Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is once again offering Student of Integrity Scholarships for Minnesota and North Dakota high school students entering their senior year. These scholarships – which are presented in tandem with BBB Torch Awards for Ethics honoring upstanding businesses – are designed to recognize and promote ethics and integrity among young people, and will be awarded to students who have demonstrated high character in their personal choices and actions.

“We’re extremely proud to offer these scholarships,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We believe integrity must always be encouraged at all ages and ethics-based decisions celebrated, but especially insofar as how they shape young lives.”

There are four scholarships available this year – two for $2,500 and two for $1,000. The four scholarship winners will be honored at BBB’s annual Torch Award Ceremony, which recognizes the best in ethical and trustworthy business. This year’s Torch Awards Ceremony takes place on Thursday, October 29.

To apply for these scholarships, students are asked to select one or two of the 20 principles found in the document, UncommonSense. Applicants will then either write an essay or create a video that provides specific examples of ways they were challenged by a difficult situation and how they overcame that situation through the application of character and personal ethics. Essays must be at least 1,000 words and videos must be at least 30 seconds long, but no longer than three minutes.

In addition, applications must include the scholarship entry form, one letter of recommendation, a copy of the student’s transcript, as well as a list of extracurricular activities and post-secondary plans. Entries will be reviewed by an independent panel of judges, with a focus given on the quality of the essay or video. All entries must be received by Wednesday, September 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Visit bbb.org/minnesota/programs-services/institute-for-marketplace-ethics/student-of-integrity-scholarship/ for further information on the Student of Integrity Scholarships. Parents or students with questions can contact Mackenzie Kelley at 651-695-2482 or at mackenzie.kelley@thefirstbbb.org.

Scholarship sponsors: CenterPoint Energy, KleinBank, Northland Group and Valley Pools and Spas

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.

It’s that time of year when you might get an unexpected knock on your door – especially if you have an older or unpaved parking lot or driveway. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns consumers and business owners that suspect asphalt firms are in the area and trying to rustle up jobs. These operators often go door-to-door claiming they have extra asphalt from a nearby project and they’ll work at a discounted rate. However, the quality of the work is often sub-par and the final bill can sometimes be double – or even many times – the quoted price.

BBB has received reports of this scheme from consumers in the Twin Cities and Rochester area who have been confronted by such “offers” recently. BBB notes that in both of these cases contracts were not provided prior to the work being performed; all agreements were verbal. Customers who deal with companies that operate in this fashion quickly discover that if there are problems with the work performed, they only have a phone number for the company and no other way to contact them if calls are not returned.

“This is what we call a classic scheme, and people fall victim to it every day during the paving season somewhere in Minnesota and North Dakota,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Worse yet, the elderly are often the ones that are targeted the most.”

To avoid asphalt schemes, be sure you know who you’re dealing with. Research the company first at bbb.org. Also, be sure to ask the salesperson if they have a solicitor’s license from the city they’re doing business in – and then verify that by contacting your city officials.

Be on the lookout for these common signs of a suspect asphalt firm:
• The claim the company has leftover asphalt from another job. Be wary of paving companies stating they are “in the neighborhood” and have extra asphalt to repair your driveway for a minimal cost. Professional asphalt contractors know, with great accuracy, how much paving material is needed to complete a project. They will rarely have leftover materials.
• High pressure sales. Never hire someone on the spot. Trustworthy contractors provide a written estimate that will be valid for days or even weeks. If you feel that you are being subjected to high-pressure sales tactics, BBB advises you to end the conversation and tell the company you’re not interested.
• Deals that seem too good to be true. If the quoted price seems very low, chances are the quality of work will also be quite low.
• No contract is offered. Insist on a contract specifying in detail the work to be performed and the agreed total price, not just price per square foot. Then get at least two more estimates before hiring a contractor.
• Cash-only sales. Most reputable contractors take checks or credit cards and don’t require cash-only terms.
• Unmarked trucks. Less than reputable firms often travel in unmarked trucks or ones that have out-of-state license plates. Some research usually reveals that they have no permanent address and phone numbers they give out are not answered.

If asphalt contractors are on your property and you feel work that’s being performed is beyond the scope of what was originally agreed upon, contact the police. Or if you’re suddenly presented with a bill much higher than what was originally discussed, don’t be pressured into making a payment on the spot. Remember, you have rights.

Consumers are often safer dealing with a contractor who has roots in the community. Contact BBB for a free Business Review on any company you are considering doing business with by 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.

