to place a label in a visible area near the alarm to remind you when the contract expires and when the cancellation must be made.

Other things to consider:

  • Alarm companies frequently send sales teams to canvass neighborhoods in search of new customers. If you already have a home security system and the sales representative tells you that your service is about to expire, don’t take their word for it. Contact your alarm company and verify the expiration date on your contract. If the company claims they are acting on behalf of your current alarm company, verify that as well.
  • It’s a good idea to ask for identification. A reputable salesperson will provide you with all the information you request, including ID and a business card. It’s always a good idea to contact the company directly to ensure the person on your doorstep is an employee.
  • Does the sales person have a solicitor’s license from the city you’re in?
  • Ask about false alarms – will you be charged?
  • Avoid snap decisions. Tell the salesperson you will consider the offer and get back to him or her after doing your research. Watch out for high-pressure sales pitches.
  • Always research companies at bbb.org.