FTC: Company tricked business & non-profits in fake directory scheme


On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with a Slovakia-based company and two of its executives who took million of  dollars from small businesses and non-profits in the United States and other countries.

According to its complaint, FTC alleged Fair Trade tricked retailers, home-based businesses, local associations and others into paying close to $2,000 annually for a nonexistent business directory. Fair Trade would contact the business through direct mail falsely suggest that consumers had to return a form confirming or updating their contact information for a trade show they had attended or planned to attend.

The only problem was that there was never a trade show.

In December 2014, Fair Trade executive Wolfgang Valvoda  was indicted on mail fraud charges by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

Under the settlement, the company and its two executives are banned from entering the business directory business. They also are prohibited from misrepresenting any product or service, attempting to collect payment for their business directory listings, profiting from consumers’ personal information, or failing to dispose of consumers’ personal information properly.

Here are some steps you can take in order to keep your business safe:

  • Train your staff to spot this scam.  Educate your employees about how this scam works. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone. Put a copy of this alert in employee mailboxes. Mention it in a staff meeting. Post it on the break room bulletin board or where employees clock in and out.
  • Inspect your invoices.  Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At a minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay the bills. Train your team to send all inquiries to them. Compile a list of the companies you typically use for directory services, office supplies, and other recurring expenses. Encourage the people who pay the bills to develop a “show me” attitude when it comes to unexpected invoices from companies they’re not familiar with. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.
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How to reduce spam in your inbox


Nothing can be more annoying then viewing and then deleting your spam email. Spam refers to unwanted bulk messages most commonly sent through email.

The advancements of technology has made spam accessible through more than just email. People can now receive spam through instant messaging,  blogs, text messages, and even voice over internet conversation programs. Its mostly used by advertisers because of its low cost, but is also used by scammers to trick you into giving up sensitive information.

That’s why it’s important to  never click on links, download attachments, or reply to messages from senders you’re not familiar with. If you do, the information you give up may used by scammers in a variety of ways, including selling your sensitive information to others.

However, there are ways to reduce the amount of spam you receive:

  • Look into your spam filter and use it – Most email services have some sort of spam filter available.  The filter identifies potential spam messages and then sends them into a separate spam folder. Some also allows you to report messages as spam or mark them as junk. You can also forward unwanted or deceptive messages to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov. Be sure to include the complete spam email.
  • Read privacy policies  – Before you submit your email address to a website, check the privacy policy to determine if the website owner will sell it to others.  Also look for pre-checked boxes that will sign you up for email newsletters, updates, and advertisements from the company and its affiliates.  Some websites will allow you to opt out of the emails.  It might be also be a good idea to have two email addresses and have one designated for sign-ups.
  • Make sure your computer is protected – Hackers monitor the internet looking for unprotected computers that they can install malware on, allowing them to control the computers remotely.  Make sure your security software is up to date and run it frequently to detect possible threats.  Disconnect your computer from the internet when not in use.




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Protection from Zika? Not so fast says FTC


With all the news around the globe regarding the Zika virus, some companies seemed to have tried to convince consumers their products can offer protection.

However, earlier this month the Federal Trade Commission sent  10 warning letters to online marketers selling products that say they offer protection from the virus.

According to the FTC, the letters warn the companies that Zika protection claims must be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence in the form of well-controlled human clinical testing.

The products were different types of wristbands, patches, and stickers that supposedly repelled the mosquitoes that carry Zika or protect people from the virus. The letters also said the testing for their claims of Zika protection must use the mosquito species that are able to carry the virus — and must be able to demonstrate that the repellent effects last as long as advertised.

FTC said in the letter  the companies must review the claims that they made  for their products, and delete or change them immediately if they cannot be substantiated by scientific evidence.

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What VW’s settlement means for car owners


If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know that Volkswagen has agreed to a settlement with the EPA, the California Attorney General, the California Air Resources Board, the Federal Trade Commission, and current vehicle owners/lessees and certain former vehicle owners/lessees in the U.S.

Why you may ask? VW claimed 500,000 cars had low levels of harmful emissions, but turns out they were much higher.

