BBB calls for entries for regional BBB Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics

Better Business Bureau encourages businesses to show off their ethics

2015HomepageButtonBetter Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is now accepting entries for the regional 2015 BBB Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics competition. These awards recognize businesses that are committed to high ethical standards and service to its customers, employees, investors and overall reputation.

BBB created the Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics regional competition to recognize and celebrate ethical business practices for companies located in Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin. Spotlighting these companies fits the BBB mission, which is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust.

Any for-profit business in the 79-county service area of BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin can submit an entry for the 2015 BBB Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics. Deadline for submission is Friday, Nov. 21. While BBB Accreditation is not a requirement, businesses must be in good standing with BBB and have at least a “B” rating with BBB to be considered for this honor.

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Our BBB includes the following Texas counties: Andrews, Aransas, Atascosa, Bandera, Bastrop, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Bosque, Brewster, Burnet, Caldwell, Calhoun, Comal, Comanche, Coryell, Crane, Crockett, DeWitt, Dimmit, Duval, Ector, Edwards, Falls, Fayette, Freestone, Frio, Gillespie, Glasscock, Goliad, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hays, Hill, Howard, Jackson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kinney, Kleberg, Lampasas, La Salle, Lavaca, Limestone, Live Oak, Llano, Loving, Martin, Maverick, McLennan, McMullen, Medina, Midland, Mills, Navarro, Nueces, Pecos, Reagan, Real, Reeves, Refugio, San Patricio, San Saba, Terrell, Travis, Upton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Victoria, Ward, Webb, Williamson, Wilson, Winkler and Zavala.

The winner of a BBB Torch Award has the unique opportunity to receive public recognition for their excellence in ethical business practices. Winners at the local level will be announced January 2015 and will have the opportunity to move forward to the International BBB Torch Awards for Marketplace Excellence competition.

Five businesses were awarded the 2014 BBB Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics in January of this year. You can watch interviews with each of those winners by clicking here.

Businesses may also register to attend a FREE how-to workshop webinar for help with submitting an entry on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 by clicking here. For entry forms and additional information visit: go.bbb.org/1x9wkTc

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Former Corpus Christi investment advisor gets 20 years for securities fraud

ID-100128578Investors in William Charlton Mays IV’s operation may have thought they were buying gold and silver, but it turned out they were only investing in a pyramid.

The Texas State Securities Board (TSSB) recently announced that Mays, a former investment adviser in Corpus Christi, Texas has received a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted on securities fraud and theft charges.

Mays was sentenced to 20 years for fraud and 10 years for theft in the 214th State District Court of Nueces County. He will serve the sentences concurrently. He was also ordered to pay $102,117 in restitution and pay $20,000 in fines.

Mays sold investments in gold, silver, and commodities, promising clients annualized returns of between 6 percent and 18 percent. However, very little of the $225,000 he raised from investors was used to trade commodities. Most of the money was spent on personal expenses including child support, payment to a credit card company to settle a lawsuit for nonpayment, restaurants, grocery bills, housecleaning services and pool maintenance.

According to the TSSB, Mays made some payments to investors, but only as part of a Ponzi scheme–one investor who received most of his money back was paid with funds from another investor. In most cases investors received only a small fraction of the funds they put into the operation.

Mays had legal and financial troubles before he launched the commodities trading scam, but didn’t disclose them to investors as required by law. In 2011, Mays was hit with a $42,924 tax lien from the IRS as well as a $20,289 final judgment in a civil court case.

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FTC: debt collectors shut down for unlawful practices

ID-100128578Creditors may have a right to pursue their debt, but they have to do it legally. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week announced a judgment against a debt collection operation it says used abusive tactics and threatened consumers into paying debts they may not have owed.

Pinnacle Payment Services, LLC and its principals have been barred from debt collection in a settlement with the FTC.  They are subject to a $9,384,628 judgment, suspended for most of the defendants due inability to pay.

