Don’t let plumbing issues ruin your Thanksgiving

ID-100223555BBB offers advice for preparing for plumbing problems before they happen

Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for residential plumbers. It would appear that gravy, mashed potatoes, turkey bones and other items from the great feast have a tendency to do really bad things to a plumbing system.

Clogged drains and backed up pipes make sense when you consider the holiday meal preparation, cleanup, and plumbing systems being pushed to the limits.

Last year, Better Business Bureau (BBB) received over 7,261 complaints nationally against plumbers. Complaints included billing issues, customer service problems, and repairs not being completed properly.

Your BBB urges consumers to do their research before a clog or major plumbing emergency happens. This allows you to call a plumber with confidence since you have already investigated their qualifications. Here are some things to consider in your search:

  • Get a list of recommendations from family and friends, or go to checkbbb.org to find accredited plumbers in your area. Visit a business’ BBB Business Review at bbb.org. You can view how they handle complaints, read customer reviews, find details about their business history and use the Request-A-Quote feature to get estimates directly from the business.
  • Investigate credentials. A plumber hired to do any type of work or repair should be licensed and insured. Verify the plumber’s credentials with the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners before hiring.
  • Request references. Ask the plumber for a list of references where they have previously completed work. Contact a few of the references to ask if the final cost was as estimated, if the job was done on schedule, and if the quality of the job has held up since the work was done. Try to contact one of the references that had a similar job done as the one being requested.
  • Get three estimates. When a larger job needs to be completed, get at least three different estimates in writing.

Once you have found a plumber you feel meets your expectations, be sure to:

  • Get a written agreement. A contract should provide specific details of the job and should include: description of the job, materials needed, cost of the materials and labor, completion date, and any type of permits or inspections that are needed.
  • Establish a payment method. Understand how the plumber plans to charge for the job being done. It may be a flat rate for all work or the plumber may charge an hourly labor fee. Never make the final payment before the job is fully completed to satisfaction. Your contract should have payment information in it, including a schedule for payments. Save a copy of the contract in case it is needed for future reference.
Posted in Top Tips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

FTC busts advance fee recovery scheme targeting timeshare resale and investment scam victims

government actionThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently cracked down on an advance fee recovery scheme that targeted victims of timeshare resale and investment scams. After the FTC took court action, the defendants agreed to stop their operation during the ongoing litigation.

The FTC wants to permanently halt the operation, which it says took in close to $1.3 million from consumers, many of whom were elderly people who had already lost money to timeshare resale scammers and precious metal investment fraud.

According to the FTC complaint, telemarketers working for Consumer Collection Advocates, Corp and Michael Robert Ettus called consumers and guaranteed (falsely) that they could recover most of their investment–for an upfront fee. The defendants allegedly made guarantees that they could recover 60 percent or more of the consumers’ money within 30 to 180 days.

The defendants allegedly accepted a reduced fee for consumers who had lost large amounts of money and also charged consumers a back-end fee of 20 percent for any amount they recovered.

According to the FTC, upfront payments ranged from hundreds of dollars to as much as $10,000 and consumers who paid for the recovery service then stopped hearing from the defendants. According to the FTC complaint, few if any consumers received any money.

A court order announced on Nov. 10, 2014, prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting what they can provide consumers and from violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. They are also barred from selling or in any way benefiting from customers’ personal information.

The FTC credits Better Business Bureau Serving Southeast Florida and the Caribbean with helping bring the case to court.

Posted in Government action, scam, scammers, Scams, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Think you just got a government grant you didn’t apply for? Prepare to get scammed!

scam alert 150x150Your BBB has received numerous complaints from consumers who had calls saying they had received a government grant that they never applied for. If you receive a call like that, don’t fall for it. A real grant is hard to get and you have to apply for it. The scammers will either try to get an advance payment to cover some kind of “fee” or get your bank details so they can rip you off.

