Be careful when you buy online! BBB offers advice for smart online shopping

ID-100104045Online shopping, from your computer or portable device, is pretty convenient. It’s a good way to avoid standing in line and fighting through crowds.  However, shopping with online retailers also carries certain risks.

Last year, Better Business Bureau received over 2,000 complaints against online retailers nationally. Complaints cover a wide range of issues–including products that didn’t match the description, delivery issues and problems receiving a refund.

While many online shopping sites are legitimate, there are crooked online retailers out there trying to scam shoppers. These con artists set up fake or fraudulent sites to get hold of personal information or steal your money. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin reminds shoppers it’s important to research a business before making any purchase online.

When shopping online, BBB offers this advice:             

  • Check for basic information. If you’re interested in trying a new online merchant who you’re not familiar with, be sure and locate the company’s physical location (address and phone number). If this information is not listed on their website, contact them directly to find out the information first before purchasing anything.
  • Keep personal information safe.Check the URL link to make sure it starts with “https://” before entering financial information. The ‘s’ means it is a secure site. Check the privacy policy to see how the business is using the information they have requested. Never email any personal information such as credit card and banking numbers or social security numbers.
  • Read and compare. When buying a product, read the whole description including the fine print. It is important to understand the details of the product being purchased so there are no surprises when it’s delivered. Also, be wary if products listed are significantly lower than typical retail prices. This may be an indication of a fraudulent site.
  • Check the return policy. Read the return policy to see if the business allows a full refund if the customer is not happy with the product. Review the policy to see who pays for the cost of shipping and handling for the return.  
  • Choose the correct payment method. Always pay with a credit card when shopping online. A purchase with a credit card is protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). This allows customers to briefly hold payment while a problem is reviewed and resolved. This act also protects customers in the event that credit card information is stolen and used without their permission.
  • Document your purchase. Make sure to print the receipts and product information of any online purchases to prevent incorrect charges. Print all important documents, including shipping information, receipts, customer service information and the return policy. This will come in handy if you need to dispute any problems or product issues.

If you experience issues or believe you have been ripped off by an online retailer:

Posted in Top Tips

Scammers prey on Ebola fears with quack products

ID-100186144If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re probably at least a bit nervous about the deadly Ebola virus. It might be a “far away” tragedy at the moment, but what if it spreads to the U.S.? What if you or your loved ones catch it?

Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but many Americans are still afraid.

Anytime people are afraid, you can count on scammers to step in and take advantage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Aug. 14 alert that offers for bogus Ebola drugs are turning up. Thought drugs are being tested to treat the disease, there is currently no FDA-approved Ebola drug on the market. Dietary supplements are forbidden by federal law from claiming to be able to prevent or cure disease.

BBB and FDA warns consumers to avoid purchasing fraudulent health products. Beware of the following red flags:

  • One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases.
  • Personal testimonials. Success stories are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
  • Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products.
  • “All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Numerous “all natural” products contain hidden, untested, or dangerous ingredients.
  • “Miracle cure.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the news media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
  • Conspiracy theories. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.

See more at:

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Texas AG shuts down Houston-area diploma mill

ID-100128578Getting an education is pretty important for career advancement. Unfortunately, some “institutions” that appear to be affordable alternatives actually just take your money in exchange for diplomas that aren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has permanently shut down Houston-based Lincoln Academy, which it says falsely claimed to be an accredited educational institution. (You can read the final judgment and permanent injunction here.)

The final judgment requires the defendants to cease advertising; shut down the Lincoln Academy website, social media page and affiliated websites; decline to accept new students and wind down all operations.

The judgment also requires the defendants to provide more than $1.4 million in compensation to customers it deceived. Consumers with questions or who wish to file a complaint against Lincoln Academy may call (800) 252-8011 (for callers within Texas) or (512) 463-2100 (for callers outside Texas). Complaint forms are also available online at

Defendants in the judgment include:

  • Lincoln Academy
  • National Home School Accreditation of America
  • High School Diploma Online
  • Charles J. Lubbat
  • David C. Lubbat
  • Catherine Lubbat
  • Nancy Lubbat
  • Constandi Lubbat
  • Momentive Group, LLC
  • Nyloc Enterprises, LLC d/b/a National Home School Accreditation of America
  • Rylex, LLC d/b/a Brownstone Academy
  • The David Lubbat Special Trust
  • The Charles Lubbat Special Trust

Thinking about advancing your education? Your BBB warns you to make sure you don’t waste time and money on an institution that isn’t legitimate. Here are some tell-tale signs of a diploma mill:

  • No Studies, No Exams — Get a Degree for Your Experience. Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
  • No Attendance. Legitimate colleges or universities, including online schools, require substantial course work.
  • Flat Fee. Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester, not a flat fee for an entire degree.
  • No Waiting. Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months aren’t legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree very quickly, it’s probably a diploma mill.
  • Click Here To Order Now! Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Accredited colleges don’t use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to market themselves. Some diploma mills also advertise in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web.
  • Advertising through spam or pop-ups. If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won’t advertise through spam or pop-ups.
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BBB warns students: beware of college aid scams!

