College students have plenty to juggle when it comes to school, work and their social lives. Due to that level of activity, fighting fraud often doesn’t make the list of top priorities. However, college students are especially vulnerable to identity theft, and Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers a list of simple steps students can take to protect themselves on campus.

According to the 2014 Identity Fraud Survey Report released by Javelin Strategy and Research, more than 13 million people became victims of identity theft in 2013. Identity theft was once again – for the 14th straight year – the top complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Last year, 14 percent of the two million complaints they received were related to identity theft, according to their 2013 annual report. The highest reported age group for identity theft was 20-29, comprising 20 percent of those complaints.

“Identity thieves don’t care if you’re a struggling student and don’t have a penny to your name; what attracts them is a clean credit record,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “This is a problem all college students need to be thinking about.”

BBB recommends that college students take the following steps to keep their identity secure on campus:

  • Have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address such as the parents’ home or a PO Box. School mailboxes are not always secure and can often be easily accessed in a dorm or apartment.
  • Store important documents under lock and key, such as a filing cabinet or personal safe. This includes your Social Security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them in the garbage. Also shred any unwanted credit card offers that come in the mail.
  • Never loan your credit or debit card to anyone, even if they are a friend. Also just say no if your friend wants you to co-sign for a loan or financing for goods like a TV or new computer.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software which help keep your computer safe from any new advances by identity thieves online.
  • Check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run.
  • When shopping on unfamiliar websites, always research the company for free at bbb.org. Also look for the BBB Accredited Business seal along with other trust seals; be sure to click on those seals to confirm they are legitimate.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year with all three reporting bureaus for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.

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.

 

# # #

 

When you’re at your favorite coffee shop waiting for your drink to cool, the first thing you might do is open up your laptop and search for a Wi-Fi connection. Though it is a convenience, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) seeks to remind the public about the potential dangers of using public Wi-Fi networks.

Many businesses, particularly coffee shops, campus hangouts and even some retailers, have found that offering their patrons free Wi-Fi brings in more business and keeps customers coming back. However, it’s important for consumers to keep in mind that hackers sometimes target public Wi-Fi users to steal their personal information.

To avoid being hacked while using a public Wi-Fi connection, BBB recommends the following tips:

  • Verify the network before use. To verify a Wi-Fi network, simply ask an employee at the coffee shop what network they provide for customers. Also, is it password-protected?
  • Use common sense when you connect. If you’re signed in through an unsecured or unprotected network, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you share.
  • Invest in your own personal hotspot
    • If you have a smartphone, you may also have a hotspot: a device that offers Internet access over a wireless local area network. All you have to do is contact your provider and set up a plan. Keep in mind, though, that while your own personal hotspot is convenient, it’s important to properly set up your security settings.
    • Cover up your keyboard when typing in usernames or passwords, as some hackers obtain information simply by glancing over your shoulder.
    • If you find a USB thumb drive on a coffee table, don’t use it. Some hackers leave USB thumb drives out in the open because they want you to use them. Once a compromised thumb drive is in your laptop, your personal information can be accessed.
    • Keep in mind that a computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

In addition to the coffee shop crowd, hackers also target business travelers that spend much of their time in airports and hotels. Such travelers are often busy answering emails, returning phone calls and planning for their next meeting. When arriving at their hotel after a long day, they might check their email one last time before getting some rest. At such a time, though it may be tempting to simply shut the laptop and nod off, keep in mind that just because a computer is ‘closed,’ that doesn’t mean your information is safe. Always be sure to log out of your online accounts and close out all programs when you’re done using your laptop.

Business travelers and all public Wi-Fi users should also consider the following tips when accessing the Internet on the go:

  • Watch out for fake networks
    • In order to avoid fake networks, ask an employee at the airport or hotel to verify the Wi-Fi network they provide for customers.
    • Avoid certain websites, such as social networking or shopping sites, or any website that requires you to use a debit or credit card.
    • Keep in mind that banking online via a public Wi-Fi connection carries inherent risks. If you must access your bank information online and in a public place, be sure to check your statement frequently to verify that your account hasn’t been compromised.
      • Change your Wi-Fi settings so your computer doesn’t automatically connect to networks. Keep Wi-Fi off when you’re not using it.
      • Change your usernames and passwords as frequently as possible.
        • Make your passwords complex so hackers can’t easily break into your computer.

Despite the dangers that hackers pose, you can certainly do things to reduce your risk of problems when taking advantage of a public Wi-Fi connection.

For the latest fraud alerts, marketplace news and free BBB 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 to 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) and AARP North Dakota are proud to once again offer free shredding events to the public and business community. The events, which will take place Saturday, October 11, in Bismarck and Fargo, will provide area residents and small businesses the opportunity to shred and properly dispose of up to two boxes of sensitive documents and CDs free of charge.

“Secure Your ID Day is a wonderful and free resource for consumers and small business owners to proactively reduce their risk of falling victim to identity theft,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

One of the main goals of Secure Your ID Day is to educate consumers about identity theft, which in 2013 – for the 14th straight year – topped the list of complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 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 and Wells Fargo

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

When: Saturday, October 11, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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

              Fargo: Wells Fargo, 2501 13th Ave S

The two 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. 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 the 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 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.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment security and retirement planning. We advocate for consumers in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services.  A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a bilingual news source.  AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.  The AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.

 

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.