BBB Investigation: Barn construction company customers allege losing thousands



COLLEGE STATION, TexasA local College Station barn builder is facing allegations from customers who claim they paid thousands of dollars upfront and never had their projects completed. The builder is also facing civil lawsuits in two Texas counties.

According to complaints filed with BBB against the business, consumers allege Lonestar Barn Company has yet to complete promised projects. Continue reading

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Giving Tuesday Tips

Black Friday is over, Cyber Monday is wrapping up, and tomorrow on #GivingTuesday (November 29) many will consider how to give back to their local charities. This Tuesday and during the entire Holiday Season, BBB urges donors to #GiveWisely by avoiding scams and supporting trustworthy charities. Check out our #GivingTuesday Tips so you can give with confidence:


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BBB Historian tricked into buying phony MLB jersey



“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

It’s these words John Etchieson, current BBB Historian and former President and CEO of BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin, learned the hard way. It all started when he saw an advertisement on his social media account for a Major League Baseball jersey that he couldn’t pass up.

“I encountered an ad on my Facebook page that advertised an end of the season clearance sale of an official MLB jersey for 80 percent off,” Etchieson said.

Not wanting to miss the clearance sale, Etchieson purchased the advertised jersey. Ten days later, he became suspicious when the payment had been processed, but the jersey had not arrived.

“I had not received my jersey and looked at my bank account records and discovered payments had been made to a firm located in China,” Etchieson said.

Etchieson then talked with someone at the official MLB shop and learned that MLB merchandise is only shipped from a postal addresses in the United States. He also found out from the representatives that he wasn’t alone in this scam.

“’The representative said it happens frequently that the official MLB logo is stolen and used to trick unsuspecting consumers,” Etchieson said.

Etchieson also stated that the experience was something he will learn from, and that he will only buy MLB products using the official retailer. 

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Telemarketing scammers get sued by FTC for promising free money


The Federal Trade Commission announced they are suing a Phoenix-based telemarketing company that allegedly tricked consumers out of millions of dollars.

According to the FTC, different business names  like Federal Government Grant Assistance Center, US Federal Grant Department, Associates Program, and Amazon Affiliate Program were used to trick seniors, veterans, and debt-laden consumers into believing they could gain thousands of dollars by selling them a money-making opportunity supposedly linked to, and luring them with a phony grants program.

In their complaint, the FTC claims the defendants’ telemarketers falsely told people they represent Amazon and offered, for hundreds or thousands of dollars, to create a website for them linked to They claimed it would earn them thousands of dollars every month in commissions for sales via the website.

They also falsely offered to advertise the consumer’s website and use search engine optimization to drive customers to it.

Additionally, the telemarketers asked for thousands of dollars upfront to people while claiming to represent the government and falsely told them they can get government grants to help pay for home repairs, medical costs, and paying down debt.

For those people who did pay the, the FTC says they never received any grants or commissions and the defendants ignored their requests for refunds.

A federal court has temporarily halted the operation. The federal agency is looking to end the alleged illegal practices and obtain money back to the consumers.

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BBB Investigation: Consumers claim utility terrain vehicle company fails to deliver ordered products


When Jack Canon of Pecos, Texas, was trying to find the perfect accessories to fit his Polaris utility vehicle, he happened to stumble upon Texas Outdoors’ website. The company manufactures UTV accessories and is based in Garden Ridge, Texas, outside of San Antonio. Canon was looking to buy a roof, a stereo sound system and some other equipment for his vehicle. He thought he had found the best site for his needs.

“It was easy. I just filled out a form of what I wanted then submitted it. The company emailed me back with the final price,” Canon said.

The final price turned out to be around $2,000. Canon was told through email he could only pay for his products with a check.

“Nick told me he didn’t accept credit cards,” Canon said.

Although hesitant, Canon agreed to mail the check and placed the order online in late November 2015.

Texas Outdoors owner, Nicholas Schycker, told Canon in an email he would receive everything in two weeks.

Those two weeks turned into four months, according to Canon. Schycker allegedly told Canon he was experiencing delays. The two initially kept in contact, but Canon said Schycker eventually stopped answering phone calls and emails.

“He wasn’t responding to me. So, I asked for a refund on everything,” Canon said.

