Protect yourself against military scams this Memorial Day

Image courtesy of PinkBlue at

Image courtesy of PinkBlue at

Cook-outs, barbecue, swimming in the lake and spending time with family and friends are just a few of the activities that come to mind when we think about Memorial Day. Although it’s nice to have the day off, we must not forget Memorial Day is a holiday to honor Americans who died while serving in the military.

Unfortunately, Memorial Day can be an opportunity for scams artists to take advantage of unsuspecting Service Members. Here at Better Business Bureau, we make special efforts to ensure military servicemen and women have the resources available to steer clear of this behavior.

BBB wants to alert you to several common scams directed at Service Members, including:

  • High-priced Military Loans: Flashy offers promising “up to 40 percent off your monthly take home pay,” “guaranteed loans,” “instant approval,” “no credit check,” “all ranks approved,” often come with extremely high interest rates and hidden fees.
  • False Real Estate Advertisements: Ads promising military discounts and too-good-to-be-true incentives typically use stolen photos of legitimate rental properties to bait renters out of security deposits. Often the victim has to pay via wire transfer in order to get the keys to a property sent to them, and in the end, they do not receive anything for their money.
  • Misleading Car Sales: Low-priced vehicles posted on classified ad websites often falsely advertise discounts for military personnel, or claim to be from soldiers who need to sell fast because they’ve been deployed. BBB hears that these sales tactics are often misleading and troops who buy these cars are typically very unsatisfied with their purchase.
  • Veterans’ Benefits Buyout Plans –This buyout plan will offer a cash payment in exchange for a disabled veteran’s future benefits or pension payments. The cash amount is only about 30-40 percent of what the veteran is entitled to. These buyout plans can be structured several different ways, so research thoroughly before signing anything over.

BBB recommends the following to avoid scams:

  • Never wire transfer money to strangers. Paying with a credit card is much safer. Avoid using a debit card that is linked directly to your checking account to pay for an online transaction, especially if it’s not a secure website.

  • Research companies before you pay them. BBB resources are available for free online at org. Check BBB Business Reviews to view complaint history, customer reviews and advertising-related concerns.
  • Defend your computer. Avoid visiting unfamiliar sites or opening emails from unknown senders. Make sure you install a firewall and have updated anti-virus software.
  • Place an active duty alert on your credit report. Actively deployed military personnel can place an “active duty alert” on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft. With this alert, creditors and businesses have to verify your identity before issuing or granting credit.

BBB Military Line – a program that brings BBB services to military members and their families – has provided free resources and support to our military communities in the areas of financial literacy and consumer protection since 2004. For more information about BBB Military Line, visit

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BBB Wise Giving Alliance joins federal and state regulators for major charity fraud announcement

government actionBBB WGA Offers Tips to Avoid Donor Deception

BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorneys General and State Charity Regulators this week in an effort to help the donating public avoid questionable fundraising circumstances and find trustworthy charities to support.

The FTC announced a major action against Cancer Fund of America, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and Breast Cancer Society.

“It is heart-breaking news to learn that many Americans were deceived into contributing by charity bad actors,” said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance ( “People want to help when they hear about a good cause, but donors need to be aware of potential deceptions, so their hard-earned money can go to charities they can trust.”


Be cautious when responding to phone appeals. Like all forms of fundraising, telephone appeals can be put to good use by a charity, or can be part of a deceptive campaign that can result in little money going to the claimed charitable effort. Never be pressured to make an immediate, on-the-spot contribution decision.

Seek out additional facts. If interested in the charity, ask the caller for the charity’s website address and/or search online on your own to obtain program, financial and other information to make a more informed giving decision.

Watch out for excessive fundraising expenses. While most charities have reasonable fundraising expenses (less than 35 percent of total contributions received in the past year,) if a telephone appeal campaign is not managed well, it can result in excessive fundraising expenses where the charity might receive less than 20 percent or 10 percent of collected funds.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. The public can go to to research charitable organizations to verify their trustworthiness. Charities that meet the 20 “BBB Standards for Charity Accountability” are called BBB Accredited Charities. Additional local charity reviews are available at


Is the charity spending funds on the activities emphasized in appeals? If phone and/or written appeals emphasize a specific charity program, the charity’s financial statements and other materials should demonstrate that this is the organization’s largest program activity. If not, donors may feel deceived. To avoid this perception, charity appeals and materials should make it clear which programs receive the largest share of the charity’s expenses.

