FTC returns money to consumers affected by mortgage relief scheme

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is returning money to consumers who lost money in a loan modification scheme. The FTC won a court action against Jackson, Crowder & Associates and Crowder Law Group and is sending out more than $467,000 to consumers.

The FTC alleges the defendants charged large upfront fees for mortgage relief services that were not delivered. According to the FTC, the defendants falsely promised to modify mortgages and substantially reduce monthly payments. The defendants also allegedly pretended to be affiliated with a government agency and exaggerated the role an attorney would play.

If you’re one of those affected, visit this FTC webpage for more information.

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Dealing with mold after weeks of rain

Image courtesy of antpkr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Got mold? Last month, severe storms and flash flooding affected several areas of Central Texas. Many of those affected are now dealing with a common result of water damage: mold. Mold is a factor consumers may not immediately consider, but one that can cause serious structure damage and health problems if it is not taken care of.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold reproduces by releasing tiny spores that float through the air, invisible to the naked eye. It is able to grow anywhere a food source, oxygen and moisture are present, and is especially prevalent after extensive rain or flooding. Excess moisture in homes and businesses due to flooding is a cause for concern because it provides breeding conditions for mold.

It is important to act quickly when cleaning and repairing a home or business after flooding because the longer it grows, the more damage it can cause. Also, remember that if you clean up the mold but don’t fix the water problem, the mold will most likely come back.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin offers the following advice if you think you may have mold:

  • Inspect for moisture problems and document results. According to the EPA, consumers should inspect the interior and exterior of the building, whether it is a business or home. Look for evidence of moisture and mold problems like water damage or stains on the walls or ceilings, foundation cracks that leak water and peeling paint. Also, check for visible mold growth, wet or damp spots and a musty odor.
  • Discard items with visible signs of mold growth. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to salvage items with mold growth (sofas, mattresses, carpeting, towels, etc.), especially if they have been wet for more than 48 hours and not properly dried. Solid wood furniture can be saved if surface cleaning removes any signs of mold. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Know your risks and possible side effects. There are several health risks associated with mold and mold growth. Many people may experience allergic reactions and other respiratory issues when mold is present. Exposure to mold can cause symptoms such as eye irritation, wheezing and skin irritation. Extreme reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Mold can also trigger asthma episodes.
  • Know what types of molds exist. While there are many classifications of mold, aspergillus mold is the most common household mold, found in almost any home or office, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are the most studied molds in medical research, and are associated with numerous respiratory disorders. Stachybotrys molds grow on material such as wood, paper and cardboard. Commonly called “black mold,” this mold requires very wet or high, humid conditions for days or weeks in order to grow.
  • Be Proactive. To control mold growth, control moisture. If you notice a leak in your shower faucet or sink, repair it immediately to avoid the ideal habitat for mold. Clean and dry any wet or damp surfaces within 24 to 48 hours. Vent bathrooms, kitchens and other moisture-generating sources to reduce indoor humidity and prevent mold growth.

If you do have mold, BBB advises:

  • Do your research before hiring a mold remediation business or contractor. In 2014, BBB received several consumer complaints nationwide against Mold and Mildew Inspection/Removal/Remediation. Most complaints reported problems with service, repair and billing. Ask for referrals from friends and family and make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold.
  • Compare prices and services. Get at least three estimates for any service you would like provided. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used. Make sure the contract includes any verbal promises the contractor made and details on any guarantees.
  • Plan the remediation before starting work. Asses the size of the mold and/or moisture problem and the type of damaged materials before planning the remediation work. The remediation plan should include steps to fix the water or moisture problem and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Mold remediation may include temporary relocation of some or all of the building occupants, especially when dealing with aspergillus mold at a business location. If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
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BBB Investigation: Vacation dreams turn to nightmares as company takes payments, doesn’t provide promised services

ID-100169130Best Holiday Club Marketing Club promises to resell timeshares, doesn’t follow through

People who own timeshares often find it difficult to sell them later on, so an offer to find a buyer in exchange for an advance payment can be tempting.

Unfortunately, according to consumers who complained to Better Business Bureau, a company called Best Holiday Club Marketing took thousands in advance payments and produced nothing but excuses and empty promises.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received several complaints against Best Holiday Club Marketing in the last year. The business has so far not responded to any complaints. Consumers report losing between $3,000 and $37,000 to the company.

According to bhclubmarketing.com, Best Holiday Club Marketing (BHC) claims to be located in Laredo, Texas, with an office in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, mail sent to the Laredo address came back undeliverable. Also, the company that leases office space at the stated Charlotte address stated to BBB that BHC is not located in their facility.

A BBB investigator spoke to a BHC employee on May 19. The employee, who said she was in the Laredo office, said she wasn’t in the part of the building that receives mail. She stated, “We don’t normally receive postal mail,” and said to send correspondence via email.

Several complainants told BBB the company first contacted them at resorts in Mexico and were told the company would sell their timeshares within 90 days. In exchange, they were told to purchase a travel plan from a Miami-based company called Vacation Getaway. (Vacation Getaway, which has a website at http://www.v-getaway.com, should not to be confused with Vacation Getaways in Dublin, California, which has a different website, http://www.vacationgetawayincentives.com.)

A BBB investigator contacted Vacation Getaway in Miami by phone. The representative refused to state whether their company was affiliated with BHC without a contract number. When the investigator stated he didn’t have a contract, the call was disconnected and subsequent calls disconnected automatically. According to a web search, the Miami address listed on the website may be a virtual office.