 

For homeowners going through their maintenance checklist, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers advice for keeping their roof in tip-top shape and information on when it might be time to consider a new roof. When you’re in the market for a new home, it’s always a good idea to ask the age of the roof of any house that you’re considering purchasing. This will tell you if you can reasonably expect to go a number of years without having to replace the roof or if you need to start to budget for a re-roofing job.

“Every homeowner knows the value – even just from a peace of mind standpoint – of a structurally sound roof above their heads,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Obviously, a roof is a big part of any homeowner’s investment and one that needs close monitoring and maintenance.”

The average lifespan of a roof is 20-25 years, depending on a number of factors: mold or rot; cracked, torn or missing shingles; leaks and storm damage. However, whether a roof is new or old, it’s important for homeowners to perform regular maintenance. BBB offers some tips which could help extend the life of your roof:

• Clear dead or overhanging branches. Have a professional tree service evaluate the branches hanging over your roof and decide whether or not they are a risk. If the branches are dead, that increases the chance of them falling onto your roof. In addition, heavily shaded areas of your roof can retain moisture, which sometimes leads to mold. Regular trimmings of overhanging branches will help your roof dry in a uniform manner.
• Inspect for hail damage. After strong storms, especially hailstorms, have a licensed insurance adjuster or contractor inspect your roof. Dimples and cracks on the shingles are key indicators that hail damage has occurred.
• Keep your eyes and ears open and remove debris. Homeowners should inspect their roof regularly and monitor for hail damage. Ground-level inspections can be done by the homeowner. You should also keep your gutters clear. If there’s debris that needs to be removed, either call a professional or be very cautious when getting up on your roof.

If the roof on your home is over twenty years old, it may be a good idea to solicit expert opinions – from licensed contractors – before making the decision to sign off on a re-roofing project.

To help homeowners find reliable and trustworthy roofing companies, BBB offers the following tips:

• Start with trust. Research and find dependable contractors for free at bbb.org.
• Deal with licensed and insured contractors. In Minnesota, roofers must be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) (dli.state.mn.us). Contractors in North Dakota should be registered with the ND Secretary of State’s Office (http://sos.nd.gov/). A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you.
• Get everything in writing. It’s important to review the contract carefully before signing it. Contracts should include: the description of services provided, payment schedule, an estimate on when the work will commence and finish, and warranty information.
• Ask for references. Asking friends and family for references is always a good idea. You should also ask contractors for references from past customers, and follow up with them directly to learn more about recent projects the company completed.
• Request estimates. Ask for estimates from at least three different contractors. Everyone has a different budget, but don’t automatically choose the company with the lowest bid. Your roof is an integral part of your home and not a place where you want to cut corners.
For more information on steps to take when your home suffers storm damage, visit bbb.org/minnesota/news-events/news-releases/2015/07/bbb-offers-tips-to-storm-damage-victims/.

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.

Crowdfunding, the process of financing a creative project or supporting individuals in need through online donations, is rapidly growing in popularity. These crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe, Indiegogo, Kickstarter and RocketHub, give people the opportunity to contribute to projects and campaigns they support or believe in. While the above-named crowdfunding websites are established entities, not all campaigns on their sites may be trustworthy.

There are two types of crowdfunding campaigns: project-based and charity-based. Project-based campaigns attempt to create something innovative. Examples of this type of campaign include: developing a board game, producing an independent film or opening a new brewpub. Often project-based campaigns will offer “perks,” incentives for donating, based on the amount of the donation. Perks can be as basic as receiving the official campaign t-shirt, or as extensive as a day on the set with the director of an independent film or even free in-house beer for life.

Charity-based campaigns provide assistance toward an individual or group in need. Such campaigns include: disaster relief missions; personal cases; such as a family dealing with major medical bills; and smaller foundations seeking extra support.

Because crowdfunding is done exclusively online, it can often be hard to determine the validity of any campaign. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled its first case against deceptive crowdfunding. Erik Chevalier, who launched his campaign for a new board game, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, on Kickstarter.com, raised more than $122,000 from 1,246 donors. He then announced that he would be canceling his project and pledged to refund the money to the backers; however, he then failed to follow through. Instead, evidence obtained by the FTC suggested that he used the money for personal expenses.

Although many crowdfunding campaigns are what they seem, and crowdfunding sites use automated tools in an attempt to weed out questionable projects, BBB offers this advice for consumers interested in supporting a crowdfunding campaign:
• Take your time. Read the detailed information in the campaign description to find the specific goal. Look for pictures, videos and links that demonstrate the campaign is in process. Read consumer reviews for other’s experiences and review the fine print.
• Check the charities. Visit the home website of any charity-based campaign. Go to give.org to research the charity and whether or not it is BBB Accredited.
• Understand the process. A successful crowdfunding campaign does not mean that the project or product will materialize. Check for progress updates on the campaign homepage. Be clear on the timelines proposed as to when the campaign managers will make good on any promised perks.
• Hidden Fees. Crowdfunding sites take 3-5% of the total money raised; that means 3-5% of each contribution. There may be an additional shipping and handling fee, separate from your donation, to receive any promised perks.
• Confirmation email. Because crowdfunding is exclusively online, a confirmation email will be the only way to determine if the donation was successful. Use the most up-to-date version of Firefox or Google Chrome browsers for the best chance of successful processing. Many crowdfunding sites do not support Internet Explorer.
• Keep in mind. Donations to project-based campaigns will likely not be tax-deductible; charity-based campaigns may or may not be.
• Communicate. Email the campaign leader or company with any questions about their mission. Notify the crowdfunding website immediately if you have concerns or if a campaign appears to be deceptive.
For the latest consumer news, fraud alerts and free BBB Business Reviews 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 offering guidance to area residents who suffered property damage earlier this week as strong storms swept across Minnesota, and reminds people to take precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions. Though most contractors have your best interests in mind, there are those few that are only interested in making a fast dollar.

To help property owners find reputable contractors, BBB provides the following tips:

• Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process.
• Document the damage to your property (and autos); take pictures or video if possible.
• Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization.
• Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after the storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof. Be sure to save all of your receipts.
• Get references from friends and relatives and contact Better Business Bureau to obtain free Business Reviews on any company you are considering hiring. Visit bbb.org or call toll-free at 800-646-6222. Shop around and get more than one estimate.
• Ask all companies for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance as well as a license to do work in Minnesota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you.
• Understand the difference between warranties and guarantees. The manufacturer warranties their products and contractors have warranties on service. Contractors may also offer customer service guarantees. Get copies of any/all warranties and guarantees.
• Refrain from filing an insurance claim on something that you do not intend to fix. There could be repercussions from your insurance company when you do not make repairs you are being compensated for. Keep in mind that if you hold a mortgage on your home, your mortgage company may have a vested interest in you making the repairs and most will mandate you to make the repairs. Most checks from insurance come to the consumer with both the consumer’s name and the mortgage company’s name. Both need to sign off on the check.
• Some companies list bids on their own contract to do service work on your home/property and some do not (basing their pricing on “insurance allowance”). Both are acceptable methods of conducting business.
• Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials.
• Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully and avoid signing an “estimate” or “authorization” form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
• Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts.
• Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
• Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
• Review all documentation before signing on the dotted line and before making any payment. Be sure it specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
• Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Make temporary repairs if necessary. Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.

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) warns area consumers to watch out for a scam involving postcards purportedly alerting recipients to ‘a reward of up to $100 in Gas Savings.’ These ‘savings’ are allegedly redeemable at Exxon/Mobil, Shell or Sunoco. However BBB advises people to pass on this offer, as it is designed by unknown parties solely to gather personal and credit card information – or both. The postcards have no return address but urge people to call an 844 number, which is toll-free.
“These bogus postcards know no season, but summer seems to lead to a spike in this kind of activity,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “In every case like this that we’re aware of, involving nebulous postcards, the legitimate companies cited are not aware of or affiliated with these so-called offers.”

Variations of this postcard scam have popped up sporadically nationwide over the last few years, often claiming nonexistent affiliations with Walmart or Target in conjunction with supposed $100 savings or gift cards. Some notifications have been delivered via text message and through email. People may also receive phone calls claiming they’re the recipient of such prizes.

Based on previous offers of this nature, those who call the toll-free phone numbers on these postcards are told they must provide a credit or debit card and will be charged a small fee – usually just over $3 – for processing. BBB advises the public to either shred these mailings or report them to the FTC (www.ftc.gov), your local post office or both.

Better Business Bureau also reminds consumers to:
• Never give out personal or financial information to unknown parties over the phone, through the mail or via the Internet.
• Always research offers before making any decisions. Visit bbb.org or call 1-800-646-6222.
• Be wary of any deals that sound too good to be true.

If you’ve already provided your credit card number to the individuals behind this offer, contact your card issuer or financial institution immediately – as well as your local authorities – and monitor your statements closely.

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) launched its local Military Line program in May of 2012. In the three years since, it has reached 15,000 servicemembers, veterans, and their families at military events, expos and outreach efforts across Minnesota and North Dakota.

“There are many great organizations that provide support to our servicemembers and we are proud to stand among them,” said Lisa Jemtrud, Director of BBB’s Educational Foundation, the Institute for Marketplace Ethics. “What’s most gratifying to see is that more people are turning to us now when they have questions or need guidance. They’ve been introduced to our services and know we’re here for them.”

From Air Bases and National Guard armories to veteran Job Fairs to VA Medical Centers, as well as state and county fairs, MAC-V StandDown events and area schools and colleges, BBB’s Military Line program has traveled to where our veterans and servicemembers are in an effort to assist them in easing back to civilian life, navigating bureaucratic challenges and helping them become wiser consumers and avoid fraud.

Too often, fraudsters and their schemes target this demographic specifically. Payday loan schemes are among the biggest problem servicemembers face today as outstanding debts can directly affect their military career. Military supervisors and commanders are notified by creditors, which can lead to security clearances being put on hold or review. As a result, storefront lending agencies pop up near military installations touting loans in minutes with payback connected to the next payday. However, the contract’s fine print reveals interest rates from 36% to over 500%, depending on the state’s legislation governing payday loans. BBB works alongside other community resources and military financial counselors to direct debtors to other financial options that can assist them rather than driving them deeper into debt.

Other scams that commonly target veterans and servicemembers are identity theft, high interest car loans, unnecessary or overpriced burial packages and pension cash-out schemes that often hit veterans with fees and commissions that pay them far less than the total value of their pension payment.

BBB’s local Military Line program offers an expanding selection of practical, free educational courses and trainings for servicemembers and their families to help them steer clear of these schemes. Onsite trainings include: Avoiding Educational and Employment Scams; Smart Consumer; How to Buy a Used Car (for adults and teens) and Credit Matters – among others. If you’d like to learn more about BBB Military Line or schedule a training, contact Vicki Lokken-Paverud at 651-695-2428 or vicki.lokken-paverud@thefirstbbb.org

“We pride ourselves on going where our veterans and servicemembers are,” adds Jemtrud. “We’re here to serve those who serve and have served.”

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.

May is National Moving Month, which marks the start of the busiest time of year for Americans on the move. It also means a handful of unlicensed movers and dishonest operators are looking to take advantage of unwary consumers. In 2014, Better Business Bureau (BBB) received more than 1.5 million moving-related inquiries and 6,500 complaints against movers. Complaints included damaged or missing items, big price increases over originally quoted estimates, late deliveries, and goods being “held hostage” for additional – often disputed – payments.

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota and the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) offer important tips on how to avoid scams and find a trustworthy moving company:

Plan early. 37 million Americans move every year, most often in May. It’s a good idea to begin planning at least four weeks before your move.

Research the company thoroughly. While state regulations vary, all interstate movers must be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA assigns a unique motor carrier number that can be verified at protectyourmove.gov. You can also research companies for free at bbb.org

Get at least three written in-home estimates. Not all quotes online or over the phone are legitimate, and shady operators are not likely to send an estimator to your home in advance. Also, remember that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic, low-ball offer, which may well cost you more in the end.

Know your rights. Research your rights with either the FMCSA for interstate moves, or with the appropriate state agency for in-state moves. Interstate movers must give you two booklets detailing your rights. Also, enlist the help of BBB or local law enforcement if the company threatens to hold your belongings hostage.

Understand safe moving practices. Research how to correctly pack fragile belongings such as large mirrors, glassware, or electronics to avoid damaged belongings. Warn the moving company about any obstacles in the moving process, such as flights of stairs or narrow hallways.

Consider purchasing full value protection. This coverage may cost a few dollars more up front, but it can provide some peace of mind and eliminate headaches after your move. Purchasing full (replacement) value protection from your mover means any lost or damaged articles will be repaired or replaced, or a cash settlement will be made to repair the item or replace it at its current market value, regardless of age. It’s important to note that the required minimum coverage of 60 cents per pound would likely not cover, for example, the replacement cost of a flat panel TV if damaged in transit. The cost of full value protection must be included in the initial estimate you receive for an interstate move. FMCSA requires interstate movers to offer arbitration to help settle disputed claims.

To check out a mover near you, and for more helpful consumer tips, visit bbb.org, as well as AMSA’s website: moving.org.

For the latest fraud alerts and marketplace news, follow BBB on Facebook at facebook.com/thefirstbbb.

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.

Warmer temperatures are here, students are moving out of dorms and people of all ages have begun the process of searching for new apartments or rental properties. Whether you’re a student, relocating for work or simply looking for a new living space that better accommodates your needs, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds people it’s important to consider a wide variety of factors.

“The Internet makes it very easy to search for rental properties today,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “However, we still suggest onsite visits, to see apartments firsthand and weed out bogus rental ads created solely to defraud people.”

In an effort to help tenants avoid rental scams and narrow down their searches, BBB has compiled some helpful information and tips as a starting point for those that are in the market for a new place to live:

Do your research. Start with apartments or rentals that are centrally located by assessing how far your commute to work or school will be. A shorter commute will save you time and money. You can always research rental companies for free at bbb.org and go over customer reviews. According to Apartment Finder, 96 percent of apartment hunters said that online reviews influenced their decision when it came to choosing an apartment.

Review the lease before signing. It pays to be thorough when you’re reading a lease. Put a mark next to anything that you have questions about. If there’s something you wish to change in your lease agreement, it never hurts to ask. If there is an issue with the apartment that the landlord agrees to fix before you move in, be sure to get it in writing – including a date by which the repair or repairs will be completed.

Be careful on craigslist. If you take your apartment hunt to craigslist, some ads might ask the potential leaser to wire money in order to secure the rental. Never wire or forward funds to someone you don’t know and never agree to a rental without first inspecting the property in person.

Be aware that scammers will go to rental websites, copy the rental listing – including photos – and repost them to craigslist at a much lower cost. Renters should be wary of deals that sound too good to be true.

Budget for utilities. This includes cable, Internet, gas or electricity, water, trash pickup and pet fees. These things can add up quickly. Find out if any of these are covered by the landlord or apartment complex.

Take additional costs into consideration. Some rental properties might require an application fee upfront. This covers a background check – including your credit score, criminal record and rental history. These fees are usually nonrefundable, even if you’re not approved. If you are approved, you will likely be asked to pay a security deposit. Make sure you’re clear about the conditions under which that deposit is refundable.

In an effort to help apartment hunters steer clear of rental scams, BBB warns renters to watch out for situations where:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
• The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate solely through email. If the landlord claims they are unable to show you the apartment because they are traveling – or recently relocated due to work – this is often a sign it’s a scam.
• The listing contains misspellings or grammatical errors. In most cases, this means the ad was created by a scammer overseas, one who isn’t familiar with the nuances of the English language.
• High-pressure tactics are being used. Though the rental market is tight, there are always places for rent. Don’t be afraid to walk away you if you feel pressured to sign a lease. Ask for a copy of the lease agreement and give yourself enough time to review it in detail, including the fine print.
For the latest consumer news, fraud alerts and free BBB Business Reviews 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 alerting the public to mailings inviting people to participate in a marketing study. For their participation, they are told, they will “pick up a free Android Table Computer.’ BBB is warning consumers that this offer has hit other markets and BBB of Central Ohio recently discovered that these offers are often linked to subsidiary companies which attempt to get consumers to join travel clubs that may cost thousands of dollars.

The mailings in this case are being issued by a firm called Apex Market Exploration, which claims an address in downtown Minneapolis. BBB has learned the address on file for the company is a full-service executive suite that can be leased on either a short or long-term basis. The webmaster for Apex’s website is Dudley Media Group, located in Nevada. BBB of Southern Nevada maintains the BBB Business Review for that company – http://www.bbb.org/southern-nevada/business-reviews/online-publications/dudley-media-group-in-las-vegas-nv-90025344.

“As with any unsolicited offers that sound too good to be true, BBB advises caution,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “There are a lot of unknowns here and the idea of getting something for nothing generally always comes with strings attached.”

Apex Market Exploration’s mailing asks people to complete a simple, nine-question survey – which is enclosed with the letter – after they have ‘received and tested [the] Android Tablet.’ However, the tablet is not included. The letter also claims people are under no obligation to pay, purchase or subscribe to anything to receive the tablet. It’s also alleged there is no cost for shipping and handling.

Despite these claims, BBB research has determined that a similar offer – one with the same basic survey and also with ties to Dudley Media Group – hit the Tampa Bay area last May. A news report from that region found consumers were reporting they were not receiving the tablets they were promised. In that same news report, a marketing professor reviewed the survey and found it unlikely that a manufacturer would give away a tablet which costs $100 to $300 just for answering nine basic questions.

“There are other curious aspects to this offer,” added Badgerow. “If the company is located here in Minnesota, why was the letter a consumer received postmarked Dallas, Texas?”

BBB recently secret-shopped Apex Market Exploration and a company representative indicated the free tablet offer is connected to Elite Access Network in Louisiana. BBB of Louisiana is reporting that company is also tied to Dudley Media Group.

BBB will continue to try to learn more about Apex Market Exploration. Consumers are encouraged to research companies at bbb.org, and reminded that it’s always a good idea to ask a lot of questions and be clear on all of the terms of any offer – solicited or unsolicited – they receive.

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.