According to the FTC, the Pinnacle defendants operated out of Atlanta and Cleveland and used fictitious business names implying an affiliation with a law firm or a law enforcement agency. Fictitious names included Global Legal Services, Allied Litigation Group, and Dockets Liens & Seizures.

The defendants allegedly used robocalls and voice messages threatening consumers with  legal action and arrest unless they responded within a few days. The defendants allegedly collected millions of dollars in payment for phantom debts – including debts many of the consumers they contacted didn’t owe.

The corporate defendants and individual defendants are banned from debt collection activities. They are banned from misrepresenting any financial product or service and must destroy all the customer information they have on file.

Defendants include Dorian Willis, Lisa Jeter, Nicole Anderson, Hope Wilson, Demarra Massey, Angela Triplett and Tobias Boyland.

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Looking for work online? Don’t get burned by a fake job scam!

ID-100124624Watch out for Craigslist job scams using the names of real organizations to lure in potential job seekers. These posts look just like real jobs, but take precautions before sending your resume.

How the Scam Works:

You see a job post on Craigslist.org. It says Clearpoint, a non-profit organization that provides credit counseling, is hiring an “Office Admin Assistant.” The ad looks completely legitimate. The business is real, the job description is standard and the entire post is typo-free.

You decide to apply for the job. The “manager” replies to your email, saying that he/she needs further information from you. Unfortunately, this information includes your credit card number!

Job scams especially have many different variations. Watch out for scams using different business names and position titles. Also, scammers may ask job seekers to pay upfront for training, which never materializes. Or they may “hire” you and send a fake check. The con artists will instruct you to deduct a fraction for payment and wire the rest back.

Your BBB urges you to be cautious when applying for jobs online. Spot a job scam before you waste your time and money!

Tips to avoid falling for fake job scams:

  • Some positions are more likely to be scams. Use extra caution when looking at ads for jobs with generic titles, such as admin assistant or customer service representative. These often don’t require special training or licensing, so they appeal to a wide range of applicants.
  • Check out the business’s website to make sure the opening is posted there. If you are still skeptical, call the business to check on the position. Don’t rely on websites or phone numbers provided in the advertisement; find the “employer” on your own to make sure it’s the real deal.
  • Watch out for these phrases. Scam ads often contain the phrases “Teleworking OK,” “Immediate Start” and “No Experience Needed.” Watch out for ads that urge you to apply immediately.
  • Search for the position in Google. If the result comes up in many other cities with the exact same job post, it is likely a scam.
  • Be very cautious of any job that asks you to share personal information or hand over money. Scammers will often use the guise of running a credit check, setting up direct deposit or paying for training.

For More Information

To find out more about this and other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper and alert on BBB.org.

Note: Thanks to the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia for their reporting on this scam. Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions is a BBB Accredited Business  and a National Partner.

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Don’t get burned by an IRS scam!

scam-alert-pic-150x150The IRS impersonation scam really seems to be taking off. In the past week alone, BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has had a dozen calls from consumers who were contacted by these scammers. Scams like this have cheated consumers in the U.S. out of $5 million.

Check out this clip from KVUE about the IRS scam and how to avoid it.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you should do the following:

  • If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and speak with a real IRS employee.
  • If you know you don’t think you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
  • You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their FTC Complaint Assistant at FTC.gov.  Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
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Find the right tutor for your child

ID-10094030School is back in session and report cards will be out before you know it. It’s important to stay proactive when it comes to your child’s academic success.

If your child struggles with new curriculum, or just needs a head start with standardized testing, a tutoring service can be a valuable tool. Researching and interviewing candidates now ensures that your child is academically prepared for the upcoming year.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin wants to make sure you get the most for your money when it comes to your child’s educational needs. Nationally, BBB has received over 400 complaints from January 2013 to August 2014. Most complaints allege contract and service issues, many of which stated promises were not met and students weren’t receiving the proper assistance. Also, some claim billing and refund issues.

