BBB Tip: “Shop Small” on Small Business Saturday


Small Business Saturday was started by American Express in November of 2010. The purpose is for consumers to support their local businesses during the holiday season. According to the SBS Consumer Insights Survey, shoppers spent an estimated $14.3 billion dollars at small businesses during last year’s event.

Better Business Bureau is pleased to support Small Business Saturday for the fourth year, and urges consumers to support small businesses in their community.

BBB offers the following tips when you “shop small” on Small Business Saturday:

Get involved. Many communities are hosting special events, and being involved in SBS shows that you support the businesses that make your community unique. Find out what local events are happening in your area on the Small Business Saturday website or check with our local chamber or merchants’ association.

Do your research. Check out businesses ahead of time and find out what past customers have to say at Find out what stores and businesses in your area are participating in Small Business Saturday by going to

Sign-up for email alerts. Many stores have Small Business Saturday specials just for people who have signed up to receive their emails.

Check social media. Many smallbusinesses will advertise their SBS sales via social media, so be sure to check your favorite small businesses on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Use #ShopSmall to search for information or to share plans with your friends.

Invite your friends and family. Turn this shopping event into a family/friend extravaganza! Visit your favorite local stores, try some new ones, get a head start on the holidays and enjoy time with loved ones.

Ask for gift receipts and save warranty information. A gift receipt can be tucked into a gift item or card so that the recipient can return or exchange a gift if it’s not just right. Be sure to pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs, and warranties to the person who will use the item.




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Texas Attorney General shuts down veteran charity organization

The Texas Attorney General has announced its shutting down a veteran’s charity organization that used little of the money it raised to help veterans in need.

According to the AG’s office, Veterans Support Organization and four of its officers raised more than $2.5 million in Texas from 2010 to 2012. However, 70% of the funds were sent to Florida, where VSO was headquartered, and Rhode Island where it was incorporated. The organization had told donors their money would benefit veterans in need.

“Donors have one thing in mind when they donate to charities: helping people in need,” said Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The AG’s investigation also found that VSO’s  “work program” for veterans was structured panhandling, whereby anyone, veteran or non-veteran, could sign on to solicit funds for VSO. Plus, their “housing program” that was designed to get homeless veterans off the streets was just a room rental to VSO’s workers who had to pay rent to VSO or be evicted.

“It is particularly outrageous that VSO cheated veterans in need of help and those good citizens who wanted to help them. Bad actors like these not only take advantage of people’s good intentions, they damage the good reputations of other charities that are operating in good faith,” said Attorney General Paxton.

Under the final judgment and permanent injunction, VSO has to withdraw their registrations and filings in Texas. The company’s officers are permanently banned from engaging in the following activities in Texas:

  • Owning, operating, or managing charities, or any other entity that engages in charitable solicitations;
  • Serving as a fundraiser, spokesperson, or consultant for any charitable entity;
  • Assuming any position of financial authority in any veteran related charitable entity.

In addition, the settlement requires the business to clearly on their website they do not accept solicitations from Texas residents.

The court ordered VSO to pay $275,000 to distribute to support needy veterans in the local area, provide housing assistance for homeless veterans, and support volunteer services at local VA hospitals.

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Secret Sister Gift Exchange: It’s illegal

secret-sister-gift-exchange-postWith Christmas only a month away, many people are getting into the holiday spirit – including those on social media.

Many online users are posting about a Secret Sister Gift Exchange. The idea is to mail a gift worth $10 dollars to a stranger at the top of the Secret Sister Gift list. You then remove the name from the top of the list, move the second name to the first on the list, and finally include your name and details to the second slot.

Lastly, you send all this information to at least six of your friends.

In return, you’ll receive tons of presents from other participants. Sounds simple, right?

Well what you don’t know is the whole scheme is illegal.

The U.S. Postal Service considers it illegal gambling. That applies whether you get the request via postal mail, email, or social media site. Plus, some social media sites don’t allow their uses to participate in those types of schemes.