ID-100266136Going to college is expensive, so any potential influx of cash is going to get a student’s attention. Unfortunately, some offers targeting college students are bogus. Your BBB warns college students to make sure scholarships and financial aid offers are the real deal.

According to FinAid, a resource for students looking for ways to finance their education, financial aid scams come in different forms—from seminars to awards. Some con artists contact families of potential college students and tell them they have been awarded a scholarship. These scammers claim the money is guaranteed if the “winner” provides bank account or credit card information first. Many of these fraudulent operations use official-sounding names with the words “federal” or “national,” but FinAid warns they are not affiliated with any actual government agency.

FinAid warns of these additional red flags to be on the lookout for when researching financial aid:

  • Application fees. Do your homework before you do anything. Start with free options and be highly skeptical of any company that charges a fee and requires payment in advance. Federal Student Aid, an office of the Department of Education, says legitimate scholarship foundations do not charge an application fee.
  • Guaranteed scholarships. Avoid scholarship services that claim you are guaranteed to receive money. Legitimate scholarship services have no control over who the scholarship foundation chooses to win the grant.
  • Every student is eligible. Whether the requirements are the student’s GPA, career interests, athletic involvement or volunteer work, legitimate foundations are looking for students that meet their characteristics. Avoid services that claim any student is eligible to receive the scholarship.
  • If you decide to attend an information seminar on scholarships or financial aid, be aware this is most likely a sales pitch for scholarship services.  While at the seminar, do not be pressured into paying for services on the spot.  Before you purchase any services, carefully research the organization at
  • You’ve been selected. Be wary of letters or phone calls stating you have been selected or are a finalist for a scholarship you never applied for. This is a sign of a scam. Scammers may be looking to steal your identity. Be careful not to send out personal or banking information, or write a check to businesses you haven’t researched thoroughly.
  • Advance-fee loans. Avoid lenders that offer you an unusually low-interest rate for an education loan and then require an upfront fee before you can receive the loan. If you are searching for an education loan, be aware that real lenders do not charge an upfront application fee. Instead, they deduct their processing fees from the check before the student receives the loan.
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Austin-area woman tricked by tech support scammers–Don’t be the next victim

scam imageAn Austin-area resident was recently victimized by a tech support scam by people posing as employees of Microsoft.

She got off light– a $54.07 charge that she later got back after disputing the charge with her credit card company–but for a time, the scammers took control of her computer and held it hostage. Tech support scammers often take their victims for a lot more money.

“I normally don’t answer calls like that,” she said. “The caller ID said the call was from Georgia. My daughter was traveling and I thought it could be an emergency, so I picked up. They said they were working for Microsoft Tech Support. They said my PC was gonna crash if I didn’t do something.”

She said felt the call might be fishy, but remembered that she had received some legitimate emails from Microsoft that she never opened. She followed the caller’s directions, which allowed him to take remote control over her computer. “There was no mention of money at first,” she said.

Before she knew it, the scammers had locked up her computer so she couldn’t do anything without their permission. Then, of course, they demanded money. “They took my computer hostage and put up a rolling screen,” she said. “He said I would have to pay $49.95 to get it back. They ended up charging me $54.07. I called my credit card and said it was a scam and disputed the charge.”

The Federal Trade Commission recently announced that a group of tech support scammers was being hit with a $51 million judgment. Unfortunately, there are so many people running similar scams that it will barely make a dent in the problem. Your BBB regularly gets calls from consumers who have been called by such scammers. Here is some advice about how to avoid this scam and others like it:

  • Never let someone log into your computer remotely. If someone tries to get you to let them access your computer remotely, hang up. When someone logs in, they can do anything you can do on your computer. They can access anything, including personal and financial information.
  • Do not click links in emails. It is better to type the address in the search bar manually.
  • If the URL seems odd, do not continue to go to the site. If it is a scam, it will most likely have an unusual URL. It will likely contain a common name but be accompanied by some jumbled letters or numbers.
  • Always look up the company’s phone number on their website. If you need to call a company, look it up on their official website. This can make sure that you are calling a legitimate number. Don’t rely on Caller ID or official-looking emails, which can be easily faked.