This week, a consumer from south Texas lost $250 to a grant scammer, but it could have been a lot worse. “They called and said they had good news. Because I paid my bills on time and no bankruptcies, I now qualified for a $8,300 grant,” he said. “They said if I paid a $250 processing fee, I would get it. They said they were calling from Washington, from the federal government.”

At the caller’s instructions, he purchased a Green Dot card from CVS and stayed on the phone with them. After he paid $250 with the card, they asked for $950 to cover “taxes.” At that point, he did a web search and realized it was a scam. He didn’t pay the $950 and contacted BBB.

I called the number the consumer received the call from and what do you know? Another, different advance fee scam operated by “Caribbean Cruise Line.” First an automated message saying I had won a free Carribean cruise. Then a live person named “Rodine” who informed me of all the great fun I would have on the cruise–as soon as I paid an upfront fee of $118 for myself and my wife to cover “port taxes.”

When I said I was with Better Business Bureau and asked for an address for the company, “Rodine” got rather flustered. She wouldn’t give out the address and hung up on me. When I tried to call back, my number was blocked.

How to spot a government grant scam:

  • Don’t give out your bank account information to anyone you don’t know. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don’t share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
  • Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded – or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is grants.gov.
  • Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the caller says they’re from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that they are. There is no such government agency. And although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit donotcall.gov.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Posted in scam, Scam Phone Calls, scammers, Scams, Too Good To Be True | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for a temp job this holiday season? BBB offers advice for job seekers

ID-100259274BBB offers advice for job seekers looking for temporary work

‘Tis the season to hire seasonal employees, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Retailers are expected to hire between 725,000 and 800,000 seasonal workers this holiday, a 14 percent increase from last year. These holiday positions offer hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to also turn their seasonal position into a long-term career opportunity.

As job seekers start their search for those seasonal positions, Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin recommends those on the job hunt to research potential employers and be cautious of fraudulent job offers.

Here is some advice when seeking out that position:

  • Research potential employers first. Find out which companies are offering seasonal employment opportunities. Use bbb.org to find additional information on the company, including how they handle complaints, customer reviews, and other details.
  • Be cautious. If you are using online classifieds to search for local job openings, be careful. Scammers flock to these sites, posting fake jobs aimed at stealing money or the identities of job seekers. Watch for advanced fees. Never pay upfront fees when applying, especially for background checks or credit reports.
  • Examine the job ad. Watch for misspellings, grammatical errors and unprofessional, amateurish writing in the ads. Also, generic job titles and phrases like “no experience needed,” or “immediate start” should be red flags.
  • Protect your identity. Guard your personal information. Identity theft may be the goal. Do not give out bank account information or Social Security numbers until you have confirmed an employer’s legitimacy.

With the holiday season predicted to bring in over 600 billion dollars for retailers, according to NRF, employers may be choosy about candidates they hire. Here are some hints that may give you the upper hand:

  • Knowledge is power.  Employers want applicants that know their products. If you shop at a certain store frequently, you likely know a lot about the company and the merchandise they sell. This will make you an attractive choice since you have knowledge and passion for the products.
  • An available schedule. Hiring managers are going to look favorably at candidates with wide open availability and a flexible schedule. Being seasonal means you will likely be working long hours and on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
  • Showcase your skills. Be prepared for the interview by not only brushing up on brand knowledge, but dressing the part. Focus on explaining your customer service skills. This is a must when dealing with stressed shoppers, long check-out lines and holiday returns
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Free pizza from Pizza Hut’ email carries virus

ID-10095342Do you like pizza? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? How about a ghost pizza with a side of malware to mess up your computer and put your ID at risk?

Not quite as appetizing, but that’s what you’ll get if you fall for the Pizza Hut email scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning the public about an email that promises a free pizza in honor of Pizza Hut’s 55th anniversary. The email contains a link for a “free pizza coupon,” but there is no coupon. If you click the link, you’ll download a virus.

