Thursday, December 30, 2010

High Speed Internet? Not really.

According to an FCC study, high speed internet providers advertise speeds 50% higher than what they actually deliver.  The study states it is because of end-user limitations, congestion, network quality and bandwidth distribution.  In other words, during peak hours (hours in which the most people are online) speeds lag as more and more information is sent over the network. This isn't a new finding.  The New York Times ran an article on the situation as early as 2006.  A United Kingdom consumer watchdog administered a similar study in 2007 and found that internet speeds were about 1/3 advertised speeds. Techdirt has condemned the practice for more than 6 years.

Advertised broadband speeds are inherently misleading because they use the words "up to."  When advertisements boast super-boosted-turbo speeds of "up to 15mbps" the speeds actually fluxuate wildly.  Because the only information on which consumers can base their purchases is "15mbps," they often believe those are the speeds they will receive (most of the time) when they are on the internet.  This is not true at all.  During peak hours--from about 5p.m. to 11p.m.--speeds drop exponentially as people home from work stream videos, hop on Call of Duty: Black Ops or download music. People rarely see the advertised speeds while they are online.

In some congested areas, as with Downtown Kansas City, over-utilization of cable networks will slow broadband speeds to a crawl.  It makes it impossible to finish a Youtube video without the loading bar stalling.  Cable companies invariably blame the problems on the consumer's home network or the modem, but they often are not the problem. The City of Los Angeles got sick of lousy service and sued Time Warner.  Several more Californian customers felt they were deceived by ads claiming speeds "up to" a certain amount and sued Hughes Communications for not providing service anywhere near the advertised speeds. The consumers won.  Australian authorities got sick of the misleading advertising and told broadband providers to knock it off.

If you feel you are not getting the internet speeds you pay for, you can test your speeds at such sites as www.speedtest.net or  www.speakeasy.net.  If your broadband speeds are far below what you pay for, contact your provider.  If they are unable or unwilling to address the problem, you can file a complaint with your local BBB or consumer protection division such as your state Attorney General.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Scams of the Week: Dec. 27, 2010

Imperial Recovery Partners, LLC - You may know them better as Regent Asset Management. You know, the company that was recently sued by the Colorado Attorney General for collecting without a license, that collects debts that don't exist, that calls people (who don't have debts) and threatens to throw them in jail if they don't give up their money.  If you get a call from them or someone calling himself Tom Parker, hang up the phone.  If you have already given your bank account to them, alert your bank immediately.  They have been calling from the following numbers: 1-866-351-9793 and 1-877-519-5039. Also note that this company is not affiliated with Imperial Recovery out of Lexington, KY.

Mylikes.com - According to their page, they pay people to promote products they already like (People with Twitter accounts should be aware that promoting a product you don't use as if you do is illegal). Their earnings claim of $50/month isn't outrageous and this company does pay some tweeters, but it's not as easy as they make it sound.  Most of their online reviews turned sour once they implemented new rules and qualifications and stopped paying people for referrals.  People have signed up, spammed their followers and haven't gotten anything in return. Maybe they'll turn it around, maybe not.

Melissa Theuriau Ads - If you are on Facebook. Huffington Post, or countless other blog/news sites, you have likely seen this news reporter's picture along with outlandish claims of breaking news about making money from home or the benefits of acai berry.
Her name is Melissa Theurieu and she is a French reporter. If you see any advertisements with her face, it is from, at best, an unethical company using the unlicensed likeness of a foreign news personality.  At worst, the ads are from scammers or con-artists.  All of the ads are false-advertising. If any of the ads have English text, you can be rest assured that the image has been doctored. Just don't click on them. Ever.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Angel Flight Central - A Good Charity Just Got Better

I am SO happy to announce that Angel Flight Central (AFC) is the latest local charity to meet all 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.

It's great when any charity demonstrates its commitment to transparency and accountability by going through the BBB evaluation process.  To me, it is particularly wonderful when an organization uses a BBB evaluation as a road map for improving how it operates. 

About a year ago, the BBB sent AFC a letter because the BBB had been receiving inquiries from the public. We routinely request information from organizations when we get inquiries about them. The letter arrived at AFC's offices just as the organization was undergoing major changes in its management.  It wanted to become a better, more efficient, and more transparent organization and the BBB Standards gave AFC a blueprint for how to do that.

After much hard work on AFC's end, our initial evaluation was concluded this past July with AFC meeting 19 of the 20 BBB Standards and promises from them to get back to me in a few months with information that would meet the last Standard.  I was positively delighted to receive news last week that AFC has, indeed, done everything it needs to fall into compliance with all 20 BBB Standards.  I know how hard AFC has worked this past year.  The underlying goal of our Standards is to help organizations meet their missions.  I know that because of AFC's hard work, they will be able to help more people facing difficult circumstances and in need of travel assistance.

Nice job, Angel Flight Central.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Scams of the Week: Dec. 20, 2010

Defrag Malware - We've probably all seen those fake virus scans that pop up from time to time, claiming that your computer is infected and you should download their software immediately.  Instead of fixing anything, they just load up your computer with a bunch of malicious little programs designed to steal your personal info.  Well, now there is one that claims to scan your hard drive for disc errors, invalid paths and other such stuff. It does the same thing, however. It load your computer with bad junk and steals your info.  More at CNET.