After requesting the refund, Canon said Schycker responded to him and told him he should be receiving his order shortly. His order came in early March; however, the $550 stereo sound system he ordered was missing. Canon then decided his next step was to file a complaint with BBB.

“I just wanted my money refunded or for the sound system to be delivered,” Canon said.

Schycker promised to refund Canon the full amount and to “make it good,” but Canon said he has yet to receive the money.

Based on complaints BBB has received, other customers of Texas Outdoors also allege their items were never delivered. In the past year, Texas Outdoors has received 15 complaints. The complainants allege after paying the company through check, they had limited communication with the business. On average, customers allegedly lost close to $1,200.

One consumer BBB spoke with, Skyler Dusek, said he was able to get a full refund of nearly $4,300 from the business after waiting five months for his parts and equipment to be delivered. He eventually involved local law enforcement and drove down to Texas Outdoors’ physical location.

“They wouldn’t answer the phone and everything had stopped. They finally sent a money order after the sheriff’s department got involved,” Dusek said.

BBB emailed Texas Outdoors in September asking them to address the pattern of complaints. Owner Nicholas Schycker responded by email saying he would be submitting a formal response, but none was ever received.

BBB also attempted to find a business filing for Texas Outdoors through the Texas Secretary of State and local county clerk. According to the Texas Secretary of State, a business operating in Texas is required to register in the state. BBB found multiple corporations under Nicholas Schycker’s name. However, the corporations are currently listed as having forfeited existences.

When ordering items online, it’s important to know what risk you may be taking.

BBB offers the following tips:

  • Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card online means your transaction may be protected by theFair Credit Billing Act. This law allows you to dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them. Some credit card companies may also provide added protections and won’t hold you responsible for unauthorized charges. Remember, paying by check is just like cash.
  • Read about the policies, along with terms and conditions. Are you able to return the item if you’re not satisfied with it? Are there any additional fees? What is the refund policy? These questions are normally answered in a company’s terms and conditions on their website. Make sure you understand them, along with any policies before making a purchase.
  • Keep key information. Be sure to save any receipts or emails you receive from the company. This can be essential when filing a dispute with your credit card company. Keep a watchful eye on your online transactions, too. Make sure there are no additional charges that you don’t recognize.
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70 people arrested in India with ties to an alleged IRS scam


Police in India have arrested 70 people in connection to an alleged IRS scam that took tens of millions of dollars from Americans and was run for almost a year in a call center outside of Mumbai.

According to Reuters, Assistant Police Commissioner Bharat Shelke said the alleged scammers posed as U.S. Internal Revenue Service officials and left victims voice mails accusing them of tax evasion and threatening them with arrest.

Some victims believed the threatening voice mails and were asked by the scammers to pay thousands of dollars to settle their cases. Scammers would also accept iTunes gift cards as payment.

The callers were trained to have a passable American accent. Additionally, they studied a six page script that detailed how conversations would develop and how to convince victims the scam was true if they had doubts.

Reuters said Assistant Police Commissioner Shelke estimates $36.5 million was extorted from U.S. residents.

Police have yet to catch the ring leaders of the scam.


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BBB Investigation: Advanced fee loan company tricks consumers out of hundreds of dollars


SAN ANTONIO—A company that is allegedly located in San Antonio may have left consumers looking to obtain a loan out to dry after charging hundreds of dollars as an advanced fee, only to never deliver on the loan.

Dollars On Call has racked up six complaints in four different states with BBB this year, and those who filed complaints all allege a similar story. Complainants claim they were contacted by the business through email after looking online to obtain a loan. The email said they had qualified for a loan. However, after calling the business, consumers were told they needed to pay a fee in order to continue the process.

It was at this point that Rene Brown of Massachusetts and other complainants were asked to do something unusual.

“They told me to get a PayPal card and put $100 on it,” Brown said.

Although skeptical, Brown went ahead and put $100 on the card. Prior to their request, she was looking online to get a payday loan.  So when she got an email from Dollars On Call about being eligible for a $3,000 loan, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

“I certainly didn’t find them, they found me,” Brown said.

Brown then loaded $100 onto the PayPal gift card she bought and was told it would be refunded. All she had to do was give them the code on the card. Next, she sent another $180 as well through a PayPal gift card. The company allegedly told Brown that a finance officer would get in touch with her and that they work with Bank of America. However, Brown said she couldn’t get ahold of anyone she spoke to.