Your BBB suggests the best way to avoid getting dangerous malware on your computer is to:

  • Back up your files through ‘cold storage’. If you have a clean backup that the malware can’t reach, you can get your files back. Back up your files with an external hard drive and keep it unplugged from your main hard drive when you’re not using it.
  • Research before you click. Before clicking on an unknown link or popup, take the time to research the company sending you the message by going to bbb.org first.
  • Don’t believe the message. To persuade you to click a virus-laden link or gather your personal information, con artists must earn your trust. They try to accomplish this by composing convincing-looking messages that entice people to click the advertisement.
  • Protect your personal information. Don’t provide your personal information or credit card information to an unknown company or website. If you’re thinking of purchasing something from a website, there are various icons and software programs that indicate that security software is in place, such as “https” instead of “http,” or a padlock icon at the bottom of the screen.
  • Protect your computer. Installing updates to your operating system can be done for free by enabling the option on your computer’s security center. Keep all anti-virus software up-to-date and make sure all security patches and updates are installed for programs that access the Internet.
Posted in malware, Scams, Technology, Too Good To Be True | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understand layaway policies before signing up

ID-10056738BBB offers advice to holiday shoppers looking to buy on layaway plans

Christmas displays are already up in most major retailers, which means holiday shopping is in full swing. Many retailers have begun to roll out their holiday layaway plans. Some are even offering additional incentives, such as cutting fees and increasing the number of items eligible for layaway.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin wants to remind consumers to fully understand the policies associated with a store’s layaway contract to avoid surprise charges or fees.

Layaway services are an alternative to using a credit card for the full purchase. When purchasing items on layaway, the buyer will make a deposit, usually a percentage of the purchase price, and pay any service or plan fees for the store to hold the item. The customer is then given a time frame where they can make payments and eventually pay off the balance. Once paid, the customer can take the items home.

Not to anyone’s surprise, layaway services have evolved on the internet. Some national retailers allow customers to pay for products with monthly installments directly debited from their checking accounts. Online layaway also saves you the hassle of dealing with long lines at retail stores and brings the product right to your door.

For consumers considering a layaway plan, BBB advises:

  • Plan ahead. Before signing a layaway contract, make sure you have the money to pay for the products. Failure to pay your layaway means you lose the product and any fees you may have paid.
  • Obtain a written contract. Ask the company for a written contract and read it carefully. Contracts should include when payments must be made and what happens if a payment is late. Each company likely has a different layaway policy, so be sure to read carefully.
  • Confirm how long the item can be kept on layaway. Some stores only hold items for a specific time period, and then redistribute them for re-sale.
  • Ask where items will be stored. Be sure your items will be placed in a secure area until all payments are made, so they won’t be sold to other customers.
  • Read the company’s refund policy. Retailers’ policies may differ, be sure to check if refunds are available and what the refund will be. Some stores may only offer a store credit or will charge a fee.
  • Understand all the layaway terms and conditions. Find out how much time you have to make all of the required payments, when the payments are due and the minimum payment required.
  • If you’re unsure, ask questions. Are their service fees? What happens to the contract if you are late or miss a payment? Are there penalty fees? Will your contract be cancelled? Will the merchandise be returned to inventory? What happens if you change your mind and decide not to purchase the item?
Posted in Top Tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Red Bull ‘advertising wrap’ scam–don’t fall for it!

scam alert 150x150There is an email scam going around, first reported on this blog in January, that fools people into thinking an energy drink company will pay you to drive around with an “advertising wrap” on your car. Don’t fall for it! It’s just another variation on the counterfeit check scam.

A consumer recently contacted Your BBB and forwarded emails sent to her son–who nearly fell for the scam.  The scammers pretended to be with Red Bull in the first email.

DRive and DRIVE Around with RedBuLL ads on your(VEHICLE/CAR) while you make $350 (Dollar) weekly!!!
WRAP your (VEHICLE/CAR) WITH RedBuLL ENERGY DRINK LOGO WHILE you Make $350 per WEEK!!!
Reply asap IF interesteD.
Best Regards,
RedBUll Hiring Manager

On followup emails, they seem to have fused Red Bull with Rockstar–another energy drink company: “HYPE/Rockstar/red REDbull Energy Drink.”