Lindsay Lohan and "your own email@facebook.com - Anything that says "check out this video of Lindsay Lohan (insert: doing something inappropriate here)" is a phishing scam.  Don't click.  There are several variations; all of them lead to a hacked Facebook account. Click Here for more  The same goes for claims that you can get your own email ending in @facebook.com.  The message system on Facebook is already a form of email, so there will probably never be a fully functional Facebook email. There are several phishing comments stating that you can get free iPads, free iPhones, and other free iSomethings. These too, are scams. Don't click the links!

Amazon.com shipping scam - You may receive an email that appears to originate from Amazon.com, but ends up downloading malware onto your computer which can steal personal info such as passwords.  Check the email for distinguishing markers that can only relate to you and the orders you may have placed.  The scammers are counting on us automatically trusting the source. Give emails quick scans before clicking on anything. Click here to read more.

Innovative Wealth Builders - Well, "scam" is pushing the boundaries, but their product is nothing like what they represent it to be on the phone. Here's what the report form the BBB of Western Florida has to say: "BBB has received a pattern of complaints concerning misrepresentation in selling practices, failure to honor promised refunds in a timely manner and failure to issue refunds after being told that a refund would be issued."
They currently have an F rating and making calls to homes throughout the country.  If you truly wish to lower the interest rate on your credit cards, you should speak with your CC company directly or contact a non-profit such as Consumer Credit Counseling Service for assistance.  You can also check with the BBB to find out if they have a history of complaints.  Occasionally debt negotiation services are on the level, but the industry is dominated by conmen and price-gougers.  Any company that guarantees they can lower your interest rate, be very skeptical.  Your credit card companies are not obligate to anything of the sort and do not have to cooperate with third parties.

Microsoft Sweepstakes - It's an oldie that's just making the rounds again.  An email claims that you've won a sweepstakes from Microsoft.  They don't have sweepstakes and if they did, they'd advertise heavily. Click Here for more.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

City Union Mission - Newest Charity Seal Recipient

I'd like to congratulate City Union Mission on meeting all 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability and demonstrating a superb commitment to effectiveness and transparency in its work with the poor and homeless of Kansas City.  City Union Mission has also chosen to participate in our Charity Seal Program, as a way to let its donors and other stakeholders know about its strong commitment to accountability.

The best part of my job is meeting ordinary people who do so much for their communities.  I thank City Union Mission for the work it does in our city. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Donating to Charity

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Donating to a Charity
Be a smart donor this holiday, says BBB of Greater Kansas City

Kansas City MO - December 14, 2010 – Every holiday, billions of dollars are donated to worthy causes and now more than ever charities need the support of donors to help those who are struggling. The BBB advises donors on how to avoid five common mistakes in order to ensure their dollar stretches the farthest in these tough economic times.

“With so many people out of work and in need, it’s extremely important that you maximize the impact your holiday donations have by avoiding the common giving mistakes,” said Kyle Marie Boeglin, Director of Charity Review for the BBB of Greater Kansas City. “A smart donor takes a hard look at a charity’s programs, finances and governance before making a donation. While almost all charities have the best of intentions, not all organizations meet standards or are well managed.”

The BBB recommends that donors avoid these common mistakes when donating to a charity this holiday:

1.Assuming that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause—as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration—is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.

2.Failing to do your research before you give. Even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse, so don’t just take their word for it. Expertise is available. Go to www.bbb.org/charity to verify that a charity meets the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
3.Succumbing to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.

4.Assuming that the charity wants any item you donate. Worn out, unusable or unwanted donated goods cost charities millions of dollars each year because the organization has to bear the cost of tossing the unacceptable donation. If you have questions about an item’s acceptability, call the charity and ask.

5.Mistaking a charity’s identity. With so many charities in existence, their names can blur in a donor’s mind and similar-sounding organizations are common. Be sure you know which charity you’re supporting and that it’s not a case of mistaken identity.

Donors can check out BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations on national soliciting charities for free at www.bbb.org/charity.

For more information or to schedule and interview with a spokesperson on charitable giving, contact Kyle Boeglin at 815.421.7800 or charityreview@kansascity.bbb.org

Monday, December 13, 2010

Scams of the Week

Forex Trading - Forex (foreign exchange) scams are becoming more prevalent as economists and TV personalities predict a dire economic forecast.  Forex scams claim that people can make excellent financial gains by exchanging dollars for other currencies then back to dollars for a profit.


Much of the time, forex scams just take investors' money and they are never heard from again.  Even if an investor's money makes it into the foreign currency exchange, profit is unlikely.  The currency exchange is a zero-sum market.  To simplify: it's designed to give back what you put in and that's it.  It is not for profits to be made. Click Here for More Info.