Valerie Galloway of San Diego, California, said she and her husband were approached by representatives of Best Holiday Marketing Club while they were staying at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in September, 2014. In an unusual circumstance, the couple was actually paid $400 to attend a presentation. The end result was a serious net loss, however. During the presentation, BHC representatives claimed to be able to sell people’s timeshares within 90 days if they agreed to sign up for a travel-related service. According to Galloway, after paying $4,000, their timeshares were not sold and the business first gave excuses, then quit returning messages.

“Best Holiday Club Marketing promised to sell my timeshare,” Galloway said. “I was in contact with Best Holiday Club for the first 90 days. They gave me the runaround. Lots of excuses. Then they never got back to me. I then called because I wanted to cash out my timeshares and get my money back. They gave me the runaround again. I never got my money back.”

Billie Mace and her husband were vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in July 2014, when they were convinced to attend a meeting, where they were told Best Holiday Club Marketing would buy their timeshares if they bought into a vacation company. They paid $13,950 and were told BHC would sell their timeshares within 90 days for at least $31,400. After more than 10 months, Billie says she and her husband have not received any money for their timeshares.

“We thought we were selling our timeshares for all this money, for $31,400 and after buying into the vacation club we would get the difference back and not have to pay maintenance fees,” Mace said. “I paid them $13,950 right up front. They took our credit cards right then.” She said her attempts to get answers have been met with excuses. “Every call I made, it was a put-off.”

BBB has the following advice for consumers who want to sell their timeshares:

Verify a physical address. Be sure to confirm the business’s physical address. Some unethical businesses claim addresses that don’t exist or that belong to other businesses.

Look at the fees. Avoid businesses that ask for an “appraisal” fee or closing costs upfront. In a normal transaction, closing and transfer fees are paid by the purchaser, not the seller and are paid upon closing, not at the beginning of the transaction. Beware of businesses that quote you large upfront fee and then slightly decrease it to seem like a “good deal.” Search for a business that will allow you to pay for the fees after the timeshare has been sold. Never wire money and be sure to ask what fees will be included in the cost and if they are refundable.

Do not be pressured. Do not agree to anything that is presented over the phone. Before agreeing to anything, take your time to think about your decision. Ask the salesperson to send you written information. Do not be pressured by a salesperson that claims your property can be sold immediately.

Read the contract carefully. The contact should include: what services the broker provides, how much and when the costs should be paid, a length of time to sell the timeshare, and the refund and guarantee policy. Make sure the contact states who is responsible for the sale.

Avoid “too good to be true” offers. Know the estimated value of the timeshare before bringing it to be sold.  If the deal the business offers sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Don’t get tricked by a fake hotel booking website!

scam alert 150x150Taking a vacation this summer? Be extra careful when booking accommodations online. Fake websites appear to offer travelers a convenient way to reserve hotel rooms, but they are just making money for scammers.

How the Scam Works:

You are planning a trip and need to book a hotel room. You see an online ad promoting hotel rooms at a cheap price, and you click it. You are directed to a website that looks legitimate. It may have a URL similar to the real hotel website or established third-party booking site, such as Hotels.com or Expedia.com. The website may also use the same logo, colors and/or design of the legitimate site.

The website might look okay, but it’s a fraud. Scammers are creating fake hotel booking websites to steal money from travelers. Some scam sites make money by tacking on additional fees, but others charge you for a room that simply doesn’t exist. In any case, sharing your credit card and personal information (such as name, address and phone number) on scam websites puts you at risk for identity theft.

How to Spot a Fake Website:

1. Don’t believe what you see: The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website.

2. Look out for fake contact info: Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.

3. Double check the URLs. Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.co)

4. Look for a secure connection. Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock icon.

5. Watch for too good to be true deals. Be sure to comparison shop and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.

For More Information

To learn more, check out this alert and infographic from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam).

NOTE: Hotels.com and Expedia.com are BBB Accredited Businesses.

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BBB advises caution when donating to help Central Texas flood victims

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Central Texas and other areas experienced devastating floods over the Memorial Day weekend. The disaster took lives and destroyed a tremendous amount of property.

There are plenty of good-hearted people who want to help. Unfortunately, there are also bad actors out there who could potentially steal donations intended for victims.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin advises consumers to donate to charities listed with BBB Wise Giving Alliance. American Red Cross is an Accredited Charity with WGA and accepting donations at www.Redcross.org/charitable-donations.

Tips for giving with confidence:

  • Thoughtful Giving.Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort.
  • Help spread the Wise Giving Word. Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well.
  • What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Some families may set up their own assistance funds. Such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling and other tragedy-related needs.)
  • Online Cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
  • Financial Transparency. After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
  • Newly Created or Established Organizations. This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning, but will be difficult to check out and may not be well-managed.
  • Tax Deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

Disasters like the recent floods can also bring out scam artists who target the victims themselves, especially as people clean up homes with water damage. BBB has the following advice for people dealing with water damage.

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Protect yourself against military scams this Memorial Day

Image courtesy of PinkBlue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of PinkBlue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 bbb.org/central-texas.

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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 (Give.org). “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.”

TIPS TO AVOID QUESTIONABLE CHARITY REQUESTS:

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 Give.org 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 bbb.org.

RED FLAGS CHARITIES SHOULD CONSIDER:

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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 checkbbb.org. These businesses have committed to meeting BBB’s Standards for Trust. For any business, go to bbb.org 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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of mrpuen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 bbb.org 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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 BBB.org. 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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