Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBB Military Line

Did you know that members of our military and their families are a targeted consumer group? Take young, upward-bound consumers, steady paychecks, add the instability inherent in military life and a you have recipe for scam targets and unsavory business practices. Thankfully, non-governmental organizations like the Better Business Bureau, as well as Congress have taken steps toward safeguarding our military through finanical literacy education and laws that do such things like mandate a 'military clause' in residential leases so that a solidier kicking it in Kabul need not worry about still having to pay the rent on the apartment in Kansas where she no longer resides.

The BBB Military Line provides an abundance of great information for our military community. You can check out it's website at wwww.bbb.org/military. A particularly handy Personal Finance Guide for Military Families is available as a free download .

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Cell Phone Software Can Save You Money

I'm pretty sure we still call them phones out of habit.  They do so much more than make calls.  The ability to make phone calls has become a second or third or fourth priority of cell phone function.  They could be accurately described as mobile computers.  Virtually all cell phones now have cameras, text capability, event calendars and calculators.  The most recent phones and upcoming generations have audio and video recorders, internet capability, email, music players, maps, GPS, resource libraries and online markets where you can download content directly to the phone's hard drive.   I've watched 80's sci-fi movies in which the characters carry around devices much more primitive than our modern day "phones."

People are beginning to catch on to the value of cell phone software when purchasing goods and services.  When you are out and about, looking for last-minute Christmas-gift treasures, you can use your phone to check competitor prices. If you are unfamiliar with what a salesperson is telling you, or the price of something is fishy, just look it up on the internet. The iPhone actually has several apps that scan bar codes and look for exact matches to compare prices. Comparing prices on your phone works best at trade shows when someone offers you a "rare deal."  Trade shows are no longer isolated, so long as your phone has signal.  Find out just how rare the sale is before taking a salesperson's word.  If the deal's for real, the salesperson will welcome your efforts to verify his or her claim. If your phone has full access to the internet, be sure to check out companies with the BBB at m.bbb.org.  We have recently developed fully functional online reliability reports that are easy to navigate from a cell phone browser.

When you're searching for a place to eat, check out Yelp.com to see what local restaurants are highly recommended and which ones are closest. After your meal, or during, you can review the restaurant for others (If you are an iPhone user, you can download Yelp's free app). You can also download a tip-calculator to save valuable time before rushing back to work from your lunch break.

The value of new "phone" technology and software are truly apparent when used to protect yourself from contract disputes.  The BBB gets more complaints involving contracts than anything else: cell phone contracts, vehicle payment contracts, mortgage contracts, leasing agreements, etc., etc. Rare as it is, we have seen companies and consumers both alter the text of contracts.  We've heard sales pitches where the sales person directly contradicts what's in the contract, hoping the consumer won't read it.  Like I said, these things don't happen often, but you can guard yourself against them just in case. Use your camera to take photos of a contract and immediately email it to yourself (newer phones have scanners you could use).  If you have a dispute with a business, and you could swear that your contract protects you, check it yourself.  You have a time stamped copy in your email inbox.

This next bit may rest on the border of Paranoia and will probably only be useful if you're locked into a business relationship with someone you've already had problems with.  If you have no other option than to do business with someone who is already untrustworthy, you can record your conversations using a phone's voice-memo recorder.  This will ensure that one party can't change its story later and get away with it.  Depending on the state you live in, you may have to inform the other party that they are being recorded.  Typically, this is common courtesy, anyway.  You're just trying to protect yourself, not perform a sting operation. (Although, if you are performing a sting operation for some reason, in Missouri, you don't have to inform the other party that they are being recorded. As long as one party of the conversation agrees--and that would be you--it's legal to record the conversation).

If you can think of more examples of useful phoneware or phone shopping experiences please feel free to mention them in the comments below.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You Are the Boss of Your Own Money

Take it from the Abominable Snowman in this retro BBB PSA:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Raymore Scammer gets his due...again.

Rascally Raymore real-estate scammer Carl R. Todd has gotten himself into trouble again.  Todd came to the Kansas City Better Business Bureau's attention in 2005 and was soon identified as a disreputable individual.  In 2006, he received his first Cease & Desist order from the Missouri Secretary of State's office for defrauding 17 Missourians out of $2.7 million.  He topped this with an encore performance when he found himself on the receiving end of an Utah Securities Commission sting operation.  He was slapped with another two Missouri Cease & Desists in 2007 for his involvement in a real-estate scam, in which he stole another $1.8 million. In 2008 it was revealed that all the brokers involved in this scam defrauded nearly $500 million from investors.

In an effort to keep his streak of yearly charges, Todd received a federal indictment in December 2009 for defrauding 31 people out of $2.2 million.  One of the victims was a hospitalized man with frontal lobe dementia.  Todd allegedly stole $100,000 from him.  Real classy, Carl.

Todd must now pay back the $2.2 million to his victims.  In order to do this, he has been ordered to turn over his beautiful prize car collection including his beloved 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, 1999 Ford Mustang Shelby Series 1, 1969 Ford Mustang Shelby GT and 2002 Avanti.  This is probably the first time that the authorities have hit him where it hurts.  He may be pouting right now--crying even.

Let's all give Carl R. Todd of Raymore a round of applause for his continued cooperation in returning stolen millions.  Click the links below to check out Todd's greatest hits.


http://www.sos.mo.gov/securities/news.asp?nID=551
http://www.sos.mo.gov/news.asp?id=614
http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2008/lr20799.htm
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/11/jerrald-green-ponzi-schem_n_353868.html
http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/news/2009/todd.ind.htm

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holidays and Thrift Stores

Confession time: I am a thrift store addict. I love the bargains I find there. I love the thrill of the hunt as I look for something whose value may have been overlooked by its previous owner. I love that many of them serve as a funding source for some fantastic nonprofits. I love that they will take the gently used jeans I have no hope of ever fitting into again and use them to take money from someone more slender than I. Thrift stores are the antidote to the clutter disease that plagues my home. And here's a little known secret: thrift stores are fantastic places to shop during the holidays. Three years ago, a day I remember well, I stumbled upon an artificial Christmas tree, in perfect condition for - get this - $7. My children are young and could care less about packaging, so they often receive 'like-new' toys as gifts. I stash the savings into their college funds. Who knows, by the time they need it that extra $10 might be worth enough to buy a whole calculus text book. I can hope.


If you, too, have a love affair with thift stores, or are at least curious enough to step into one, here's some tips from the BBB you should keep in mind:



  • Not all thrift stores benefit charities equally. Ask your favorite store how much your donations and purchases benefit the charity it supports.



  • When gathering items to donate, make sure that the items are needed (check with the thrift store) and in good condition. Remember that torn, soiled clothing is never in style and that as hard as it can be to toss that three-wheeled monster truck into a landfill, no child wants to play with a broken toy. Disposing of unwanted and unusable gifts is costly to charities.


  • Make sure you obtain a donation receipt if you would like to record your donation at tax time. Information on how to claim a deduction for charitable purposes can be found here on the IRS website.

New Endeavors

The BBB is always looking for new ways to reach out to consumers, charities and businesses.  For Kansas City, a blog has been long overdue.  We finally took belated initiative and created the KC BBB blog.  Here, you will not only be able to read about business and charity practices, scams, tips, and stories, but also participate in the conversation, ask questions and share experiences. We look forward to introducing this new aspect to our trust-building efforts in the coming weeks.