BBB has this advice when seeking a tutor for your child:

  • Consider your options. Private, in-home tutoring? Small group lessons? Online step-by-step instruction? There are many different avenues to explore before signing your child up for anything. Think about how they learn, and what will be most effective to help them. What works for one child may not work for another.
  • Do your research. When seeking the right tutoring service or commercial learning center for your child, check out the company’s BBB Business Review at org to view its complaint history and details about the complaints. Also, read customer reviews for positive, neutral and negative feedback.
  • Get referrals. Ask for referrals from your child’s teacher. Other parents and friends can be a great resource as well.
  • Check the tutor’s credentials. Ask for transcript copies, copies of state teaching certificates, tutor certification, or proof of other specialized training. Ask the tutor to provide a complete resume. Also, make sure he or she is qualified in the right subject area for your child’s needs.
  • Schedule a meeting. Meet with the tutor and discuss measurable, specific goals. While a tutoring program can’t necessarily guarantee higher test scores, a tutor can help identify problem areas and address any specific subjects where your child needs help.
  • Check in. If you use a personal tutor, feel free to occasionally sit in on a session and observe how the tutor and your child are working together. Ask the tutor for advice on what you can do as a parent to help your child learn more effectively.
  • Read the terms and conditions. Be sure you understand details of your payment plan and what happens if you decide to cancel. Get everything in writing.
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Looking for a loan online? Filling out online forms could make you a target for scammers

ID-100207639Be careful where you put your personal and banking information online. Your BBB often receives complaints from victims of advance fee loan scams.

They basically go this way: A “lender” calls to say the consumer qualifies for a big loan; the  consumer agrees; the caller says some kind of fee is required for the loan to go through (or “the first loan payment”), and convinces the consumer to send payment with a pre-paid debit card; the loan never arrives; the scammer either tries to get another “fee” or simply hangs up.

Sometimes advance fee loan scammers will take money straight out of your bank account–if you tell them how.

When I talk to victims, I invariably learn that before they received the fake loan offer, they had been hunting loan offers online and filled out one or more online forms with all their banking information. Which is how the bad guys found them.

Online lenders and loan brokers might not be the ones who rip you off, but they can and do sell your information to people who will.

I recently spoke to a man from Oklahoma who lost over $400 to an advance fee loan scam. Sure enough, he had previously visited a website for an online broker and filled out a form with his banking info. It seemed safe, because he had seen a TV ad for the company, with a celebrity spokesman.

Not long after, he got a call from a lender who claimed to be based in Tyler, Texas, but who called using an Austin, Texas phone number with a (512) area code. (Turns out they were impersonating an actual payday loan outfit that is located in Tyler.) At first, he didn’t realize the connection between the call and the form he had filled out.

“They called me and said I qualified for a $10,000 loan,” he said.  “The caller had an accent that sounded like she might be from India or Bangladesh. She said I had great credit and her company was offering me a loan from a government-backed lender. ‘Jessica’ said I should prepare to make my first payment.

“She said they wouldn’t take anything out, they just wanted to make sure it’s there. She wanted the last four digits of my bank account to verify. Then they took money out of my bank account over a three-day period. First a $150 payment, then a $263 payment. They said I would receive the loan payment through Moneygram.”

The scammers didn’t need all of his banking info–they already had it because of the form he had filled out.

Once he realized he’d been ripped off, the man contacted his bank, filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and reported it to BBB. But there’s little chance he’ll get his money back. “It’s tough,” he said. “I have health problems, and I need the money for my kid’s spinal surgery.”