Additionally, the U.S. Postal Service it would be impossible for anyone to receive the high amount of gifts that are promised.

So if you’re thinking of participating in the gift exchange, you may want to think again.


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Mother & son scam team fined $2.1 million for tricking Spanish-speakers with fake medical discount cards

A mother and son scam team is settling with the Federal Trade Commission after they allegedly tricked Spanish-speakers into buying fake medical discount cards.

According to the FTC, Constanza Gomez Vargas, Walter S. Vargas and their company United Solutions Group Inc  told consumers they were buying a qualified health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act. The duo specifically targeted people who needed health insurance or were paying high premiums for coverage because they were unemployed or had pre-existing medical conditions.

“We’re putting this operation out of business,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC complaint said consumers were told the purchased insurance would pay for doctor and emergency room visits. However, they only received the fake discount cards.

This left consumers without insurance, despite paying an enrollment fee and monthly payments ranging from $99 to several hundred dollars.

The Vargas will have to pay a fine of $2.1 million to the FTC, which will be suspended once the government agency receives payment of $17,616 and the transfer of two Mercedes Benz cars.

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Find or report a scam near you with BBB Scam Tracker

In February 2015, Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin unveiled Scam Tracker, an interactive tool consumers throughout the U.S. and Canada can use to find and report scams and fraud. BBB’s Scam Tracker website enables BBB to collect and track that information in a meaningful way.

With BBB Scam Tracker, consumers can find scams in an area near them, by state and city. Scam reports can also be sorted to reveal trends by date or the type of scam. So far this year, more than 300 scams have been reported in Texas. Types of scams reported include debt collection calls, grants with fees, advanced fee loans, sweepstakes and IRS calls.

BBB launched Scam Tracker as another way to promote a more ethical marketplace and help shed light on schemes and fraud. Scam Tracker is unique because it compiles comprehensive data on illegal and individual scams.

Unlike complaints, scam reports are not addressed individually, but serve as a means to warn others and get the word out to the public about scams. In the future, scam reports will be shared with the National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance for analysis and collaboration with law enforcement to help stop the most flagrant scammers through prosecution and other legal means.

BBB offers these tips to avoid scams:

  • Always check out a business with BBB first.Go to org to see a company’s BBB Business Review.
  • Get everything in writing and always read the fine print.Contracts are meant to protect businesses and consumers by outlining the terms of the agreement. While it’s natural to want to skim through parts of the long-written terms and conditions, it is important to fully understand their rights and what you are agreeing to. Whenever signing a contract, BBB recommends reading the fine print carefully—even if it means taking it home and sleeping on it.
  • Protect your identity—and your pocketbook.Fighting identity theft means staying vigilant online and offline. Always shred sensitive documents that include personal financial information such as bank, credit card and Social Security numbers. Monitor your financial accounts closely to quickly detect suspicious activity. Shop online through secure sites by looking for the “s” in “https”. Always confirm that the business is trustworthy before entering your credit or debit card number.
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know.Scammers know it’s extremely difficult to track money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union. What is more troubling for victims is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get your money back once it has been sent via wire transfer. Even if you have been given a check to cover the amount you’re wiring, never send money to someone you don’t personally know. The check could be fraudulent, leaving you liable for the money.

The release of Scam Tracker to every BBB across the U.S., including Canada, is expected to be completed by November 2015. If BBB Scam Tracker is not yet available on your local BBB’s website, you can still research and report scams in your area here.

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FTC: Free phone scam targeting veterans

A scam that tricks consumers into believing they can get a free phone is targeting veterans.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are setting up booths outside Veterans Affairs facilities offering free phones and cell service to veterans.

ID-100303666Scammers assure veterans the phone and service is free because of a government program.

Months after you have signed up for the free item, a notice will ask for personal information in order to see if you meet income requirements for the programs. After submitting the information, veterans find that are not qualified for the program.