According to Volkswagen’s website, if the settlement is approved the company will agree to the following:

  • Buy back, terminate leases or provide approved emissions modifications for nearly 475,000 2.0-liter TDI diesel cars in the United States;
  • Provide cash payments to owners/lessees;
  • Pay for environmental remediation; and
  • Promote zero emissions vehicle technology

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, the FTC says it means VW will buy back affected cars for thousands of dollars more than their current replacement value, which is compensation for VW’s untrue emissions claims and for the trouble of replacing the car.

Additionally, the government agency says if environmental regulators approve a modification to the cars, people who own or lease will have the option for VW to implement the modification and get money in compensation.

This information is important if you are looking to sell one of the qualified cars because potential buyers could offer what might sound like a great deal, but would be less if do a buyback under the FTC’s settlement with VW. If you go with the buyback program, you can use the money however you like. If someone says you have to buy another car with it, they’re lying.

Now if you’re wondering if there is a deadline to submitting a buyback claim, there is.  But don’t worry, that’s not until September 1, 2018. Buybacks could start in late Fall 2016, and emissions modifications will begin once approved.

To find out if your car qualifies, click here.

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FTC Sues 1-800 Contacts


The Federal Trade Commission is suing one of the biggest online contact retailers in the U.S. for allegedly eliminating their online competitors by having them agree to bidding agreements.

According to the FTC, this all began when someone searched  “1-800 Contacts,” and saw advertisements for both 1-800 Contacts and a competitor. The online retailer objected to this because of bidding agreements signed by them and their competitors.

The FTC said these agreements stemmed from lawsuits that 1-800 Contacts brought against numerous rivals, accusing them of infringing its trademarks. So, 1-800 contacts and their competitors signed these agreements, which prevented both companies from bidding for each other’s trademarked terms.

Additionally, all but one agreement required each company to use negative keywords designed to keep search engines, like Google or Bing, from displaying a company’s advertisement. What this means is if a consumer searched “1-800 Contacts,” negative keywords would not allow ads from 1-800 Contacts’ competitors from appearing on your screen.

FTC’s complaint states 1-800 contacts entered into bidding agreements with at least 14 competing online contact lens retailers.

The federal agency claims these agreements are unfair since users can’t compare prices between different retailers, which FTC claims eliminates market competition. This means customers may be paying higher retail prices.

The administrative trial is scheduled to begin on April 11, 2017.

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Car Wrap Scam 101

Who wouldn’t want to make easy money? The easier the cash can get into your wallet, the more likely someone will be to take the job opportunity.

Unfortunately, scammers know this and use it to their advantage quite often in a variety of different scams. One of these is the car wrap scam.

It sounds pretty simple. A company will tell you that you can make easy money if you shrink wrap your car with different brands like Monster Energy or Red Bull. All you have to do is deposit a check, use part of it to pay a specified shrink-wrap vendor, and drive around your town like usual. Simple right? Not so much.

What can really happen is the company will say you’ll make a couple hundred bucks. However, they’ll send you a check for couple thousand dollars, allowing you keep a portion, and then wire the rest to another company that will wrap your car.

A few weeks after you deposited the check, your bank will tell you that it bounced and you’re on hook for the money that was supposedly yours and the remaining amount.

Remember, if you get a message to deposit a check and wire money back, it’s probably a scam.



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BBB Investigation: Customers claim San Antonio roofing company took cash, did no work


A San Antonio roofing company has left some customers frustrated and wanting answers. But it’s not about what Durizon Roofing & Construction did do, it’s about what they allegedly didn’t do.

According to complaints filed with BBB, consumers hired the company to fix damages to their roofs. But after paying an upfront fee, Durizon Roofing & Construction allegedly never came back to start the job. Customers told BBB they repeatedly called the business to get answers, but either never received a call back or were told that the company was busy with other homes.

The company has responded to complaints by saying the work was completed or by giving an expected start date. BBB contacted these consumers to verify what the business claimed.

One customer stated Durizon Roofing & Construction repaired the roof of their home six months later after signing the contract in December 2015. However, the business did not work on the roof of their porch even though the contract stated it would be. Two others told BBB the business began the work and never finished. An additional consumer said the business repeatedly promised to complete their roof but never did.

But this isn’t the first time the company has shown a pattern of non-completion of work.

BBB’s investigation revealed the owners of Durizon Roofing & Construction, Richard Stevens and Mark Rodriguez, were co-owners of another business in Allen, Texas, called Castle Rock Construction. Complaints filed with that business revealed they failed to comply with an arbitration decisions or mediated settlement. Additionally, complainants alleged they had no work done on their roofs after paying upfront.

Anita Soliz contracted with Durizon Roofing & Construction in late October 2015. She said a roof inspector with the company came to her door after a hail storm hit San Antonio.

“He told me he could take a look at my roof for a free inspection and I thought ‘why not’,” Soliz said.

The company’s inspector came back and told Soliz he had found some damage. Soliz then decided to call her insurance to have an adjuster take a look with the inspector. Her adjuster then gave her a check to pay for the roof, but gave her some words of caution.

“He told to me be sure to not pay all of it at once to my roofer,” Soliz said.

Since Soliz felt comfortable with the inspector, she decided to go ahead and contract with Durizon Roofing & Construction. But first, she was asked to pay a fee in order to reserve her spot since the company had other clients in front of her.

“He pretty much told me they were getting really busy and would need $800 to hold my place, but that I would be a priority,” Soliz said.

Soliz wrote a personal $800 check out to the company, but said she never heard from them after that. Soliz said the business continuously evaded her calls, causing her to hire a lawyer in March to demand work to be done. Nothing ever came of it and she never used the check given to her by the insurance company. However, Soliz said she wasn’t refunded the $800.

“I ended up just hiring another roofer in April. It’s frustrating because Durizon Roofing only sent me regular mail twice, which was to tell me they were moving and a Christmas type card,” Soliz said.

BBB confirmed the business moved to a new location at 9200 Broadway St., Ste. 120 in San Antonio.

The business did respond to Soliz’s complaint by providing a phone number to call in order to receive her refund. Soliz said she called the number twice in June, but no one answered.

BBB also uncovered through a Bexar County public records search that the business owed money to two different companies, Austin Roofer’s Supply LLC and Roofing Supply Group, LLC.

Documents show Austin Roofer’s Supply LLC placed a lien on Durizon in September 2015 after the company failed to pay $3,000.

Separate documents revealed Roofing Supply Group, LLC sued Durizon Roofing & Construction for an unpaid debt of $33,673.29 after Durizon ordered materials and had not paid in over 30 days. Roofing Supply Group won the suit in March 2016. Documents reveal their lawyers filed a writ of execution, which allows a sheriff to seize Durizon Roofing & Construction’s assets and sell them in order to settle the debt.

BBB contacted the lawyer representing Roofing Supply Group, LLC to see if the writ of execution was completed, however he was unable to comment on the case.

Another complainant, Peggy Mott, told BBB she paid Durizon Roofing & Construction $4,620 as an upfront fee from her insurance to repair issues with her roof. Similar to Soliz, Mott says an inspector came to her home and checked her roof for damages for free. After paying the business, they never came back to repair the roof.

“They told me they would start around the second week of November. That date came and went,” Mott said.

Mott said she has called the business repeatedly at least once a month.

Durizon Roofing & Construction responded to Mott’s complaint by stating the work would be completed on July 17. According To Mott, the business has yet to finish the job as of July 18, 2016.

BBB sent three letters during the months of May and June to Durizon Roofing & Construction addressed to Mr. Richard Stevens, asking the company to address the complaint concerns.

On July 19, the company’s co-owner Mark Rodriguez responded to BBB’s letter with the following:

“The administrative assistant that we employed to handle these complaints did not inform us that we had so many outstanding issues with our customers. She had sole access to the email on file with the BBB and failed to communicate with her supervisors. When we discovered the volume of complaints that had been neglected, she was immediately dismissed. We are currently organizing our efforts to address each complaint and would appreciate your help in resolving this matter. The top priority is taking care of our customers, and addressing these complaints in a satisfactory manner.”

BBB has some tips that can make finding a reputable roofing contractor easier:

  • Do your homework. Check with BBB before choosing a roofing contractor. Get referrals, compare several price quotes, and always confirm the contact information of the contractor you choose. Beware of red flags, including high pressure sales tactics, full upfront payment or low estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come. If possible, ask for references and check them. Try to talk to previous customers, and look at a similar job that has been completed recently and for one that was several years ago.
  • Work closely with your insurance company on repairs. Make sure you understand how your homeowner’s insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Before spending money, call your insurance company first to make sure all necessary procedures are followed according to your policy. If you do not follow your insurance company’s guidelines, you may be stuck with the entire bill.
  • Ask about warranties. Warranties and workmanship are only as good as the company that stands behind them. Trustworthy businesses will offer information about how they plan to handle any repairs covered under their warranty, particularly if they are coming in from another area.
  • Get everything in writing. Make sure all work is explained in the contract, including cleanup, waste disposal and start and completion dates. Any verbal agreements that were made should be included in the contract. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials, labor and any guarantees. You should also get a copy of the contractor’s insurance. Any changes to your contract should be done in the form of a change order. Be sure the contract includes a physical address and phone number of the contractor. If you can, visit the address.
  • Beware of rogue contractors. In the wake of a storm, dishonest roofing repair businesses will solicit work, often going door-to-door in unmarked trucks. They may require advance payment or make big promises they won’t deliver on. A common sales tactic is to tell the homeowner that their roof is severely damaged from the storm, but that their insurance company will likely cover the cost. The homeowner is then required to sign a contract and make an advance payment. In many of these cases, BBB hears that the job is never completed and the insurance company does not cover the cost.
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Texas AG warns of email scam containing harmful malware

bbb seal of texas

The Attorney General of Texas is warning consumers and businesses throughout Texas of a new email scam that contains malicious malware and claims to come from the Office of the Attorney General.

According to the OAG, the email appears as though it came from the Consumer Protection Division and informs business owners that a complaint has been filed against them. The email contains a link, which if clicked on, downloads harmful malware onto your computer.

The OAG said there are several signs that can help consumers and businesses realize the email is fake. For example, some red flags are if the email contains obvious typos or miscapitalized words.

Additionally, you can check the sender’s email address. If it doesn’t end with “texasattorneygeneral.gov” or “consumerprotection-complaints@texasattorneygeneral.gov”, it may be a phishing email.

If you’re not sure who the email is from, don’t open it. Also, be sure your computer is up to date with antivirus software.

You can also report this scam with BBB.


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Half a million hoverboards recalled for fire risk


A massive recall of over 500,000 hoverboards has been issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission after the agency received numerous reports of hoverboards catching fire or spewing smoke.

The announcement was made on Wednesday with the CPSC stating it received at least 99 incidents reports of battery packs in hoverboards overheating, sparking, smoking, catching fire and/or exploding including reports of burn injuries and property damage.

The recall involves eight business, one retail store, and one online retailer.

In late 2015, online retailer Amazon pulled some hoverboards from their websites after safety concerns regarding the boards’ lithium-ion batteries.

CPSC said consumers should immediately stop using the recalled products and contact the recalling company to return their hoverboard for a full refund, a free repair or a free replacement depending on the model.

To view a list of the companies & stores listed in the recall, click here.


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Invasion of Privacy? FTC claims mobile advertising company tracked users without consent


When you set your privacy setting to not allow an app to know your location, you expect that privacy to be honored. But what if it isn’t?

According to the FTC, a mobile advertising company took an extra in trying to lure consumers. How? By secretly tracking people through their devices, regardless of their privacy settings.

The FTC says InMobi tracked people using information from the Wi-Fi networks connected to or near their devices. The idea was to send consumers location-based advertising — ads that display on a mobile app when the user’s location suggests they’re likely to buy, such as when they’re inside an advertiser’s store.

The company gave app developers software to display the ads in their apps. However, they allegedly did not clearly tell the developers the software would track location even if someone didn’t want to be tracked and had set a device to deny access to its location information.

So, if you had set your privacy setting for the app to never know your location, it wouldn’t have mattered.

InMobi’s network reaches more than a than a billion devices worldwide through thousands of popular apps, including children’s apps.

The case is the first time the Federal Trade Commission charged a mobile ad company with deception and with violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

In it settlement with the FTC, InMobi will pay a $4 million civil penalty, which is suspended to $950,000 based on the company’s financial condition. In addition, the company will be required to delete all information it collected without permission.



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