The ad promises income of $350 per week. If you go along with the scam, you’re sent a check upfront and are told to forward part of the money to a graphic designer using a Green Dot Money Pak card and keep the rest as your first payment.

The catch: The check is counterfeit. The bank might let you deposit the check and make a withdrawal, but when the bank finds out it’s fraudulent, you’ll have to repay the bank for the whole amount. The money you sent to the “graphic designer” will be gone forever.

To protect yourself from check scams, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Never wire money. Any job listings or offers that require you to wire money, especially to recipients outside the country, is suspicious. Walk away.
  • Never agree to deposit a check and send a portion to someone else. No matter how legitimate the check may appear to be, no matter what story or reasonable-sounding explanation you are given (“Mystery shopper” is a common scheme), you will get burned. A bank teller might accept the check, but when it turns out to be fake, you will have to reimburse the bank for whatever amount you wired to the scammer.
  • Beware of unexpected offers. If you receive a job offer without filling out an application, meeting with the business or being interviewed, it is probably a scam.
  • Protect your personal information. Don’t give out your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers to any unsolicited callers, even if they claim that the information is needed to direct deposit your “paychecks” or “winnings.” Before providing any information to a potential employer, do your research and verify the job is legitimate.
  • Don’t trust P.O. boxes. Be suspicious of any employer or company that doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar street address (not a P.O. Box or website only) and telephone number. Call the telephone number listed and ask to speak to someone in the human resources office. While there are hundreds of legitimate online (or “dotcom”) businesses, most job scams work exclusively through email and websites.
  • Never pay upfront. There is no need to pay for “job leads” or “employment listings.” Legitimate employers will advertise their open positions in easily accessible, free ways.
  • Start with trust. Visit www.bbb.org to check out any potential employer, and contact those companies using information you verified on your own. Never rely only on contact information provided through unsolicited emails or phone calls.
  • Know where to turn. Report suspicious job offers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the attorney general’s office.
Posted in scam, scammers, Too Good To Be True | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Email seeking gold investors — just another scam

ID-10073474Want to get into the gold business? Can you afford $30.5K worth of gold dust or $31.5K for gold bars? Or how about finding someone who can invest, for a nice commission?

Dream on. There is an email going around that seeks investors in gold bars and gold dust. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than a scam.

A colleague at Your BBB recently received the following email:

GOLD DUST AND BARS FOR SALE.

Dear Sir / Madam,

We are into Gold business and also an authorized seller of Au dust and Bars exporter. We work with other handicapped Gold sellers as main source  and help them to export their gold to buyers. We have huge quantity of alluvial  Gold for sale at a considerable price which is below world market price. Gold  Dust $30,500USD and Gold Bars $31,500USD and we want only reliable and serious  buyers or brokers for a long term business relationship.

If you are interested, n do not hesitate to get back to us as soon as you receive this mail. Even if you  are not prepared to buy our Gold now but can get a buyer for us, we pay 7%  commission per kg to Agent/Mandate or Intermediary.

We are willing to go into a long term supply contract with interested buyer with view to develop many mining  communities and we also welcome serious buyer for joint venture in the mining  sector.

I wait to receive your response immediately.

Best
Regards.
Chief Donald Koffi.

Searching some exact phrases reveals that this email has been going around for a while, with variations. An almost identical letter has been reported, signed by “Yao Bamba,” “Mr Johnson Yao,” “Chief Samuel Behiri” and others.

The scammers are hoping that the victim will pay–they’re willing to work on you long term if you seem like you might pay. If not, they can get you with a check-forwarding scam–the 7% commission for finding a buyer could easily set you up: get a check, forward the funds, take a cut, and ultimately find out the check was counterfeit and have to pay back your bank.

