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.

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) and representatives from the home health care industry convened a series of meetings recently designed to study complaints common to that industry and develop a list of agreed-upon best practices and self-regulatory standards. The group’s aim is to reduce complaints in the industry by helping business peers reach a consensus and by educating consumers. Industry review is a core service offered by BBB. Other industries which have worked with BBB include: carpet cleaning, used car sales, gold buyers, hearing aid, estate sales and many more.

“BBB generally convenes industry review groups at the request of business owners in a given industry or if BBB notices a pattern of complaints emerging within an industry,” said Karen Thompson, BBB Advertising Review Manager. “In this case, questions we were receiving from seniors we work with through our outreach program led to this industry group being formed.”

All Minnesota and North Dakota businesses in the home care industry were invited to participate and the meetings began last November, concluding in January. Feedback, input and ideas were gathered from business owners in the home health care field that chose to participate in this process. Based on an overall review of the industry, as well as discussions which took place within these meetings, the group developed both a list of best practices for the industry and also tips for consumers who are seeking to enlist the services of a home care provider which best suits their needs.

Home health care is available for all ages and varieties of needs. The primary focus is on the care and needs of the client. Services range from non-medical caregivers to skilled and licensed medical caregivers. Medical caregivers provide assistance to clients with medical needs requiring the skills of trained professionals such as registered nurses. Non-medical caregivers help clients with personal care and companionship.

Home health care services are provided to individuals in their home, wherever that may be; private home, apartment, independent or assisted living facility. Home health care services range from periodic “as needed” visits to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A BBB brochure encompassing the best practices and self-regulatory standards which came out of the home health care industry group has been mailed out to home health care providers in Minnesota and North Dakota. In addition, a separate brochure containing tips on choosing a home health care provider will be available to consumers through BBB and distributed at BBB events throughout the region. Both sets of materials are also available on BBB’s website – bbb.org

“The home health care industry will continue to grow,” added Thompson. “We’re hoping the efforts of this industry group will give people a better understanding of all of the many different aspects of it.”

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 once again calling for nominations for the premier award in business ethics – BBB’s Torch Award for Ethics. BBB Torch Awards for Ethics recognize area companies which lead by way of example through the display of outstanding ethics in their dealings with customers, employees, vendors and within their communities.

All for-profit businesses of any size, owned or operated in Minnesota or North Dakota, are eligible. Nominees must be in good standing with the BBB; however BBB Accreditation is not a requirement to compete for the award. This year’s Torch Awards for Ethics nomination deadline is May 5, 2015.

“Our Torch Awards for Ethics recognize companies which set the bar in terms of service and overall excellence,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They honor the hard work and commitment of ethical business owners and the dedication of the people they employ.”

Companies can be nominated online by visiting thefirstbbb.org/nominate or by sending the company name, contact name, address, phone number, and email along with the nominator’s name and phone number to: BBB, Attn: Mackenzie Kelley, 220. S. River Ridge Circle, Burnsville, MN 55337; or by faxing the information to 651-695-2487. Nominations for the 2015 BBB Torch Awards for Ethics are open to the public. Business owners or employees may also nominate their own firms.

Entrants are judged on six areas of their business: Leadership Commitment to Ethics; Communications of Ethical Practices; Organizational Commitment to Ethical Practice; Organizational Commitment to Performance Management Practices; Organizational Commitment to Ethical Human Resource Practices; and Organizational Commitment to the Community.
“We know the business community in Minnesota and North Dakota is a constellation comprised of upstanding firms which operate with integrity and ethics,” added Badgerow. “These awards salute those companies which shine brightest among us.”

Nominated companies will receive an official entry form from BBB. An independent panel of judges will decide the award finalists and recipients. Winners will be announced live at BBB’s 2015 Torch Awards for Ethics ceremony on October 29, which will be held at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center.

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.

 

Unsolicited telephone calls, pre-approved credit card offers and unwanted texts and emails – many containing misleading offers – are not only annoying, they can sometimes lead to identity theft. While it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate junk mail, spam text messages and unwanted phone calls, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) suggests some steps you can take to get your inboxes and phone lines under control.

“Here in the Upper Midwest, Spam means a classic Austin, Minnesota offering,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Minnesota and North Dakota. “But on the Internet and through texting, messages – classified as spam – sent indiscriminately to large groups of people have caused security issues.”

To reduce the number of unwanted solicitations you receive, BBB advises the following:

– Set up a 2nd email account – Use one of your accounts for personal email and the other to sign up for special offers or discount cards. Also, provide as little personal information as possible. Just because a website or retailer asks for your address, telephone numbers or email address doesn’t mean you are obligated to provide them.

– Stop pre-approved credit card offers at optoutprescreen.com – Pre-approved credit card offers are an easy target for identity thieves who can steal incoming mail and use these offers to open fraudulent credit accounts. You can “opt-out” of receiving pre-approved credit card offers for at least five years by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visiting: optoutprescreen.com. This service is offered by the three major credit reporting bureaus.

– Put the brakes on unwanted marketing mail -To stop most mailings, visit dmachoice.org and opt-out of mail from members of the Direct Marketing Association. DMA regularly updates its list, but it may take up to six months before solicitations from all DMA members stop.

– Reduce telemarketing calls – The National Do Not Call Registry is a free, convenient way to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive at home and on your cellphone. To register a phone number or find out more about the registry, visit donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will receive fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number. Although this will not stop illegal calls, it allows you to file a complaint when the caller is identifiable.

– Ignore unsolicited text messages – Telemarketing calls and text messaging to cell phones are illegal, unless you grant permission. If you receive an unwanted marketing text message, contact your wireless provider to get any charges for the text removed, and to block the sender’s number. BBB recommends against responding to spam texts or doing anything to ‘opt-out’ of such offers, because doing so confirms yours is a working number and might open the door for more unwanted text messages.

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 start of spring and the promise of warmer weather to come kindles enthusiasm in many people to create more organized living and work spaces But when it comes time to actually do the work, we realize organization takes more patience than some of us have and a professional organizer might be helpful. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers tips to home and business owners before hiring someone to come into their space to sort through valuables and confidential paperwork.

“Getting things organized can be a daunting task but one that often helps us feel much happier in our surroundings,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It’s a good idea to be clear about what an organizer does – and doesn’t – do, and how he or she operates before you allow them access to your home or business.”

The following tips were compiled by Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota in consultation with the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO)-Minnesota Chapter (which represents Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Northwestern Wisconsin):

• Check out companies at bbb.org before signing a contract.
• Ask the organizer if they are a member of NAPO MN and about their credentials, experience and training.
• Find out if the organizer is insured.
• Ask the organizer to explain their process so you can gain a clear understanding of what they do and how they go about doing it.
• Ask how you can best prepare for a professional organizer to come to your home or workplace. Find out specifically what the organizer needs from you (you may need to commit personal time to get your home prepared for the organization process).
• Ask about the fee structure – is it by the job or by the hour? Be clear about your budget and do not sign any contracts until you fully understand what is or isn’t included in the service.
• Ask for clarification on what their services include, for example, purchasing of supplies for the organization process.
• Think about what kind of person you want to work with (example: will you work best in a drill sergeant environment or with someone who treats you like a friend?). Ask the potential organizer about their style.
• Ask for an estimate on how long the projects you have in mind will take to complete. Inquire about what might change/modify the timeline.
• Find out how the organizer disposes of items removed from your home or office and if there are additional fees (are the items recycled, donated, shredded?). Make sure you feel comfortable with the plan – especially if items are personal or confidential in nature.
• You can also visit napomn.com to review their code of ethics and to search for an organizer.

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.

 

Websites such as craigslist continue to be a top resource for people looking to buy and sell used – and unused – merchandise or household goods. While most transactions are successful and bargains can be found, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds people it’s important to exercise caution and take steps to ensure your personal safety.

“Everyone loves a bargain and online sites like craigslist certainly provide a service,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “However, there have been instances locally and nationwide which have led to tragic outcomes. We urge people to be vigilant.”

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind when buying or selling from private parties online:

• Try to deal with local buyers and sellers.
• Never wire funds.
• Don’t give out any personal or financial information.
• Never accept money orders and be leery of cashier checks, as both are easy to forge. If you cash a fake money order or cashier check, the bank will hold you responsible when it discovers it is fraudulent.
• Apartment or home rentals should be thoroughly checked out and inspected in person before money is put down.
• Consider the risks involved with selling a high value item yourself vs. dealing with a reputable pawn shop, consignment or secondhand store. Is it worth it?

The following are red flags, signs you’re likely dealing with someone using craigslist to defraud people:

• The buyer or seller is from another country.
• The buyer or seller will not meet with you and will only communicate via email.
• The buyer offers to overpay the asking price and requests that you wire the extra funds back to him/her or a third party.

The riskiest part of buying or selling something through craigslist (or other online e-commerce sites) is the in-person meeting to complete the transaction. Here are some tips to ensure your transaction goes safely and smoothly:

• Set up meetings during daytime hours and in a public place (coffee shop, restaurant).
• Consider bringing a friend or family member with you if you have safety concerns.
• If the seller insists you come to their home or apartment, always think of your safety first and trust your instincts. If you don’t like the direction things are taking, walk away.
• Check around and see if there are any businesses in your area which act as brokers for online sales; firms that help ensure safety for both buyers and sellers and collect a commission on the sale of items.

As in life, most of the people you deal with when buying or selling items on sites like craigslist are honest. However, there are those who see these sites as an opportunity to commit crimes. BBB advises everyone who uses websites like these to make sure they’re doing everything they can to protect themselves.

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.

 

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, which ran from March 1 through March 7, several area organizations partnered to produce a series of animated digital shorts aimed at combating fraud in fast-growing Spanish, Hmong and Somali-speaking segments of our community. The theme of the videos is “Be Wise about Senior Fraud,” and they began airing March 2nd on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt).

This initiative was made possible through a grant provided by Greater Twin Cities United Way. Additional partnering organizations include: ECHO Minnesota, AARP Minnesota, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB), Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, Minnesota Board on Aging, Minnesota Department of Commerce and tpt.

Four versions of the videos were produced – in Somali, Spanish, Hmong and Basic English – and their purpose is to inform senior citizens and their loved ones about the risks and prevalence of fraud against seniors, as well tactics scammers use, and arm them with tips for avoiding these scams. The videos will also encourage people to report such scams to the authorities.

“Financial exploitation of older adults is an increasing problem that impacts the ability for these adults to remain independent. We’re proud to partner with ECHO Minnesota – an expert in education and outreach, along with a broader coalition of partners – to raise awareness about fraud prevention. Providing valuable resources to emerging populations statewide leads to stronger communities,” said United Way Senior Vice President of Community Impact, Meghan Barp.

Minority segments within our communities are at increased risk of falling victim to scams due to language, literacy and cultural barriers. In an effort to reach populations with limited English proficiency, the videos are narrated by multilingual ambassadors. All four videos will air on tpt’s Minnesota Channel, as part of a half-hour program titled Echo: Be Wise about Senior Fraud. They will be re-broadcast several times throughout the year. In addition, the partners behind this initiative will work with community leaders statewide to spread this message. The videos will also be posted on their respective websites.

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.

 

Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see messages which threaten people with fines or prison unless they pay up. These viruses encrypt – lock up – files on affected computers, holding them hostage, hence its name: ransomware. These viruses are spread through malicious links in emails or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and also advice on what to do if your computer is affected by it.

People who have been victimized by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for differing amounts of money and some have claimed to be from the FBI, local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Users are told they need to pay requested amounts via prepaid debit cards or Bitcoin (a virtual currency) or they will be locked out of their computers permanently. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, these messages are all fraudulent.

“This scam is both insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or locking screens to make computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Even so, the FBI is advising consumers not to pay these ransoms and we advise the same.”

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

The FBI recently issued a warning that scammers are now utilizing a tactic called “drive-by” ransomware, which is generally transmitted by deceptive emails or pop-up windows. In some of these cases, scammers are pressuring victims to pay ransom with Bitcoin. This form of payment has become increasingly popular for scammers because of how difficult it can be to trace.

One of the newest versions of ransomware is CryptoWall. Victims are infected with CryptoWall by clicking on links in malicious emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses and through compromised advertisements on popular websites. Another growing problem is ransomware that locks down mobile phones. Just as with computers, it’s important to avoid questionable websites when surfing the Internet on your smartphone.

To avoid ransomware, consumers should:

• Make sure their computer has the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
• Avoid questionable websites and don’t be lured in by pop-up windows.
• Don’t open attachments in unsolicited emails, even if they come from people you know and trust. Better to be safe than sorry.
• Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
• Use the same precautions on your smartphone as you would on your computer when surfing the internet
• Watch out for scams disguised as apps. Be sure to download apps through the official Apple App or Google Play Stores. Stay clear of discontinued apps and make sure to read the user reviews.

If your computer or smartphone becomes infected by viruses of this nature, contact a tech expert immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.

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.