“Everything just stopped. I tried calling them and it went straight to voicemail,” Brown said.

Similar complaints filed with BBB support Brown’s story. Consumers allege they were asked for an advanced fee ranging from $100 to $350 dollars to be paid through a gift card. Once the business gets its money, consumers are unable to get ahold of any representative.

Some complaints on file also allege being transferred or connected to what they believed to be a well-known bank in order to complete the loan process.

BBB looked into the physical address listed on the company’s website After reviewing it, BBB confirmed 6300 Lake Superior St. was not a working address in San Antonio. Additionally, BBB found the website was registered to different people on different domain searches. The first is someone called Madhan B who could possibly live in India and work for an organization called “It Dreamz.” The second is someone called Jackson Moore who listed the company’s contact address as his own.

The company is also not a registered broker with the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, which is required by the state of Texas.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is illegal for companies doing business over the phone to promise a loan or credit card and request payment before those services are delivered.

BBB reached out to the business through email and phone in order to address our concerns, but the business never contacted us back.

While it may be tempting to answer solicitations that say you qualify for a loan, remember the process is never that easy.

BBB offers these tips when dealing with companies who request an advanced fee:

  • Don’t wire money or use a third-party debit card. It’s an immediate red flag if a company asks you to wire money or use a third-party debit card to obtain loans. Once you hand over the payment, you’ll more than likely not get it back.
  • Check to see if the company is licensed. A loan broker working in Texas must be registered with the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. Consumers can call the agency or check online to see if the company they are dealing with has a license. Remember, all loan brokers are required to register in the state where they do business.
  • Don’t pay a fee for a loan before it’s delivered. According to the FTC, it is illegal for companies doing business over the phone in the U.S. to promise a loan and ask for payment before it is delivered.
  • Ask what the fees are for. If you’re being asked to provide some upfront money before being issued a loan, ask what the money is needed for. If the company says it for processing or paperwork, or refuses to be specific, you may want to walk away. Also, be careful about giving out your Social Security number or bank information to a company that states they won’t need to check your credit history. The company could use the information you provide to debit your bank account.
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How writing a review could end up hurting your wallet


Better Business Bureau takes a look at how non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts can hurt customers

Most consumers don’t read the fine print on everything they sign. We all know that we should carefully read the terms and conditions of every agreement and every line of every contract, but we don’t. It’s easier to jot down a signature or click “accept.”

By doing this, consumers could be signing away the right to complain and not even know it, thanks to the rising use of non-disparagement clauses in contracts.

Such is the case for one Texas couple out of Plano. An article written by CBS 11 DFW said the Plano couple posted a negative review on Yelp about a Dallas business called Prestigious Pets. The business sued claiming the review violated a non-disparagement clause in their contract and are seeking up to $1 million in damages.

Prestigious Pet’s page on Yelp shows a “Consumer Alert: Questionable Legal Threats” message that warns consumers the business has sued a reviewer.

Non-disparagement clauses are sometimes used in contracts between consumers and businesses, and the use of these clauses is on the rise, according to Professor Emeritus Richard Alderman, who serves as director of consumer law at the University of Houston Law Center. These prohibit consumers from making negative remarks, truthful or not, about a company through a public medium like Yelp, Google review or a BBB review. If you break the clause, you could be sued for hundreds or thousands of dollars by the business.

One consumer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said her signature on the dotted line of an application to rent a property would come back to haunt her.

A particular clause in the application denied her the ability to write an honest review of how the company was treating her. Not only had she never heard of the clause, she didn’t even notice it when she signed. The clause said she was “prohibited from making disparaging remarks/statements or publications regarding the other to any third party” by posting on any review based website.

The consumer we spoke with never knew she had signed the clause until after she filed a complaint with BBB.

“I really didn’t even pay attention to it to be honest with you,” the consumer said. “It was in the application I had signed so I could rent the property out. The application said it could look up my credit, that the fee was non-refundable, and then the non-disparagement clause was in it, too,” she said.

After filing the complaint, the consumer said she received a demand of removal letter from the business. The document stated the complaint fell under their agreed non-disparagement clause. If the consumer did not take down the complaint, the business would get their lawyers involved.

“We eventually just settled on the issue and we didn’t want to go to court,” the consumer said.

However, the threat of losing hundreds of dollars scared the consumer enough to rethink how she looks at anything she signs.

“I do feel there would be more negative reviews on this business if they didn’t have the clause and am not surprised (the owner) does it,” the consumer said.

According to Professor Alderman, non-disparagement clauses began to appear in consumer contracts with the increase of websites that allow reviews of businesses.

He said businesses use the clauses as a sort of protection against consumers who lie about the service that company has given. They appear in a variety of contracts including professional service and property agreements, but Alderman said they are not limited to a specific industry. What the clause essentially does is silence consumers even when what they said is truthful, Alderman said.

“From a consumer stand point, there is still a problem,” Alderman said. “The threat that if you don’t take this down you would owe me $50,000 has a tendency to work.”

Currently, there is no law in Texas that prohibits businesses from using non-disparagement clauses in contracts. Only California has banned businesses from placing non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts.

BBB contacted the Texas Attorney General’s Office to see if any official legal opinion has been issued. According to a spokesperson, none have been issued or requested. The AG’s office did say they encourage consumers to review contracts carefully and to submit a complaint to the agency if a consumer feels they have been misled.

The Federal Trade Commission made a stand against non-disparagement clauses after they sued Roca Labs Inc. in 2015 for including the clauses in their contracts. The federal agency said in a press release that the clauses harmed consumers by barring them from making truthful statements about the company’s product.

So what happens if you sign a contract or agreement with a non-disparagement clause? Not much, according to Alderman. You can sue the company; however, he said you have to factor in if you can win the lawsuit and if you want to get into one. Alderman also said first amendment protections would not apply to the clause because the dispute involves private parties, not a government impeding speech.

There is a possibility that a federal law could be passed restricting the use of non-disparagement clauses.

The U.S. Senate passed the Consumer Review Freedom Act in December of 2015. The bill would prohibit the use of certain clauses in form contracts that restrict the ability of a consumer to communicate regarding the goods or services offered. Additionally, the bill would protect the right of consumers to express truthful criticism.

“Reviews offering blunt and honest criticism play an increasingly important role in helping customers select the best products and services,” said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who sponsored the bill. “If consumers no longer trust reviews because of strong-arm policies, a key benefit of the system is gone.”

Thune told BBB he believes consumers should benefit from the experiences of other customers. While he understands the concerns businesses have about maintaining their reputations, there are examples of abuse that harm consumers and competing businesses, he said.

The legislation would ensure the practice of putting non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts doesn’t become common place, Thune said.

“Consumers will be able to breathe a little easier when writing a critical review without worrying that a provision could be tucked into the fine print of a form contract.”

The next step is for the U.S. House of Representatives to consider the bill. Thune said the legislation is a priority for him.

The U.S. House passed a similar bill called the Consumer Review Fairness Act on Sept. 12. Congressman Leonard Lance is sponsoring the bill.

BBB accredited businesses are not allowed to use non-disparagement clauses, which are not compatible with BBB’s Standards for Trust.

“BBB believes that customer opinions, whether positive or negative, can be valuable information both for businesses and for their future customers,” said Vice President Richard Woods, general counsel and corporate secretary for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “We discourage using these clauses to stifle expression as contrary to BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other.”

BBB does inform consumers of businesses that use these clauses by disclosing the information on their BBB Business Review page.

So, what can a consumer do to protect themselves?

BBB offers these tips:

  • Read your contract. What can end up hurting a consumer is not fully understanding or reviewing a contract. The clauses are sometimes stuck in long contracts or in online contracts that require you to accept what the document entails. Ask the business if there are any clauses that would limit your ability to truthfully give your opinion. Don’t forget to completely read the contract as well.
  • Ask questions. Ask the business why the clause is in the contract. Make sure you understand what happens if you break the clause or if you can back out of the contract if you feel uncomfortable a couple days after signing it.
  • Negotiate with the business. Try to see if the clause can be removed. Seeking legal advice about the contract can ensure everything is done properly.
  • Walk away. Alderman said if a business has a non-disparagement clause in their contract, you may want to rethink doing business with the company. You always have a choice. The clause may indicate the company is worried about a consumer saying something truthful about their services or business practices. Decide whether the clause is something you are comfortable with signing. If not, choose another company who can offer the same service.
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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 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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