For more advice on scams, visit

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Looking for a charity you can support with confidence? New BBB Charity Reports make it easier

Whatever charity you prefer to support, it always feels good to give back to your community or to a cause you are passionate about. Unfortunately, not all charities manage donor contributions in the same manner. It’s important to have a clear understanding of a charitable organization’s mission, work and financials before you donate.

Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) helps donors make informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public. It produces reports about national charities, evaluating them against comprehensive BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountabilityand publishes a magazine, the Wise Giving Guide, three times a year. At the national and local level, BBB has established voluntary standards for charitable organizations based on information a donor may reasonably expect to evaluate on as an appeal for support.

On a local level, your Better Business Bureau, BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin recently launched a new format for our BBB Charity Reports. Some of the great features include:

  • An easier to read, more attractive look, which shows whether a charity “Meets Standards”, “Standards Not Met” or whether a Charity “Did Not Disclose” information. A charity that “Meets Standards” is a BBB Accredited Charity, which will have a Seal on their BBB Charity Report.
  • A summary of the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability each organization meets.
  • Tabs, which contain details related to the charity’s purpose, programs, staff members and financial distributions.
  • A “Full Report” button for donors who would prefer to read the report without tabs.
  • A “Share” button so you can connect the Charity Report you’re reviewing easily on social media.

charity reports graphic

To access any of BBB’s local Charity Reports in the San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Killeen, Corpus Christi, Victoria, Laredo and Permian Basin areas, go directly to In the top search area, simply click “Charities” and type the name of the organization you’re looking for. In the individual reports, refer to the “Standards Legend” on the right screen to determine the status of each Charity Report as determined by BBB.

Charities are considered eligible for BBB Accreditation if they are publicly soliciting, locally governed, non-profit, charitable organization; at least two years old; and in compliance with BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. For details on the accreditation process for charities, click here. has reports on about 1,300 nationally soliciting charities. In addition, about half of the 112 BBBs in the United States and Canada cumulatively produce reports on over 10,000 locally soliciting charities using the same BBB Charity Standards as BBB WGA. Evaluations are done without charge to the charity and are posted for free public access on

BBB Charity Reports offer an unbiased overview so that consumers can feel confident when giving. Often, third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, may not have fully researched an organization. BBB WGA does not rank charities, but rather seeks to assist donors in making informed judgments about those that solicit their support. These features make giving decisions easier by offering clear insight into various aspects of the organization.

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Save on back-to-school shopping during the tax-free weekend

ID-100176732BBB’s guide to saving time and money during the Annual Sales Tax Holiday (Aug. 8-10)

Tax-free exemption applies to purchases made in-store, online and via mail. It’s important to note that not every item you may be shopping for will be tax free. The law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about eight dollars on every $100 they spend. A detailed list of items that qualify for exemption can be found on the Texas Comptroller’s website.

According to NRF’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend almost $700 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up five percent from last year’s back to school spending. To help keep costs down, the annual tax-free shopping weekend offers relief for parents. But before you dive into buying new clothes and supplies, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coast, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has important tips for making the most out of your back-to-school shopping.

To help save time and money, BBB encourages families to:

Sign up for email alerts at your favorite stores. Monitoring pricing early on is key to finding good deals on quality products. Many sites will have an informed community of savvy shoppers on its blog or in forums sharing, exclusive coupons, rebates and insider information on where and when to find the best prices and products. These alerts will assure you don’t miss out on the hottest items and/or limited opportunities.

Make a shopping list. Even if you don’t have a school supply list yet, you can still purchase other items early, like school clothing and in-class school essentials like pens, notebooks and backpacks. Make a list for each child, and go back through old supplies you may still have left over from last year.

Create a budget. Do a quick price search online for the items on your list and add them all up. Be sure to clip coupons, and make note of discount codes and any cash-back or rebate programs. If your goal is to reduce spending, now is the time to decide how much you want to cut. Consumers may want to consider spending a bit more on high quality products that will last longer and save money in the long run.

Know the difference between “Back-to-School Sale” and tax-free items. Retail stores may advertise back-to-school sales because they know consumers are buying items for the upcoming school year. Certain discounts will still have taxes applied to them unless the item appears on the state comptroller’s tax-free list.

Take advantage of discounts. Many stores offer student and teacher discounts on hot items like laptops and uniforms. Retailers will also try to make room for fall fashion and the newest models, so there are incredible savings to be had if you do a little research.

Check the refund and exchange policies. Keep your receipts and find out the exchange or return policy for items purchased during this time period. Keep in mind, some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with them.

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Don’t get tricked by E-ZPass phishing scam!

ezpass scam fake

Get an email claiming you owe money for unpaid tolls? Beware. BBB warns that an email phishing scam has been making the rounds, claiming to be from E-ZPass. The email claims that you owe money–even if you haven’t driven on a toll road.

Do not respond if you receive such an email. Delete it. E-ZPass sends notices by mail, not email. The email is part of a phishing scam, attempting to obtain sensitive information in order to steal your money or identity.

A coworker at Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin recently got the email in her inbox and realized what it was.

The email has an official-looking E-ZPass logo and states, “Dear customer, You have not paid for driving on a toll road. This invoice is sent repeatedly, please service your debt in the shortest possible time. The invoice can downloaded here.”

Tolling authority TxTag states that it has no evidence its customers are being affected by this scam, but warns users who do receive such emails to contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

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BBB Warning: Some Fun Runs Promise More Than They Deliver

ID-100232268A Fun Run can be a great way to get or stay in shape. It’s also a great social activity–a great way to have fun. Unfortunately, not all such events are what they are cracked up to be. In fact, some never get off the ground.

Better Business Bureau has been hearing lots of complaints from around the country about various fun runs that were cancelled on short notice, often with no refunds. Last week, BBB of Greater Cleveland reported on a 5K Foam Fest that was cancelled with just four days’ notice.

An email to paid participants said “Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide you with a refund.” A similar event scheduled for southern California was also cancelled with the same “no refund” email. The race website says they have ceased operations as of July 17. Another race company has offered Foam Fest participants a discount code for future theme races.

The two 5K Foam Fest events were to be put on by Round House Racing Team, which is based in Utah. Since the cancellation was announced, BBB Utah has received 90 complaints from participants looking for refunds of the $45-75 registration fees they were charged. The BBB is processing those complaints now, and an Alert was added to the company’s BBB Business Review.

This cancellation news came just a month after Runners’ World reported that the Electric Foam 5K had shut down after numerous race cancellations and an F rating with BBB for its parent company, Color Mania 5K.

A number of BBBs and at least one national media outlet had been investigating the cancelled Electric Foam 5Ks when the company announced it was closing down all the events. Some participants received refunds through Groupon. The company’s website said it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If you are thinking about participating in a themed fun run, here are some BBB tips:

  • Do your research. Check out the company’s BBB Business Review and search online for additional information before signing up.
  • Understand the terms and conditions. In some cases, promoters say on their websites that they don’t offer refunds, but many consumers don’t read the fine print before hitting “I agree” to long online documents.
  • Check the local venue. Contact the park or other venue to confirm that the event is scheduled.
  • Pay with a credit card.Charges made on a credit card can be disputed after a purchase, whereas debit, cash or wire transfer transactions cannot.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online registration process, you should receive a confirmation receipt. Print out and keep a copy of the confirmation and any supporting documentation for future reference.
  • Check out the charity. Most fun runs are for-profit, but if the promoters claim a portion of the proceeds will go to charity, check it out on to make sure your donation is going to a trustworthy charity. Be wary of sound-alike names similar to more famous charities.


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Tech support scammers hit with $51 million judgment

scam imageEver get a call from out of the blue, offering to fix your computer remotely? Hang up! No matter who they say they work for (I had a call a few years ago from someone claiming to be a “Windows” employee) it’s a scam.

If you let these scammers have remote access to your computer, they could damage it, or they could steal your identity. At best, they could charge you a lot of money for nothing.

We’ve warned the public before about tech support scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just announced that a federal court has ordered a bunch of tech support scammers to pay a total of $51 million.

The judgment stemmed from complaints filed in September 2012 as part of an FTC crackdown on tech support scammers. The defendants, who were mostly based in India, allegedly claimed to be employees from companies including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton. They allegedly claimed to have detected malware and charged hundreds of dollars to “fix” the victims’ computers.

Defendants included:

  • Pecon Software Ltd. et al;
  • Marczak et al.;
  • PCCare247 Inc. et al.;
  • Finmaestros, LLC et al.;
  • Lakshmi Infosoul Serivces Pvt. Ltd. et al.; and
  • Zeal IT Solutions Pvt. Ltd. et al.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other tech support scammers out there. Your BBB regularly gets calls from consumers who have been called by such scammers. Here is some advice about how to avoid this scam and others like it:

  • Never let someone log into your computer remotely. When someone logs in, they can do anything you can do on your computer. They can access anything including personal and financial information. 
  • Do not click links in emails. It is better to type the address in the search bar manually.
  • If the URL seems odd, do not continue to go to the site. If it is a scam, it will most likely have an unusual URL. It will likely contain a common name but be accompanied by some jumbled letters or numbers.
  • Always look up the company’s phone number on their website. If you need to call a company, look it up on their official website. This can make sure that you are calling a legitimate number.

For more advice on scams, visit

Posted in Government action, Scam Phone Calls, Scams, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment