Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - Possible Changes to Tax Breaks for Wealthiest Donors

I won't wax political about the hows and whys and whats of the federal budget, but those who regularly donate to charities should be interested in this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about reducing the value of itemized deductions for those in top tax brackets.

How much a proposal like this will affect the charitable sector depends on how much donors are motivated to give by tax incentives.  That answer may be different for those at varying income levels.  My family is solidly middle class.  While I keep good records of our donations to charity, come tax time my deductions for charitable donations don't significantly impact my return. Thus, I am motivated to give for reasons other than tax savings (the guilt induced by the look of sad droopy puppies on direct mail pieces, for example). Those who give more or who fall into higher tax brackets may be more impacted with the proposed changes than our family is.

Oh, and if you read this post and realized you need a refresher course in the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit, click here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scams of the Week: Feb 22, 2011

We didn't get to a lot of scams this week, but next week will have a ton, I'm sure.  We're looking at a few that have been getting attention in the last week, but haven't had time to really look at the websites. We've already warned about Forex scams, but now there's Forex Signal Mentor that has been getting plenty of mentions on Twitter. There's also a new "diet sensation" pill that seems to have taken the place of Acai Berry in the audacity of their claims.


People's Choice - From Florida, calling from the number 1-888-811-0893. The business claims to be something like Groupon...I think.  They actually give no information about anything, their websites just say "savings" or that they "offer great benefits" to their members. According to 800notes.com, the company makes unauthorized charges to people's credit card or bank accounts. They have an F rating with the BBB because they don't answer their complaints and according to this guy, they are now claiming to be "United Bank." The real United Bank Card is a credit card processing company. There are also several different United Banks located across the country.  They have have fraud alert advice and tell their customers not to give personal information over the phone.

Free Southwest Flights Facebook Scam - Another Facebook Phishing scam.  Don't click on it or you will have your personal information and Facebook account at the mercy of scammers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Charity Wednesdays - Giving Will Increase in 2011

According to this article in the Kansas City Business Journal, more households say they plan to increase their giving to charitable causes than in 2010.  As charitable giving ranks well below food, clothing, shelter, and dog food on a list of financial priorities, I'm hopeful this is a good sign that people are optimistic about their own economic security.  Charities need us all to be more generous.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Scams of the Week: Feb 15, 2010

Facebook Scam: "Reporter Had a Stroke on Live TV!" - Scams really manage to nail us on morbid curiosity. If you click on it, you will be asked to download a third party application that can take over your Facebook page and gives third parties access to your posts. You can read more about the scam at this blog or here. If you actually want to find out what happened to the reporter, you can click here.

Millionaire Society - This program, which seems like thousands of others I've seen, boasts "unique" software that will make you $5000 a day.  The absurd claim is impossible to substantiate and the program is set up like a pyramid scheme. It's a lackluster and worn-out scam, but it's suprisingly getting some attention. Be wary.

Star Loan Company - A bad credit loan scam that preys on the financially desperate.  Don't pay attention to loan companies that contact you via email, especially when they have a low interest rate, guaranteed approval or other promises that are unavailable from every other loan company. Factoids has the email posted here.

Data Entry Portal - This is such a weird site (dataentryportal.biz).  They condemn and decry the practice of charging money upfront for online data entry jobs...they then charge people to access their list of FREE online data entry jobs. They claim to have offices in several countries. The grammar on the website occasionally suggests that English is the second language and the website is privately registered so we can't check to find out where they are actually from.  The emails to all of their franchises are gmail addresses. They claim to have an office in Massachusetts, but they don't provide a suite number and there are at least 12 businesses in the building. Nothing about them adds up.

Commission Crusher by Steve Iser - I've never been so entertained by one of these sites and I've looked at thousands of "Business Opportunity" webpages.  It insults and ridicules its prospective clients, essentially claiming that they're worthless and they should do something with their miserable lives. My favorite line is when the site calls readers who don't buy the program "little girls."It makes claims that people can make thousands per month, and in one case, $37,000 in a week. In 5000 words, it tells people absolutely nothing about the program except it guarantees big bucks. It's just as nonsensical as all the other money making programs I've seen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Need For Honest Online Advertising

One hundred years ago, false advertising flourished unbound by regulation or enforcement.  Dishonest advertising was so prevalent that consumers began to distrust all advertising, which threatened the existence of advertising agencies.  In response spurred by self-preservation, advertisers banded together in an effort to regain the public’s confidence by squelching false and misleading advertising. These ad men eventually formed Vigilance Committees to persuade firms to modify advertising toward honesty and transparency.  Vigilance Committees eventually became Better Business Bureaus.

At the dawn of the 21st century, we find ourselves in a similar situation because of an abundance of false and misleading advertising on the web. One only needs to look at the ads cascading down the side of Facebook pages to see falsely advertised claims despite their relatively stringent advertising standards.  Google, as well, can’t make a dent in the scams that slip through their quality control department’s filter.   The advertisements displayed in the middle of Huffington Post articles are universally misleading and appear not have gone through any veracity test whatsoever. Too many internet advertising firms shamelessly manipulate facts, massage truths and boldly lie to get more clicks.

According to a 2009 Neilsen survey, consumers value advertising’s ability to further inform them about purchases (5).  Around sixty percent generally trust television, newspaper and magazine ads. Yet only 33% somewhat/completely trust online banner ads (2).  Unscrupulous businesses are contributing to the destruction of the fastest growing advertising market’s reputation.

Facebook makes up 1/4 of U.S. internet traffic.  The company that pays the third most for ads on the site is a scam and they are far from the only business looking to mislead Facebook users. Scam sites spend hundreds of millions on duplicitous Facebook advertising and now that Facebook is poised to double its advertising revenue, scams will get unprecedented exposure to the younger and more inexperienced online shoppers. According to the Nielsen survey consumers under the age of twenty are more trusting of almost every form of advertising (8). To raise awareness of online scams,  a strong group of online communities and organizations, such as the BBB, Scam.com, 800notes.com, and Factoids.com, publish tips and combat scams. These efforts are largely successful in keeping most people outside the clutches of dishonest businesses, but it does not prevent financial losses to honest businesses that advertise in an equally-sized space displayed in the same area of web-pages as scams.  Internet users have trained themselves to overlook those ads. Ads become 'invisible' to the eye as the main page content dominates the user's attention.  Just as it was during the Truth in Advertising movement, most ads are being ignored because of the unscrupulous marketers who care nothing for honest advertisers.

All regulatory advertising laws apply to the web, but if online businesses choose to remain anonymous, they are notoriously hard to locate.  Government agencies are also reluctant to put the sword to internet advertising because it could be confused as an attempt to censor online content, a highly unpopular sentiment in the United States.  The FTC and Department of Justice (IC3) typically pursue more overt internet financial crimes such as wire and check fraud.  This leaves a regulatory black hole for scammers to exploit.

Free market consumerism can do nothing to minimalize the prolificacy of scams. Nor can it shield honest business from undue discrimination for the type of advertising in which they engage.  Consumers tend to lump all banner ads in the same distrustful category.  The general public does not possess the expertise to discriminate between the honest and dishonest advertising. They simply cannot dedicate their time to learning the intricacies of deceptive advertising while at the same time keeping up with their own careers, second jobs, tending to family obligations and pursuing hobbies or dreams.  Passivity is obviously not a remedy and we cannot rely solely on the government to fight dishonest online advertising.
 

Dishonest advertising negatively affects everyone in the legitimate business world.  The only defenses of dishonest advertising are predictably inadequate. They either involve strong denial in the face of evidence or the immature gradeschool mantra “everyone else is doing it.”  In false advertising cases brought to court, federal judges are unimpressed by both defenses
(Brown & Williamson Tobacco v. FTC; Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. v. FTC).

Rampant online dishonesty causes legitimate advertising agencies to face an uphill public relations battle and, if left unimpeded, guilt by association could possibly extinguish them altogether.  It can and does cause consumers to lump accurate ads, from businesses who want nothing more than to show off their products, into a distrusted category. Websites that publish dishonest ads are harming their reputations and will eventually render their advertising programs useless once consumers forever cease to click on banner ads.

Advertising agencies, honest businesses, consumers, government agencies and nonprofits like the BBB need to actively refute claims of dishonest online advertising. Consumers can challenge businesses to substantiate their outlandish claims and publish the results on blogs. Advertising agencies, who are most adept at identifying misleading copy, can inform the BBB or the National Advertising Division of these dishonest practices. We investigate advertising issues and ask companies to modify misleading ads.  If our findings unveil issues that the business is unwilling to remedy, we will not only report it to the public, we will present a complete case to the proper consumer protection authorities. We frequently work with Attorneys General offices, the Federal Trade Commission and Action News to protect consumers from unethical advertising.  Pressure from all sides on these unscrupulous advertisers is an integral step in creating a safer, fairer online business environment. Join the BBB in the fight against deceptive online advertising.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feed The Children Founder's Tenure Investigated - KansasCity.com

Feed The Children Founder's Tenure Investigated - KansasCity.com

Feed the Children, an organization founded in 1979 to provide food, clothing, and other essentials to those in need, is under investigation for alleged misdeeds by its founder. The alleged misconduct relates to its operations and management. The BBB report on Feed the Children gives us a glimpse into some of the challenges the organization has recently faced.

I suspect that what might be at play here is a really bad case of Founder's Syndrome. Effective, sustainable organizations are those that can grow beyond the vision and control of an organization's original founders. It's a lot like raising kids. Founders provide organizations with an initial influx of resources, roots, and direction. But over time,the mark of a successful organization is one that can grow and change and serve its mission outside of the control of its founder. When that doesn't happen, or when founders have trouble giving up a degree of control, an unhealthy organizational environment can develop. For the same reasons that girls don't want to date 35 year-old men who still live at home, prospective donors need to be cautious when giving to charities without proven measures in place to ensure the independence of their board of directors and accountability of charity executives.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Scams of the Week: Feb 7, 2011

American Credit Legal Services - ANOTHER fake collection agency with access to real account information. This guy, Christopher Maag, gives additional names that the scam went by and the fact that they have already been sued by the Illinois Attorney General. This type of scam is becoming trendy.  The good news is that they keep getting sued.

Reshipping From Home - I put this on the list only because it's yet another reason NOT to buy into work-at-home opportunities. Well, that....and the Postal Inspection Service has a little video series complete with melodrama, mood music, and action scenes. It's awesome!


Credit Card Scam - We just got a call verifying that this scam has hit the Kansas City area.  Calling from the number (567) 259-9780, a "business" leaves an urgent message about Credit Card information and credit reports.  They leave a number for you to call, but if you call back the (567) number, you will be informed that the number is no longer in service.  The phone number is documented on 800Notes as a scam number.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Safety Tips from the American Red Cross

The latest predictions are that this current round of winter weather will leave Kansas City with a foot of snow. I hope you're reading this from the comfort of your warm, safe home.

American Red Cross, a BBB Accredited Charity, has some tips for safely getting through this winter weather.



Stay safe everyone!