Do the charity financial statements show large amounts of in-kind donations? While many charities are involved with in-kind drives for food, clothing and other items, it is especially important for charities to clearly explain the nature and use of large volumes of in-kind gifts that appear in charity financial statements. Charities should not over-value their in-kind gifts and/or include them in audited financial statements under circumstances that do not follow accounting rules (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.) In-kind donations should not be used as means to make charity program service expenses higher than they would be without them.

Is the charity’s board of directors providing adequate oversight? Good charity accountability starts with good governance. If a charity’s board of directors is not engaged in proper oversight of the charity executive staff in terms of reviewing performance, approving budgets, being aware of fund raising arrangements, and establishing appropriate accounting procedures, this can lead to larger potential problems for the organization.

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Dealing with water damage during a rainy season

Image courtesy of digitalart at

Image courtesy of digitalart at

BBB offers tips for finding a trustworthy water damage restoration contractor

Springtime in Texas promises many things: cars covered in pollen, seasonal allergies, bluebonnets, warmer weather and light rain showers–if we’re lucky. Unfortunately, not all spring showers are “light.”

In fact, many Texas cities have seen so much rain that the recent drought is all but forgotten. Just this week, severe thunderstorms have caused power outages, flooded roads and tornado warnings.

With even more rain in the forecast, homeowners could be faced with damage, including leaky roofs, mold or other water-related problems.

BBB advises people dealing with water or flood damage to:

  • Contact your insurance company immediately. Inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process.
  • Know the difference between flood insurance and homeowners insurance: Flood damage is typically caused by water that has been on the ground before damaging your home. Water damage occurs when water damages your home before the water comes in contact with the ground (broken pipes, a leaky roof, etc). These claims would be covered by homeowners insurance.
  • Do what you can to start mitigating further damage. If you’re worried about wet carpets or rugs, get fans and dehumidifiers going. Talk to an expert to see if the carpet/rugs or furnishings can be salvaged.
  • Document the damage to your property. Take pictures or video if possible.

Before hiring a contractor:

  • Check work history and references. Ask for a list of references to determine if the contractor is familiar with your type of project. A contractor should be able to give you names and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time.
  • Find out if the contractor is insured. Ask for copies of insurance certificates and make sure they’re current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project. The Federal Trade Commission recommends contractors have personal liability, worker’s compensation and property damage coverage.
  • Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, techniques to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. An agreed-upon timeline is also a good idea.
  • Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
  • Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Make temporary repairs if needed. Storm/flood damage victims should never feel pressured to make a hasty decision or choose an unknown company. Always do your research!

You can find a BBB accredited contractor at These businesses have committed to meeting BBB’s Standards for Trust. For any business, go to to check the company’s BBB Business Review for a history of complaints, advertising issues and customer reviews.

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‘Free offers’ might not be as free as you think

Image courtesy of mrpuen at

Image courtesy of mrpuen at

BBB Investigation: Online supplement business demonstrates problems with ‘negative option’ advertising

Online shoppers sometimes discover to their dismay that they have unknowingly agreed to spend more than they intended because of a practice called “negative option” advertising.

A negative option commits consumers to automatic purchases often described as subscriptions or memberships unless they specifically opt out.

The BBB Code of Advertising recommends companies using negative option advertising clearly and conspicuously disclose their policies. Unfortunately, some online businesses may count on consumers’ confusion as a way to increase sales.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin recently reviewed some consumer complaints alleging trouble with negative options. BBB found that some consumers alleged they were misled while trying to get free trials for an online health supplement. The website advertised claims such as “Order your risk-free trial bottle TODAY!” and “Where do we send your free bottle? Just Pay Shipping & Handling.”

BBB investigated the website consumers complained about, as well as others that appeared to be related, and found many different companies and products, including bodybuilding, male enhancement and diet supplements. The websites are registered through proxy services that keep the website owners’ information private. In two cases, customer service representatives BBB contacted by phone either gave addresses that turned out to be drop boxes, or refused to give their parent company’s physical address.

One supplement company BBB investigated had terms and conditions clarifying that consumers had to cancel within 10 days from the order date—not the date the product was received—to avoid a membership fee of $119.98 and enrollment in an auto-shipment program.

In a common negative option scenario, the consumer only sees a small link at the bottom of the webpage with a small box saying, “I agree to the terms and conditions.” If the consumer doesn’t read the terms and conditions, he or she may not realize that clicking that box obligates them to purchase a 30-day supply and enroll in an auto-shipment program. In some instances, the terms and conditions make it difficult for the consumer to cancel a free trial by setting up unrealistic deadlines.

According to the BBB Code of Advertising, companies using such offers should make it clear to consumers how to accept the trial offer while opting out of purchases and memberships.