Health Inspector Scam - Con men are calling businesses claiming to be health inspectors in order to get personal information.  It hasn't picked up traction in Kansas City, as local businesses quickly saw through it, but it will probably make its way back again. On some occasions, the con men attempt to get businesses to wire money for inspection fees to Canada or the UK. If anyone calls claiming to be a health inspector asking about your business's sensitive information, inform them that you will have to call them back, look up the number for you state health office and call it.  Click Here for More Info.

Facebook Phishing Scams: Players of the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops are finding themselves the target of phishing scams. Links to extravagant videos are sent to them through facebook and then ask for permission to access their Facebook accounts.  This is not the only group of people to be hit by this type of scam, but it's one of the latest.  Don't grant permission to access your Facebook account unless you're absolutely sure it can be trusted.  Many scammers will use your Facebook information to access other sites you use because so many people use the same passwords for many accountsClick Here for More Info.

Another Facebook Scam was set up to get the ladies. A message sent to Facebook users makes claims about "free makeup." It is the same thing as the other Facebook scams designed to access your account. Click Here for More info.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Does Changing Your Profile Pic on Facebook Make a Difference?

So, lately I've noticed that several of my Facebook friends have changed their profile pics to 1980s cartoon characters.  The idea, I suppose, is that if I change my profile pic of my really cute 8-month-old baby to one of a Smurf, those who see it will be reminded of their own childhoods and think about how awful child abuse is and spur them to help.  Because my really cute baby apparently makes them think of Cheez Whiz or something.

But does taking a stand on Facebook actually make a difference?  Do people who change their profile pic really take action or cause others to do so?  At least one source, Live Science, says no.  Child abuse is an enormous tragedy.  It's also very complex.  How does one busy Average Jane even start fighting child abuse.  Will the Smurf in my profile pic catch a drunken dad's fist before it slams into his son's nose?

Is the campaing well-intentioned?  Yes.  Of course it is.  And it is likely producing some small results.  Right now I am using my time to talk about the issue when I could be talking about something else, like Britney Spears. That does matter.  But if you want millions of people to make a difference, break it down in small steps.  Live Science suggests that Facebook users who change their profil pic donate a dollar to an organization that fights it. It would be an easy way to raise $250,000 - enough to put some sort of dent in the problem.

And this is just funny:

BBB Online Auction

The Kansas City Better Business Bureau is hosting an auction with lots of nice items including travel packages, collectibles, accessories, clothing and more. Please visit the site and check out the good: http://www.biddingforgood.com/bbbkc

Bidding ends on Dec. 12, 2010 at 10:00pm CST.

JoCo Petitions Against Midwest Air Care

Johnson County Prosecutor Stephen Howe has taken action against a Lenexa duct cleaning company, Midwest Air Care. Howe's petition to the court alleges that Midwest Air Care participated in five counts of deceptive acts and practices and two counts of unconscionable acts and practices.

The petition alleges that Midwest Air Care failed to properly inform customers that it was not licensed to apply pesticide within the state of Kansas, set a price for an advertised special then failed to provide additional pricing before performing work, falsely represented an invalid "notice of cancellation," refusing to adhere to their 100% workmanship guarantee, falsely claiming to be properly certified through the NADCA, and performed work in an unprofessional manner and inappropriate to industry standards. District Attorney Howe is is seeking fines and penalties against Midwest Air Care of $10,000 for each count and $20,000 each deceptive act performed against an elderly victim.

Midwest Air Care was the prime motivator for our article earlier this year about deceptive air duct cleaning advertising.  They were also subject to an ad-review performed by the BBB that began in August, in which we asked them to cease their misleading advertising.  The ad-review went unanswered.  If they had taken our ad-review more seriously, they might have avoided a consumer protection lawsuit.

Entertaining Fraud Education

Like CSI?  Then you would enjoy spending a few minutes learning about consumer fraud on the United States Postal Inspection website.  The Postal Service isn't just about getting your letter to Grandma's house.  It's a crime-fighting agency, too.  Watch the videos on their website and be wildly entertained while learning how to protect yourself from fraud.

Of course, the BBB is here to protect consumers, too.  If you want to speak to a real-live person about consumer fraud and how to protect yourself, give us a call.  We are here to server you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fake Collection Agency Indicted

A collection agency that has bounced back and forth between the Kansas City Area and Denver was indicted by the Colorado Attorney General on Dec. 1, 2010. Regent Asset Management is accused of violating Colorado consumer protection laws and engaging in unlicensed collection of debts.

Regent came to our attention in June of 2009 when they quickly began tallying complaints.  Consumers claimed that Regent was collecting on former US Bank debts that had been paid off months or years earlier.  As consumers contacted their bank, they found that no debt existed.

The Kansas City BBB questioned US Bank representatives and executives about the debts and were informed that US Bank had no affiliation or even familiarity with Regent Asset Management. The BBB of Denver provided data to assist the Colorado Attorney General's investigation of Regent.

If a collection agency calls you about a debt you are unfamiliar with, search our BBB national database to find out if the company has a history of complaints or government action taken against them for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The company may not be a collection agency at all, just a group of scammers looking to steal your money.  If the information on their report is inconclusive, feel free to give your local BBB a call for advice.