Thursday, January 28, 2010

BBB Charity Director on the Walt Bodine Show

Our BBB Director of Charity and Accountability (and blog contributor), Kyle Boeglin, was invited to share her expertise about relief to Haiti yesterday on the Walt Bodine Show.  She was joined by Ralph Reed, Sprint Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, and David Renz, Director of the Midwest Center for Non-Profit Leadership.

The show focused on three aspects of donating: how technology affects donation, how to spot good charities, and how to avoid scams. You can listen to the full program by clicking the link below.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Update on Charitable Giving in Haiti

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those dealing with unbelievable loss in Haiti.

A small silver lining can be found in the generosity of the world's people in response to the Haitian earthquake and subsequent humanitarian crisis. The Center on Philanthropy reports that as of today, American have pledged $519.5 million to 76 charities providing aid in Haiti. President Obama recently signed a bill allowing taxpayers to deduct cash donations to Haitian earthquake relief on their 2009 tax returns. Donations must be made after January 11, 2010 and before March 1, 2010 and cannot be designated for the benefit of specific individuals or families. Ordinarily, taxpayers would need to wait until next year to report those deductions.
The BBB reminds donors to be prudent about making charitable donations. We recommend that donors not respond to spam messages and emails that claim to link to relief organizations. Also, please be wary of emails from people claiming to be victims of the earthquake. People involved in the disaster are simply not able to get online right now. For more tips on making wise giving choices, please check out the BBB's publication on How to Vet Haiti Earthquake Charity Appeals. For a list of nationally accredited charities providing relief, you can click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Consumer Reports Money & Shopping Blog: Don’t write off the check just yet

Consumer Reports Money & Shopping Blog: Don’t write off the check just yet

This is an interesting article from Consumer Reports. I'm curious. Do you still write checks?

Member Spotlight: Vita Craft

Periodically, we like to spotlight BBB member businesses that are doing new and interesting things of interest to their consumers. Today I'd like to spotlight a project of the Vita Craft Corporation, a member of our BBB since April 1945! We appreciate their long-standing commitment to business ethics.

The Vita Craft Factory Outlet sells scratch and dent 'seconds' of the high-quality stainless-steel cookware produced by Vita Craft right here in Shawnee, Kansas. It is a great place to pick up good pots and pans for a fraction of their original retail cost.

The outlet is located at 5726 Nieman, Shawnee, KS 66203. Hours are M-F: 9am-6pm and Saturday 9am-3pm. You can reach them via telephone at 913.631.6265

If you visit the Vita Craft Factory Outlet store, mention you read this BBB blog post and receive an additional 20% off your purchase.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is a New Consumer Financial Protection Agency a Good Idea?

A bill that would create a new and far-reaching arm of the executive branch has passed the House of Representatives.  It has been forwarded to the Senate for approval.  If passed, a new federal consumer protection agency will be created that focuses only on "financial services."  So far, the term "financial services" remains a bit fuzzy; however, the bill clearly states money-lenders, payday loan companies, and mortgage brokers will be included under its jurisdiction. Admittedly, the business practices of these industries needs closer scrutiny.  As the Federal Reserve and Securities Exchange Commission focus on controlling the industry as a whole, consumer protection can sometimes fall by the wayside.  The FTC's jurisdiction does not reach many financial services (including banking), and therefore cannot protect consumers from several predatory practices.  With the economic crisis still lurking in consumers' minds, scam artists and financial predators are constantly scheming to exploit related fears.  The BBB has processed countless complaints and inquiries on credit repair organizations accepting advance payments, payday loan and short term loan companies charging 500% or more in interest, lenders withholding vital information during sales, mortgage fraud, investment scams and other financial services.  Despite the considerable time government agencies and the Better Business Bureau dedicate to protecting and educating consumers, predatory financial services remain active and abundant. Everyone (FTC and other agencies, Congress) agree some government action needs to make consumer protection more efficient.  Congress and President Obama believe the best way to do this is to create a new agency dedicated solely to consumer protection against predatory financial services.  But is it a good idea?

Most businesses predictably believe they do not need further oversight or regulation.  Lobbyists have swarmed Washington to fight the bill.  The automotive industry recently won a major victory by influencing the House of Representatives to exclude the Auto-Financing industry from further regulation.  Automotive companies argued that after such a difficult year in the industry, they could not afford further burdens. Unfortunately, the BBB processes many complaints on auto-financing. When the economy turns around and automotive companies are again successful, they will still be exempt from oversight and regulation under this bill.  If we're going to have a bill that protects consumers from financial services, there is no good enough reason to exclude auto-financing, the one service that nearly all Americans are exposed to.

The new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) will acquire authority over financial institutions from several other federal agencies.  Opinions on the wisdom of this are polarized. By pulling authority from other agencies, we lose the experience of other agencies.  The CFPA will be thrown into the consumer protection world without experience or expertise.  The agency will be forced to learn in the field, making the long process of learning even more difficult. That being said, all agencies have to learn the ropes at some point. There's no way of avoiding it. And, by making financial services regulated and overseen by one agency, it is less likely that large numbers of consumers will continue to fall into gaps between jurisdictions.