When buying merchandise online, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed up to 60 days after the purchase.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online order process, there should be a final confirmation page or an email confirmation. Save any receipts for future reference.
  • Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.
  • Do your research. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at before making a purchase to see its complaint history, details about complaints and any advertising-related issues.
  • Read the fine print. The company may hide a commitment to purchase goods or services in the terms and conditions. These commitments may not be explicitly stated on the website.
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Pick the right summer camp for your child

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

A stay at summer camp could be one of your child’s favorite memories–if you pick the right one.

Each year more than 11 million children and adults attend camp in the United States, according to the American Camp Association (ACA). That includes more than 12,000 day and resident camps nationwide.

Your BBB recommends that you research the camps you are considering before you make your choice. It’s important to know your child’s personality to identify which camp program will benefit him or her most. Include your child in the decision-making process when looking at camps.

According to the ACA, there is no government oversight of camps which is why it’s so crucial to do your homework. Most complaints received by BBB about camps nationwide allege camp billing and refund issues. These include failure to respond to notices of cancellation, which resulted in unauthorized credit card charges. Other complaints include contract issues and claims that the camp advertised activities and field trips that their child never participated in.

BBB offers the following advice for parents searching for the right camp:

Check Find trustworthy camps by checking the company’s BBB Business Review. You will find important background information, such as how long the camp has been in business, advertising issues, ownership information and how it resolves complaints. You may also want to find out if the camp is certified by the ACA. The organization requires camps to meet up to 300 nationally-recognized standards.

Visit the camp in person. This will be your opportunity to check out living, eating, recreational facilities and meet staff members. Be sure to ask about safety procedures and how rules are enforced.

Assess the quality of staff. Find out the camp director’s background, the criteria used for hiring staff and whether certification in CPR and First Aid is required. It is also important to know the ratio of staff to campers. Parents sending children to specialty camps should inquire about the staff’s level of expertise in the specialized area.

Know the fees and payment policies. What is the total cost of tuition? Is your money refundable should the camp be canceled? Are there extra charges for any activities? Are meals and transportation included? Make sure all these details are included in your contract.

Ask about medical care. Find out if a nurse or doctor is on-site. Inquire about the procedures for transporting injured or sick children to nearby medical facilities and under what circumstances you will be notified of any problems.

Consider a backup plan.  In case the camp you choose gets canceled for unexpected reasons, be sure to have another camp or two in mind. It is ideal to also visit and research those backup camps in advance so that you can be well-informed in the event of a last-minute decision.

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Looking for last minute gifts for Mom for this Mother’s Day? Be a smart shopper!


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10, which means lots of last-minute shoppers will be looking for deals on gifts.

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF), consumers are expected to spend $21.2 billion on flowers, jewelry, brunches, spa treatments and other gifts. That’s an average of nearly $173 per mom.

Whether you plan to order flowers or arrange a special day at the spa, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin urges you to be a smart shopper.

BBB offers the following Mother’s Day shopping advice:

  • Do your homework. Before making a dinner reservation, ordering flowers, jewelry or any other gifts for Mother’s Day, check out the company’s BBB Business Review at For a list of Accredited Businesses, visit Be sure to look for the BBB Accredited Business seal when shopping online. All online seals should directly link to the company’s BBB Business Review.
  • Order online securely. Look for signs that websites are secure. The beginning of online websites should change from http to https on payment screens, indicating that the information is encrypted. Never enter personal information in a pop-up screen.
  • Read the fine print. Ask about the refund policy if the delivery is late, never arrives or is in poor condition.
  • Beware of phishing electronic greeting cards. Don’t open any attachments or click on links that come from an unknown source. They could contain destructive malware disguised as warm wishes.
  • Be on the lookout for fake gift cards. Scammers often use social media to post gift card “deals” at steep discounts. It ends up being a ruse to steal personal information. Use only trustworthy companies for gift card purchases.
  • Ask about guarantees. Request a written receipt for the order and ask about the business’s refund policy if the delivery is late, never arrives or is in bad condition.
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BBB lists top vacation-related scams

Image courtesy of bplanet at

Image courtesy of bplanet at

As you begin to plan for upcoming vacations, Your BBB would like you to beware of scams that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare.

Below are some of the top scams that target consumers on vacation:

  1. Vacation Rental Scams

Vacation rental scams typically show up on online classified sites. A potential victim searching for an apartment or home in a desirable destination may find an attractive rental at a very low price. The consumer contacts the “owner” (who is actually a scam artist), and is asked to make a deposit in advance (often via wire transfer or pre-paid debit card). The victim later discovers the property either does not exist, that the condition was misrepresented, or the property was never available for rent. Scammers often use images from real estate sites to make their scams seem legitimate.