BBB offers the following advice when looking for a personal loan:

  • Don’t do business with someone who calls with a loan offer you never asked for. Financial institutions don’t work that way. You have to apply and be approved for credit.
  • Don’t trust someone who says you’re “guaranteed” a loan and asks for money in advance for insurance or other fees. They are operating illegally.
  • Beware of applying for a loan through an unfamiliar website. The application could be run by a scammer who will either take your money directly or sell your information to other scammers.
  • Don’t do business with someone who cannot give you an address you can confirm as legitimate.
  • Carefully read any contract documents and make sure you understand all requirements before you enter any loan agreement.
  • Don’t trust a website or loan document just because it “looks official.” Sophisticated, official-documents and websites are easy to copy or fake. Just because a business looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it is.
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BBB warning: Schools getting fake invoices

ID-100176732Scam artists commonly use fake invoices to get small businesses to pay for things they didn’t order. That ploy is also being used against schools.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is warning schools and school districts across the country about possible fake invoices for educational supplies. In the past few weeks, there has been a rush of complaints filed with BBB against “Scholastic School Supply,” which claims either a Nevada or New Jersey address that turn out to be mail drops.

The first complaint against Scholastic School Supply was received on Aug. 20, 2014 by BBB serving Southern Nevada and since then has received nearly 70 complaints from schools across the country.

The company’s online BBB Business Review has also received more than 3,000 inquiries; there is an Alert posted there so that visitors are able to confirm the suspicious nature of the invoice. The company maintains a mail drop in Sewell, New Jersey, as well as Las Vegas, and BBB New Jersey has received more than 20 complaints so far.

The bogus invoices have been for $647.50 for the bulk purchase of “English-Language Arts Practice Books” or $388.50 for math workbooks (although the amounts and products could change at any time). Complainants say they cannot reach the company to inquire about the products or amounts allegedly owed, and all have denied ever doing business with the company previously.

BBB urges schools not to pay the invoices but to send them to the local Postal Inspector and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as their state’s attorney general or consumer protection agency.

So far, none of the complainants have sent money; however, BBB has no way of knowing if any schools have unknowingly paid the invoice, since they would not have filed a complaint.

To date, BBB has received complaints from schools in 27 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Due to BBB’s process for handling complaints, which gives a business up to a month to respond, the complaints received to date are still considered pending.

Contact information available on the invoices was initially just going unanswered, but now email is bouncing and the phone number has been disconnected.  BBB has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or documentation to substantiate a physical location in Nevada. Earlier this week, an agent in New Jersey filed as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) under the same company name, and the BBB there is investigating the connection.

The UPS Store in Las Vegas is a BBB Accredited Business and is cooperating with the Postal Inspector and other agencies investigating the scheme.

Scholastic, Inc. has issued a statement regarding the fraudulent use of their name and trademarks.

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Want to comment about a business without filing a complaint? Your BBB now offers Customer Reviews

Did you ever do business with a company and wished you could post or read online comments at Better Better Business Bureau–positive, negative or neutral–rather than going through the formal BBB complaint process? Now you can at bbb.org/central-texas.

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Customer reviews won’t affect a company’s rating, but BBB takes them just as seriously as formal complaints. “We verify each reviewer’s email address and give businesses the opportunity to respond if desired,” said Carrie A. Hurt, President/CEO for BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin.

BBB Customer Reviews give additional insight into a company’s marketplace behavior. BBB posts customer reviews to its BBB Business Review once the reviewer’s email address is verified and personal data or inappropriate text is redacted. The business can also respond to the reviews. This information is available as part of a company’s business review.

BBB Customer Reviews are for the times when you aren’t looking for a specific resolution. If you are looking for a resolution, you can still file a complaint against a business. Businesses that receive customer reviews can submit replies directly on the review.

Reviewers can also add more comments to their reviews at any time or in reply to a business’s comment. With the addition of verified customer reviews, BBB shows an even clearer picture of a company’s track record in the marketplace.

Consumers are encouraged to make their opinion count by leaving a customer review about a business. To post or read BBB Customer Reviews, visit the Customer Review page and in the search box, type in the business name and click the link to their BBB Business Review. At the top of the page, click the “Customer Review” tab. Click the “Submit a Customer Review” link to post your own review.

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