However, here is the truth.

The notice is a ploy in order to obtain personal information.

But there is a government program, Lifeline, that offers free or discounted phone service. The program is supported by the Universal Service Fund, which all telephone companies and other telecommunications providers pay into. The requirements are income based and have nothing to do with if you have served in the military.

If you’ve experienced something similar to this, be sure to use BBB’s scam tracker.

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BBB Investigation: Customers frustrated over used appliance store’s defective items

Happy customers turned into unhappy consumers for a used appliance store in Austin. Customers are alleging the items they bought from Affordable Appliances Plus never worked and were never fixed.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received 57 complaints against Affordable Appliances Plus in the last three years. Complainants allege they purchased used appliances with the impression that they were in sound mechanical condition. Consumers claim that once the appliance is placed in their home, it fails to operate shortly after their purchase; sometimes within the first 30 days. Customers claim that Affordable Appliance Plus repairs or replaces appliances under their 30-day warranty policy. However, some pay out of pocket for repairs, as they are outside the business’s 30-day warranty policy. Complainants general seek a refund or a replacement appliance of equal value.

The business has responded to complaints by generally saying their appliance is under a 13-month warranty with free replacement or repair during the first 30 days. After the initial 30 days, the customer is responsible for the price of repair parts during months two through 13. Affordable Appliance Plus is enforcing its no refund policy.

After sending a letter regarding the company’s pattern of complaints, BBB reached out to Affordable Appliances Plus. The owner said he would look into addressing the matter. However, the business has yet to follow up with BBB.

Additionally, BBB contacted the business in order to address several advertising claims on their website. BBB requested the business clarify if products described as refurbished are restored to original working conditions and meet all factory specifications. BBB also requested Affordable Appliances Plus modify its website to include where warranty details can be viewed prior to a sale. The business did not respond to BBB’s requests.

Matthew Vitemb bought a washing machine from the company. He said when it was delivered it didn’t work and it was not the one he picked out. A technician with the company went to Vitemb’s home and fixed the appliance. After running two loads of laundry, the machine stopped working. The company replaced Vitemb’s washer two more times. He said that is when he decided to ask for a refund.

“I went to the store and told them I understood their no refund policy,” Vitemb said. “They sent three machines and none of them fulfilled any of the basic functions. It is not reasonable.”

Affordable Appliances Plus refused to issue a refund. Vitemb alleges he received a call from the owner and his wife that shocked him.

“He got very aggressive and she pretty much berated me. He told me I can’t just get a refund and that he ran a good business. I eventually got a fourth washer that worked, but the process was unreal. It was a typical type of bad business horror story,” Vitemb said.

Anita McGill found Affordable Appliances Plus through the Internet. She ordered a washer and dryer over the phone. When she received them, neither worked. The delivery man told her the appliances were rained on after they had been left outside. She called the business to have the machine serviced.

“The technician came out the same day but brought the wrong part,” said McGill. “He did get the dryer fixed, but not the washer. He came back later but still had the wrong part.”

McGill said the technician came back three times to fix the washer, but it never worked. She then waited a month to schedule a follow up appointment because she says the business told her they do not do weekend service calls.

“I called the North location and I believe the wife of the boss answered. She told me I needed a receipt number. No one asked me that before and I told her I didn’t have it because I was at work. She said couldn’t do anything without it and was just very rude to me,” McGill said.

McGill was finally able to schedule an appointment with a technician in May after originally purchasing her items in late January. But there was one detail she didn’t expect to hear while on a call with the repairman.

“He called me and asked me if I knew how much it would cost. I told him that no one discussed pricing,” she said. “I called and they said because the 30 day warranty had expired, I had to pay for parts. I told them since I bought the machine it hasn’t worked properly.”

The business never waived the fee and McGill said the washer is now leaking.