Tips to avoid this scam:

  • Use Google Earth and Street View to confirm the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised.
  • Run an online search of the names and phone numbers of the alleged landlord or agent and “chunks” of the ad’s descriptive text to see whether it has been copied from elsewhere online.
  • If the “landlord” insists on communicating by email only, that’s a huge red flag. Many rental scams are carried out by foreign scammers, so check the area code and try to talk by phone with the potential landlord, booking or listing agent or travel coordinator when possible.
  1. Fraudulent Vacation Packages

With this scam, a victim sees an ad for a deeply discounted vacation package involving a stay at a fancy resort or a luxurious cruise. After paying the deposit, the victim finds that quality of the package was severely misrepresented and/or discovers significant additional fees that must be paid at the destination in order to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.

Tips to avoid this scam:

  • Read your invoice. Confirm that it includes every cost, including fees. Take the time to understand the purpose and amount of each fee. Some common hidden fees to watch out for: International Departure and Arrival Taxes, Processing Fees, Peak Week Surcharges, Late Booking Fees, Departure City Surcharges, Travel Insurance, Fuel Surcharges.
  • ​Read the cancellation policies before sending any money, you should know how much you will lose if you need to cancel. ​
  • Never pay upfront for any vacation package with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Use a credit card or PayPal and negotiate paying only a deposit when possible.
  1. ‘Free Vacation’ Scams

You may receive a postcard saying you have won a free vacation or one of many other lesser prizes.  Generally, you have to call a number to claim your prize. When you do, they offer to send information about the vacation package in the mail after you provide a credit card number so they can assess a “small service charge” at the time you accept the vacation.

Despite being told before you signed that you will be able to cancel the package without being charged, your account is charged right away. The review period will already have expired by the time you receive your packet, if you are even sent one.  Meanwhile, hundreds of dollars in service fees will hit your account.

In another version of this scam, you may be required to attend a high pressure sales pitch for a “club” membership. Those who sign up often discover the membership fees cost more than what they would have normally paid for a vacation. Also, there may be restrictions that make it almost impossible to accept the “free” vacation offer.

Tips to avoid these scams:

  • Don’t be fooled by low cost or no cost vacation offers. They typically fail to disclose all related fees and have many restrictions.
  • Obtain all company information. Avoid travel offers received in the mail, over the phone, fax, email,  or at a presentation that do not disclose the company’s name, location, and contacts.
  • Get everything in writing before providing any payment. If you attend a presentation for a timeshare or travel club, make sure all verbal promises are provided in writing. Review all terms and conditions carefully before making a decision.
  • Read the fine print. Make sure you understand all terms and conditions of a travel offer as well as any cancellation and refund policies.
  1. Pizza Delivery ID theft scam

​A scam reported by hotels around the U.S. involves a fake pizza delivery ad slipped under the door. Scam artists can use fake ads to collect credit card and other sensitive information from consumers trying to place an order.

Tips to avoid this scam: 

  • Don’t call a phone number on a flyer slipped under your hotel room door or under your windshield wiper in the parking lot until you’re sure it’s legitimate. Look up the number online or in the phone book if you can or contact hotel staff.
  • Don’t pay in advance with a credit card. Pay in cash.
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BBB celebrates National Small Business Week, May 4-8

small_business_week_logo-300x3001According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, creating about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin will celebrate National Small Business Week, May 4-8, 2015 to show appreciation for the small businesses that play such a vital role in the U.S. economy.

Throughout the week, BBB will feature webinars targeted at small businesses on its social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter. Webinars for small businesses are hosted on BBB’s home page and offer valuable information such as how to advertise honestly, protect your business from a data breach and social media tips.

In honor of National Small Business Week, BBB encourages small businesses to take advantage of the many business toolkits, resources and guides both BBB and the Small Business Administration have available:

BBB Code of Business Practices

The BBB Code of Business Practices represents sound advertising, selling and customer service practices that enhance customer trust and confidence in business. This Code should be a road map for creating and managing a trustworthy business. Businesses that follow this code may wish to pursue BBB Accreditation. Businesses who utilize the trusted seal on their marketing and website showcase to consumers that they are upholding BBB’s Standards for Trust. This trusted seal provides businesses with a competitive edge.