Posted in scam, Scam Phone Calls, scammers, Too Good To Be True | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t treat a trickster to your child’s identity

ID-100205226BBB tips to help parents protect their children from identity thieves

Parents tend to take plenty of precautions when trick-or-treating with their child. However, it’s important to consider an aspect to their safety that isn’t always seen—their identity.This Halloween, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin wants to remind parents to begin monitoring their child’s credit report today.

Identity thieves often steal Social Security numbers, attach a different name and birth date to it, and proceed to open credit cards, secure auto loans, student loans and even home mortgages. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is using your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:

  • be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
  • get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
  • get collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive

Children are easy targets because they typically do not start using their information until early adulthood when applying for college and search for loans or their first credit cards. That’s why it’s so important to start monitoring your child’s credit report as early as possible.

As a parent, you can protect your child’s identity by:

  • Safeguarding your child’s personal information. Keep your child’s personal information, such as his or her Social Security card, date of birth and birth certificate, in a secure spot.
  • Monitoring your child’s credit report. As soon as you get your child’s Social Security card you should start monitoring his or her report at least once a year. Request a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
  • Keeping anti-virus software updated. Some savvy thieves create viruses designed to search computers for documents containing your child’s personal information. Make sure your computer is continually updated with the latest anti-virus software.
  • Safely disposing of personal documents. Shred all papers that include your child’s personal information before you throw them out and delete computer files that you no longer need.

If your child’s credit report shows misused information, call each credit reporting company and alert them to the situation.

Posted in Top Tips | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Election-related scams to avoid before casting your vote

ID-100107012BBB warns of voting scams this election season

Early voting is in full swing and Election Day is only one week away. But unfortunately, with elections often comes the possibility scams. While politicians are seeking your support, scam artists are busy trying to steal money and identities by pretending to contact you about an election-related issue.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is warning consumers of four common election scams to look out for before casting their vote for the Nov. 4 elections.

  1. Campaign Fund Collections - Be cautious when answering a call that claims to be from a political party representative, election committee or even the candidate themselves. While political groups are exempt from abiding by the ‘Do Not Call’ registry, scammers can easily spoof caller ID and sound like they are calling from a legitimate organization. They may call asking for your vote, a donation in support of the candidate or detailed personal information in order to possibly steal your identity.

Avoiding the scam: Get the caller’s contact information and do your own research on the candidates. If you decide to support a candidate, look online and find the candidates campaign number and call directly to ensure you’re reaching the right office.

  1. Re-register Scam – Scammers have also pulled a con in which they state you need to re-register. They will make claims that you have been taken off of the voter’s list. The caller is seeking personal information, including address, email and in more serious cases, bank account information and social security numbers.

Avoiding the scam: Never give out personal information to a suspicious caller. If you are concerned about your voter registration status, contact the Texas Secretary of State. If you believe you have received a call of this nature, report it to your County Clerk’s Office.

  1. Election Survey Scam – Another popular telemarketing scam that occurs during election season are survey calls. The con artist will explain that a survey is being conducted on behalf of a political party and if you answer all questions, you are eligible to win a prize (often cruise tickets or gift cards). The topic of the survey usually refers to a controversial headline in the news, making it seem legitimate. While the survey questions themselves are commonly vague, the scam occurs when you are asked to provide personal financial information to pay for shipping, taxes or the handling of the “prize” you’ve won. This is scam used to get your financial information.

Avoiding the scam: Protect your savings, never give out personal or financial information over the phone. Be suspicious of callers promising prizes, cash or other items if you pay a “fee” first.

  1. Vote by Phone – Never respond to a phone call, email or text message asking you to vote by phone. This is not possible. You can only cast your vote by ballot either by mail or at an official polling station. They are likely trying to obtain personal information to steal your identity.

Avoiding this scam: Do not respond to these messages or hang up the phone if you receive a solicitation of this nature and report it to your County Clerk.

Posted in Scams | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment