BBB offers tips to secure your online safety on Social Media Day

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the fast-paced world we live in today, it is no surprise social media has its own day of recognition. On June 30, people around the world celebrate the impact social media has made on society.

Not only is social media used as a way to connect with family and friends, but is a tool businesses use to market its brand and network with consumers and other businesses. In honor of Mashable’s sixth annual Social Media Day, your BBB has helpful tips to keep you safe online.

BBB advises consumers to read the privacy policy on social media sites. The privacy policy tells you exactly what the site can and will do with your personal information, including information and photos you share.

Check your privacy settings and limit your profile to be viewed by only the people you trust and know.

Be careful when entering sensitive information like credit card numbers and don’t overshare.

Think twice before posting vacation plans or other personal information, as scammers and thieves could take advantage while you are away.

Keep in mind that what is posted on the Internet stays on the Internet. Always ask yourself if what you are posting should be seen by your boss or a future boss.

For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org/central-texas. For the latest news and information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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BBB warns of scams that target senior citizens

ID-10090006We all love Grandma, don’t we? She’s always been there for us. Unfortunately, scammers love Grandma too, but for the wrong reasons. Scam artists often target seniors because they’re more likely to be home – possibly even alone – and may have some money saved up.

Last year, there were nearly 215,000 complaints of fraud and identity theft from victims over the age of 60, according to the 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network. BBB encourages senior citizens to be aware of scams or fraud schemes that can affect them. It’s also important for families to keep the lines of communication open regarding finances and common scams targeting their elderly loved ones.

Some common scams that target senior citizens include:

Grandparent scam: Also called an “emergency scam.” Scammers will place a call to a senior posing as their grandchild or a relative in need of help or trapped in a foreign country. They will usually ask for cash to solve the problem and ask for payment through a money wiring service. Some red flags to look out for include urgent callers pressuring quick action and callers claiming to be in Canada or another international location.

Health care or insurance fraud: Scammers may pose as a Medicare or insurance representative to get seniors to give them their personal or financial information. This was a popular scam recently with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Foreign lottery scam: This scam will sometimes include a very real looking check and many times will ask you to pay a “tax” or “fee” on your winnings. Most will originate from Canada, Ireland, Spain, the Caribbean or Nigeria. They will come in numerous variations and are illegal in the U.S. So, remember if you’ve truly won, you shouldn’t need to pay.

Home repair scam: Many senior citizens may be physically incapable of making home repairs; therefore, many scammers will use this disability as an opportunity to take advantage of you. Be wary of people who ask you to get the required permits, pressure for an immediate decision or demand cash only or full payment up-front. Try to ask a lot of questions.

To avoid falling for scams like these, BBB offer this advice to seniors and their families:

  • Start with Trust.Find a business you can trust by doing your research first through bbb.org.
  • Beware of high pressure sales tactics. If someone is pressuring you to make an on-the-spot decision without allowing you to research first, be prepared to walk away from the offer.
  • Be wary of unsolicited correspondence. Do not verify or give out personal information through email or over the phone unless you have confirmed the identity of the caller on the other line. Also, consider registering your phone number with the National Do-Not-Call registry at donotcall.gov.
  • Use secure payment methods. Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know. Use a credit card for additional protection. Also, be wary of requests for a large lump sum of money in advance of work or products.
  • Safeguard your personal information.Avoid sharing your Social Security Number, financial information, birth date or address with an unknown source.
  • Report fraud. If you think you may have fallen victim to a fraud, contact your BBB online or over the phone at 512-445-2911. You can also file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office or report it to your local FBI office.
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Wire fraud scam targets real estate buyers in Texas

scam alert 150x150BBB and the Texas Association of REALTORS® warns consumers of online real estate scams

It all started with one click. A few emails later, $50,000 was gone and a Texas realty company became the latest victim of a widespread wire fraud scam.

The Story

Earlier this year, a Texas realty company found out that one of their agent’s buyers was deceived into wiring closing funds to a bank account the buyer assumed was the Realtor’s.
The scam was set in motion when the agent’s assistant opened a link from an email she believed was from a legitimate website. The link directed the assistant to a website that looked similar to a site she intended to go to. Not realizing the website was fraudulent, the assistant entered her login information.

Once the con artists had access to the assistant’s email account, they were able to access all contacts, including potential home buyers. The scammers created a new email address that mirrored the assistant’s, but with a slight variation.

The scammers — who were operating out of California — emailed the buyer and directed them to wire money to the realty company’s bank account, which really belonged to the con artists. The scammers then forged the agent’s signature and ultimately made off with $50,000.

The scam that affected this Texas realty company occurred because of phishing — a way to obtain important information like usernames and passwords through email. Hackers target individuals or send out mass emails and see who will take the bait. Typically, you can spot a phishing email due to improper grammar or misspelling. With this scam, the hackers knew how real estate transactions worked and used proper grammar and spelling. While there are certain tools you can use to heighten your security, most phishing scams are successful because of a person’s actions, not a failure of technology or because of a certain email service.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin provides tools online to help consumers protect themselves from con artists. Consumers can report a scam or find scams by using BBB’s Scam Tracker. It shows scams reported nationwide on an interactive map. Consumers can navigate the site and find scams near them by clicking state by state. Scam Tracker also includes trending scam types, which are scams published in the last three days.

To protect yourself against online scams, your BBB and the Texas Association of REALTORS® recommends:

• Secure everything. This includes your network and various devices you use to access the Internet. Install antivirus software and keep it up-to-date.
• Communicate with your agent in person or by phone. Avoid communicating only via email to protect yourself from potential online scams and miscommunication.
• Don’t open unfamiliar emails. Beware of unusual requests, like when a business contact wants to start using a personal email address after always using a company email address. Do not click on unfamiliar links as this is sometimes a way for scammers to obtain your information.
• Never wire money. Never wire a large sum of money to someone else’s account. Write a check or pay with a credit card. Once money is wired, it is almost impossible to trace where it ends up, much less recover it.
• File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and your BBB. The FBI recommends businesses that are victims of a scam file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, also known as IC3. The IC3, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, investigates complaints about criminal Internet activity. You can also report a scam with your BBB at bbb.org/central-texas.

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BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers giving tips following Charleston tragedy

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the wake of the horrific shooting that killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) is warning about the potential for fundraising scams. BBB WGA urges donors to beware of the different circumstances that often emerge in tragedy-related philanthropy.

“The hate crime that is being called the ‘Charleston massacre’ is such a shocking and emotional event,” said Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB WGA, the national charity monitoring arm of Better Business Bureau.

“Many people are going to want to donate to the families of the victims, the historic church and the community,” Taylor said. “We are warning donors to be on the lookout for questionable solicitors and scammers, not to mention people who might have good intentions but no experience with charity fundraising.”

BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others. Here are BBB WGA’s tips for trusted giving:

  • Thoughtful giving. Take time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.
  • Respecting victims and their families. Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities fundraising for the victims of previous shootings did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.
  • How will donations be used? Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.
  • What if a family sets up its own assistance fund? Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling and other tragedy-related needs).
  • Advocacy organizations. Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly-created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.
  • Online cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
  • Financial transparency. After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
  • Newly created or established organizations. This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly-formed organization may be well-intentioned but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.
  • Tax deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep in mind they may take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

ABOUT BBB WISE GIVING ALLIANCE: BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) is a standards-based charity evaluator that seeks to verify the trustworthiness of nationally-soliciting charities by completing rigorous evaluations based on 20 holistic standards that address charity governance, effectiveness reporting, finances, fund raising, appeal accuracy, and other issues. Learn more about the 20 BBB Charity Standards and about local charity review at local Better Business Bureaus at Give.org.

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Scammers impersonate Publishers Clearing House, BBB

ID-100297158Scammers can be persistent, so it’s a good idea to be on your guard. A Waco-area woman recently received two calls from scammers who lied about who they were in an attempt to get her money. Luckily, she figured it out, didn’t get scammed and reported it to Your BBB.

First, they tried it the “nice” way. They told her she had won a big prize from Publishers Clearinghouse, but in order to collect her winnings, she needed to pay a fee. She told them she couldn’t afford the fee and hung up.

Then she got a call from a scary guy who called himself “Officer Branch from the BBB” who told her BBB was over Publisher’s Clearinghouse and if she didn’t pay the fee, the person called about the prize would be jailed. She hung up, but they kept calling, so she changed her number.

Next, the “BBB Officer,” who had apparently done some research on the would-be victim, called her apartment office saying her son was in jail and she needed to pay $20,000 to get him out–she doesn’t have a son by the name the scammer gave.

The number was from Jamaica, according to the Caller ID. I called and asked the man who answered if he was Officer Branch with the BBB and he said yes and asked me what I wanted.

He sounded pretty authoritative until I told him I was with Better Business Bureau and asked for his city, contact info and supervisor’s name, etc. Then he hung up pretty quick. Hopefully that convinced him to leave that poor woman alone, but I don’t have much faith that he’ll quit the scamming business altogether.

Two major points from that story:

  • Better Business Bureau is not a government agency with any type of police powers. We can’t arrest or jail anyone. We don’t have anything to do with sweepstakes We’re a reporting organization. We also don’t approve loans or have anything to do with collecting debts. I’ve run across claims like that before from scammers. Using a trusted organization as cover is a common tool for scammers. If anyone calls with prize offers or threats and claims to be with BBB, hang up and report it to the BBB Scam Tracker (which is a good resource to see what scams are being reported throughout the U.S.)
  • Publisher’s Clearinghouse doesn’t call or ask for payment before awarding prizes. Publishers Clearing House has a blog post about how to recognize fake PCH award scams: Five Ways to Know If It’s a Publishers Clearing House Scam.

BBB offers advice on what you can do to avoid scams like the attempt described above:

  • Don’t be pressured. Often scammers will try to pressure you into making fast decisions.
  • Don’t expect to win a contest you never entered. You can only win a sweepstakes you enter. If you have entered a sweepstakes, keep track of who you’re entering with.
  • A true sweepstakes will not make its winner pay fees. If you are asked to mail or wire money to pay fees or taxes, you’re looking at a scam. Legitimate prizes do not come with processing fees and taxes are paid directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after winnings are collected.
  • Do your research. Take time to research the organization. Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.
  • Don’t provide personal information. Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
  • Verify the source. If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.
  • Do not wire money. Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person. Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.
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FTC returns money to consumers affected by mortgage relief scheme

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is returning money to consumers who lost money in a loan modification scheme. The FTC won a court action against Jackson, Crowder & Associates and Crowder Law Group and is sending out more than $467,000 to consumers.

The FTC alleges the defendants charged large upfront fees for mortgage relief services that were not delivered. According to the FTC, the defendants falsely promised to modify mortgages and substantially reduce monthly payments. The defendants also allegedly pretended to be affiliated with a government agency and exaggerated the role an attorney would play.

If you’re one of those affected, visit this FTC webpage for more information.

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Dealing with mold after weeks of rain

Image courtesy of antpkr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Got mold? Last month, severe storms and flash flooding affected several areas of Central Texas. Many of those affected are now dealing with a common result of water damage: mold. Mold is a factor consumers may not immediately consider, but one that can cause serious structure damage and health problems if it is not taken care of.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold reproduces by releasing tiny spores that float through the air, invisible to the naked eye. It is able to grow anywhere a food source, oxygen and moisture are present, and is especially prevalent after extensive rain or flooding. Excess moisture in homes and businesses due to flooding is a cause for concern because it provides breeding conditions for mold.

It is important to act quickly when cleaning and repairing a home or business after flooding because the longer it grows, the more damage it can cause. Also, remember that if you clean up the mold but don’t fix the water problem, the mold will most likely come back.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin offers the following advice if you think you may have mold:

  • Inspect for moisture problems and document results. According to the EPA, consumers should inspect the interior and exterior of the building, whether it is a business or home. Look for evidence of moisture and mold problems like water damage or stains on the walls or ceilings, foundation cracks that leak water and peeling paint. Also, check for visible mold growth, wet or damp spots and a musty odor.
  • Discard items with visible signs of mold growth. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to salvage items with mold growth (sofas, mattresses, carpeting, towels, etc.), especially if they have been wet for more than 48 hours and not properly dried. Solid wood furniture can be saved if surface cleaning removes any signs of mold. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Know your risks and possible side effects. There are several health risks associated with mold and mold growth. Many people may experience allergic reactions and other respiratory issues when mold is present. Exposure to mold can cause symptoms such as eye irritation, wheezing and skin irritation. Extreme reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Mold can also trigger asthma episodes.
  • Know what types of molds exist. While there are many classifications of mold, aspergillus mold is the most common household mold, found in almost any home or office, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are the most studied molds in medical research, and are associated with numerous respiratory disorders. Stachybotrys molds grow on material such as wood, paper and cardboard. Commonly called “black mold,” this mold requires very wet or high, humid conditions for days or weeks in order to grow.
  • Be Proactive. To control mold growth, control moisture. If you notice a leak in your shower faucet or sink, repair it immediately to avoid the ideal habitat for mold. Clean and dry any wet or damp surfaces within 24 to 48 hours. Vent bathrooms, kitchens and other moisture-generating sources to reduce indoor humidity and prevent mold growth.

If you do have mold, BBB advises:

  • Do your research before hiring a mold remediation business or contractor. In 2014, BBB received several consumer complaints nationwide against Mold and Mildew Inspection/Removal/Remediation. Most complaints reported problems with service, repair and billing. Ask for referrals from friends and family and make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold.
  • Compare prices and services. Get at least three estimates for any service you would like provided. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used. Make sure the contract includes any verbal promises the contractor made and details on any guarantees.
  • Plan the remediation before starting work. Asses the size of the mold and/or moisture problem and the type of damaged materials before planning the remediation work. The remediation plan should include steps to fix the water or moisture problem and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Mold remediation may include temporary relocation of some or all of the building occupants, especially when dealing with aspergillus mold at a business location. If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
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BBB Investigation: Vacation dreams turn to nightmares as company takes payments, doesn’t provide promised services

ID-100169130Best Holiday Club Marketing Club promises to resell timeshares, doesn’t follow through

People who own timeshares often find it difficult to sell them later on, so an offer to find a buyer in exchange for an advance payment can be tempting.

Unfortunately, according to consumers who complained to Better Business Bureau, a company called Best Holiday Club Marketing took thousands in advance payments and produced nothing but excuses and empty promises.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received several complaints against Best Holiday Club Marketing in the last year. The business has so far not responded to any complaints. Consumers report losing between $3,000 and $37,000 to the company.

According to bhclubmarketing.com, Best Holiday Club Marketing (BHC) claims to be located in Laredo, Texas, with an office in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, mail sent to the Laredo address came back undeliverable. Also, the company that leases office space at the stated Charlotte address stated to BBB that BHC is not located in their facility.

A BBB investigator spoke to a BHC employee on May 19. The employee, who said she was in the Laredo office, said she wasn’t in the part of the building that receives mail. She stated, “We don’t normally receive postal mail,” and said to send correspondence via email.

Several complainants told BBB the company first contacted them at resorts in Mexico and were told the company would sell their timeshares within 90 days. In exchange, they were told to purchase a travel plan from a Miami-based company called Vacation Getaway. (Vacation Getaway, which has a website at http://www.v-getaway.com, should not to be confused with Vacation Getaways in Dublin, California, which has a different website, http://www.vacationgetawayincentives.com.)

A BBB investigator contacted Vacation Getaway in Miami by phone. The representative refused to state whether their company was affiliated with BHC without a contract number. When the investigator stated he didn’t have a contract, the call was disconnected and subsequent calls disconnected automatically. According to a web search, the Miami address listed on the website may be a virtual office.

Valerie Galloway of San Diego, California, said she and her husband were approached by representatives of Best Holiday Marketing Club while they were staying at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in September, 2014. In an unusual circumstance, the couple was actually paid $400 to attend a presentation. The end result was a serious net loss, however. During the presentation, BHC representatives claimed to be able to sell people’s timeshares within 90 days if they agreed to sign up for a travel-related service. According to Galloway, after paying $4,000, their timeshares were not sold and the business first gave excuses, then quit returning messages.

“Best Holiday Club Marketing promised to sell my timeshare,” Galloway said. “I was in contact with Best Holiday Club for the first 90 days. They gave me the runaround. Lots of excuses. Then they never got back to me. I then called because I wanted to cash out my timeshares and get my money back. They gave me the runaround again. I never got my money back.”

Billie Mace and her husband were vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in July 2014, when they were convinced to attend a meeting, where they were told Best Holiday Club Marketing would buy their timeshares if they bought into a vacation company. They paid $13,950 and were told BHC would sell their timeshares within 90 days for at least $31,400. After more than 10 months, Billie says she and her husband have not received any money for their timeshares.

“We thought we were selling our timeshares for all this money, for $31,400 and after buying into the vacation club we would get the difference back and not have to pay maintenance fees,” Mace said. “I paid them $13,950 right up front. They took our credit cards right then.” She said her attempts to get answers have been met with excuses. “Every call I made, it was a put-off.”

BBB has the following advice for consumers who want to sell their timeshares:

Verify a physical address. Be sure to confirm the business’s physical address. Some unethical businesses claim addresses that don’t exist or that belong to other businesses.

Look at the fees. Avoid businesses that ask for an “appraisal” fee or closing costs upfront. In a normal transaction, closing and transfer fees are paid by the purchaser, not the seller and are paid upon closing, not at the beginning of the transaction. Beware of businesses that quote you large upfront fee and then slightly decrease it to seem like a “good deal.” Search for a business that will allow you to pay for the fees after the timeshare has been sold. Never wire money and be sure to ask what fees will be included in the cost and if they are refundable.

Do not be pressured. Do not agree to anything that is presented over the phone. Before agreeing to anything, take your time to think about your decision. Ask the salesperson to send you written information. Do not be pressured by a salesperson that claims your property can be sold immediately.

Read the contract carefully. The contact should include: what services the broker provides, how much and when the costs should be paid, a length of time to sell the timeshare, and the refund and guarantee policy. Make sure the contact states who is responsible for the sale.

Avoid “too good to be true” offers. Know the estimated value of the timeshare before bringing it to be sold.  If the deal the business offers sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Don’t get tricked by a fake hotel booking website!

scam alert 150x150Taking a vacation this summer? Be extra careful when booking accommodations online. Fake websites appear to offer travelers a convenient way to reserve hotel rooms, but they are just making money for scammers.

How the Scam Works:

You are planning a trip and need to book a hotel room. You see an online ad promoting hotel rooms at a cheap price, and you click it. You are directed to a website that looks legitimate. It may have a URL similar to the real hotel website or established third-party booking site, such as Hotels.com or Expedia.com. The website may also use the same logo, colors and/or design of the legitimate site.

The website might look okay, but it’s a fraud. Scammers are creating fake hotel booking websites to steal money from travelers. Some scam sites make money by tacking on additional fees, but others charge you for a room that simply doesn’t exist. In any case, sharing your credit card and personal information (such as name, address and phone number) on scam websites puts you at risk for identity theft.

How to Spot a Fake Website:

1. Don’t believe what you see: The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website.

2. Look out for fake contact info: Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.

3. Double check the URLs. Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.co)

4. Look for a secure connection. Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock icon.

5. Watch for too good to be true deals. Be sure to comparison shop and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.

For More Information

To learn more, check out this alert and infographic from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam).

NOTE: Hotels.com and Expedia.com are BBB Accredited Businesses.

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BBB advises caution when donating to help Central Texas flood victims

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Central Texas and other areas experienced devastating floods over the Memorial Day weekend. The disaster took lives and destroyed a tremendous amount of property.

There are plenty of good-hearted people who want to help. Unfortunately, there are also bad actors out there who could potentially steal donations intended for victims.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin advises consumers to donate to charities listed with BBB Wise Giving Alliance. American Red Cross is an Accredited Charity with WGA and accepting donations at www.Redcross.org/charitable-donations.

Tips for giving with confidence:

  • Thoughtful Giving.Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort.
  • Help spread the Wise Giving Word. Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well.
  • What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Some families may set up their own assistance funds. Such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling and other tragedy-related needs.)
  • Online Cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
  • Financial Transparency. After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
  • Newly Created or Established Organizations. This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning, but will be difficult to check out and may not be well-managed.
  • Tax Deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

Disasters like the recent floods can also bring out scam artists who target the victims themselves, especially as people clean up homes with water damage. BBB has the following advice for people dealing with water damage.

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