BBB Code of Advertising

BBB was founded on the principles of truth in advertising, and believes that the responsibility for advertising honestly rests first and foremost with the advertiser. BBBs review local advertisements and work with companies to adhere to BBB’s Code of Advertising, which lays out principles, definitions and suggestions for ethical advertising that all businesses can adopt. The Code helps businesses to advertise in a way that lets their customers feel like they had accurate expectations and avoid disappointment. For example, the Code asks that “claims relating to performance and results should be backed up by reliable evidence” and that “asterisks can be used to provide additional information, but should not be used to contradict or change the meaning of the original claim.”

BBB data privacy advice for small businesses

Whether your small business sells goods and services online, or you’re simply using your website to market to your customers, having a quality website privacy policy can build consumer trust and distinguish your business in a crowded online marketplace.

BBB advice on protecting against a data breach

As hard as you have worked to build trust among your customers, the last thing you need is for unknown actors to steal sensitive information through a data breach of your systems. BBB has data security advice on how to keep your customers’ information and your reputation safe. BBB also has advice on what to do if a data breach has already taken place.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

SBA’s Online Learning Center is a virtual campus complete with free online courses, workshops, podcasts, learning tools and business-readiness assessments. Course topics from writing a business plan to mastering overseas markets are available for business owners along with e-books, templates and articles. Visit for more information.

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Waco spring Shred Day event set for Saturday, May 2

ID-100217483If you’re worried you might become a victim of identity theft, it may be with good reason. Identity theft is a major problem in the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed 332,646 ID theft complaints in its 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network report. Of those, 25,843 were Texas identity theft victims.

One way to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of ID theft is by shredding documents containing sensitive personal information. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin invites consumers and businesses to participate in its 2015 Spring Shred Day event in Waco on Saturday, May 2 at 9 a.m.

Free shredding and recycling services will be available until noon or until the shred trucks reach capacity. Consumers can bring up to two boxes of sensitive documents per vehicle to be shred on-site. Monetary donations benefiting BBB’s Education Foundation will also be accepted.

BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is part of an expansive network of local BBBs across North America that collaborates to produce bi-annual Shred Day events. The program is a BBB-branded identity theft, fraud prevention and educational initiative.

Shred Day


Date: Saturday, May 2, 2015

Time: 9:00AM – 12:00PM

Address: KWTX-TV Studios

6700 American Plaza

Waco, Texas 76712

There are numerous ways to have your identity stolen, from phishing to dumpster diving. But there are ways you can protect your identity. BBB offers these steps to keep your personal information safe:

  • Shred all sensitive documents. Shred all statements and documents you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep, including credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms and billing statements for utilities and phone service.
  • Protect your Social Security number, account numbers and passwords. Don’t carry these numbers in your wallet. Give out your Social Security number only if absolutely necessary, and offer to provide another type of personal identifier, if possible.
  • Never give personal information over the phone or to unknown persons. Unless you are the one initiating the phone call, you should not give your Social Security number, driver’s license number or bank account information over the phone.
  • Monitor your bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized transactions. Crooks with your account number generally start with small transactions to see if you’ll notice.
  • Steer clear of suspicious texts, emails and links. Unsolicited e-mails and pop-up ads can be full of computer viruses designed to steal usernames and passwords from your computer. Don’t give in to curiosity. Close or delete the message.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. There is only one source authorized to give you a free annual credit file from each of the three consumer credit reporting companies. Visit to find out identity theft victims.
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BBB to hold National Moving Month kickoff at Texas Capitol on May 4

May marks the beginning of the busiest moving season for Texans. It is also a time when unscrupulous and unlicensed operators are most likely to take advantage of consumers.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin, along with the Southwest Movers Association, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas Association of Realtors, will kick off National Moving Month at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 4 at the South Steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

In order to educate Texans on the importance of hiring a trustworthy mover, State Representative Celia Israel (District 50-Austin) will kick off National Moving Month with Better Business Bureau (BBB), Texas Association of Realtors (TAR), Southwest Movers Association (SMA), Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA).

Rep. Celia Israel, who owns a consulting firm focusing on public affairs and real estate, will join these industry experts to share important consumer tips on how to avoid moving scams, along with information on increased penalties for rogue operators.

SMA’s Pinnacle Movers, an elite group of companies adhering to high ethical standards and professional competence, will be on hand with moving trucks for on-site demonstrations of best practices. These movers are also BBB Accredited Businesses, adhering to BBB’s eight Standards for Trust, which includes advertising honestly, honoring promises and safeguarding privacy.

Consumer victims who have been taken advantage of by rogue operators will also be on hand to share their personal stories.

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