“I thought it was going to be a positive experience. It should have never taken this long,” she said.

If you are looking to purchase from a used appliance store, BBB advises you:

  • Review a company’s warranty and refund policy. The details of a warranty or refund may impact your decision to buy a product. Be sure to know details of a warranty, what it covers and its duration before you make your purchase. You may want to ask situational questions to get a better understanding of how much is being covered. Get all warranty details in writing.
  • Ask if the machine has been tested. If you are buying a used appliance, be sure to know if the machine works properly. Ask the business what condition the appliance was in when it was given to them. You don’t want an item that has the potential to break after being used the first few times. Also ask if the item is either like new or refurbished.
  • Don’t impulse buy. Check out other stores and compare prices. Do your research before deciding to purchase.
  • Check with BBB. Check the company’s BBB Business Review for valuable information like its BBB rating, customer reviews and complaint history.
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Hurricane Patricia Donation Tips from BBB Wise Giving Alliance

In anticipation of Hurricane Patricia that is expected to hit the Pacific coast of Mexico, BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to consider the following tips so they might avoid questionable appeals or poorly managed efforts that are likely to emerge in the storm’s wake.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers donors these tips for disaster relief giving: 

Be cautious when giving online.  Be cautious about spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website.  In response to Katrina and Haiti earthquake , the FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.  Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to to research relief organizations and other charities to verify that they are accredited by the BBB which means they meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.  Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses.  It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.  Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly.  See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.  Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations.  If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.  In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

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

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Sprint fined $2.95 million for failing to disclose extra fees to customers with low credit scores

Sprint has agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $2.95 million in fines for failing to notify customers about additional fees if they had low credit scores.

According to the FTC, Sprint customers with low credit scores were ordered to pay an additional $7.99 monthly fee after they were placed in an Account Spending Limit(ASL) program. The problem was Sprint never notified customers why they were placed in the program.

Under the Risk-Based Pricing Rule of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, companies must inform consumers when they are offered service on less favorable terms because of information based on credit reports or scores. ID-100249810

FTC’s complaint said the mobile carrier failed to provide consumers placed in the ASL program with all of the disclosures in the required notice, omitting required information that would help consumers understand the information in their credit reports, and that may have alerted them to possible errors that caused them to receive less favorable terms of credit.

The FTC said Sprint only told customers after they could no longer switch carriers and cancel their service without an early cancellation fee.

“Sprint failed to give many consumers required information about why they were placed in a more costly program, and when they did, the notice often came too late for consumers to choose another mobile carrier,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“Companies must follow the law when it comes to the way they use consumer credit reports and scores.”

Sprint is now required to provide required notices to consumers within five days of signing up for Sprint or by a date that gives them the chance to avoid recurring charges like those in the ASL program. Additionally, Sprint must send corrected risk-based pricing notices to customers who received incomplete notices from the company.

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FTC warns public of chip card scams

smart-cardThe Federal Trade Commission is joining the FBI in warning the public of scammers who are taking advantage of consumers who know little of the new EMV card.

According to the FTC, scammers are emailing consumers posing as their card supplier. The con-artists tell the victim in order to receive their new EMV chip card, they will need to update their account by confirming their personal information.

A link is also provided in the email.

Giving out sensitive information through the email could result in scammers stealing your identity. Plus, clicking on the link could cause your computer to install malware. Malware  can steal personal information and completely infect your computer.

Keep these things in mind if you receive an email regarding your EMV cards:

Verify who you are speaking to. Your card supplier shouldn’t be calling or emailing you to get personal information to send a EMV card. Don’t respond to a caller or an email address looking to get your card number or other sensitive information.

Call the card issuer. If you feel like you may be dealing with a scammer, call the number of the back of your card. A representative of the company will be able to answer your questions.

Don’t trust links in emails. If you get an email that looks suspicious, don’t click on any links it provides. Only provide personal information through a company’s website or call them.

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