Financial industries believe the bill is harmful.  Some of their concerns are legitimate. According to the bill, the CFPA can require businesses to submit financial reports at will.  It's a safe bet that the Agency will not request extensive financial records from innocent companies because no one, including them, wants to do more work than necessary.  However, this will put a burden on businesses to keep their records in an easily accessible format for the purposes of compilation and submittal to the Agency.  Also, privacy is only guarded against by "reasonable assurances of confidentiality."  Because the bill doesn't define "reasonable" or "confidential" when regarding inter-agency sharing, it probably doesn't instill much confidence into defenders of the Fourth Amendment.

In the end, there's no way to know how successful the CFPA will be until it has been around a while. And that is if it ever exists at all.  If the new agency reduces predatory financial practices, without too many hurt feelings, then it is a success.  If it violates our privacy and harms honest business at no gain, then it is an obvious failure. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, January 18, 2010

January is Stalking Awareness Month

Stalking is something we often see in movies. A would-be murderer will often stalk his victim by trailing her to work or by crouching in the bushes to spy on her as she does the dishes, looking for the perfect time to strike. While it might make for good entertainment, stalking is a serious problem. 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. 81% of women stalked by a current or former boyfriend are also physically assaulted and the majority of women killed by their intimate partner were stalked before being murdered.

For more information about National Stalking Awareness Month, please visit our friends at Hope House . If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, there are local resources available. Please call Hope House's 24-hour crisis hotline: 815.461.HOPE(4673)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BBB Message About Aid to Haiti

Here at the Kansas City BBB, our thoughts and prayers are with the recovery efforts in Haiti after yesterday's devastating earthquake. We know that many people in Kansas City will be eager to help in the relief efforts. Below is advice from the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance about how donors can make sure their gifts have a positive impact.

BBB Advises Donors on How to Vet Haiti Earthquake Charity Appeals
Not All Charities are Equipped to Help and Some Might be Fraudulent, Warns BBB

January 13, 2009 – Arlington, VA – As immediate relief needs are assessed in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12th, many Americans are looking for ways to help by donating to a charity. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns that—as occurred following the tsunami in 2004 and Katrina in 2005—fraudulent charities will likely emerge to try and scam donations from well-meaning Americans.

“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities,” said Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.”

BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following six tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the effected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing—while well intentioned— may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need - unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Monday, January 11, 2010

BBB Christmas Party

Every year, Santa Claus treats the Kansas City BBB employees to a Christmas party, complete with presents, tree, reindeer games, and feast.  It was a great holiday season for BBB and we hope the greatness extended to your holidays, as well.  Here are somewhat festive pictures that fail to capture the jubilant atmosphere.  Taken by Yours Truly.

The Feast:

The Gift Exchange:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Add Starbucks to the List . . .

of companies trying to help you eat healthier in the hopes it will help their own bottom line. From our friends at the Council of Better Business Bureaus comes word that as of this Tuesday, January 12, you will be able to purchase snacks - granola mixes, fruit-like snacks, etc. - with caloric values less than 220 calories and sandwiches with less than 400 calories. They will also add to their selection of zero-calorie teas ('zero calorie' means they assume you don't load that tea up with cream and sugar).

One tip, while a white-chocolate-mocha-frappuccino-topped-with-whipped-cream (see picture) may very well give you a tiny glimpse of Heaven and all it's creamy coffee-filled goodness, don't consume all 410 calories of it, purchase a low calorie granola mix to go with it, and then assume you're sticking to your diet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Kansas Rebate Program Rewards Consumers for Recycling Old Appliances

The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC) is launching a program to help low-income Kansas residents replace old, ineffecient household appliances with new ones that conserve energy. The program will offer rebates of $200-$800 for new appliances that carry the Energy Star label. Old appliances must be at least 10 years old. The program will benefit both consumers and local appliance retailers. For more information, please visit the KHRC website.

Our old, well-worn refrigerator died on us over the summer. In the rush to replace it, we were surprised that because of advances in energy-saving technology we could buy a larger fridge that uses less energy than our older, smaller model. We have two young boys whose stomachs grow by the day, so it was nice to upgrade knowing we wouldn't be paying more to run it. Our food bill is growing enough as it is.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Diabetes Friendly Subway Restaurant

In Kansas City only, Subway has launched a diabetes-friendly menu.  It's a test to see if Subways around the United States will adopt the menu.  It's exciting that Subway chose our market for their test because all those who suffer from diabetes will have the opportunity to eat food made specifically to fit their needs.  If the new menu proves popular, it could influence other businesses, local or national, to try similar tactics.  Subway is trying something brave and beneficial to the public.

Subway will be featuring a new drink called Vitazest, which is specifically made for those with diabetes.  The drink has no calories, carbs, sodium or sugar and will also soon hit the Kansas City test market for retail sale.
You can find out more information from the Subway Scoopit website. If anyone has given the new menu a try, please feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Decade, New Census, New Scam

Hurray for a new decade! May the next 10 years of your life be joyful and prosperous.

With a new decade comes a new census, the decennial task of figuring out who lives where in our great country. Unfortunately, it also means that the nefarious among us may be looking for ways to steal other people's identity. The Kansas Attorney General warns citizens not to reply to emails purportedly from the Census Bureau asking for personal information. Personal information will not be requested by the Census Bureau via email. Protect your identity by promptly deleting those emails.

Incidentally, the Census Bureau's regional office in Kansas City is hiring for the 2010 Census. If you are looking for a job, you might want to check them out.