Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scams of The Week: September 28, 2011

Facebook Hack and Grant Scam - Every once in a while, we post Facebook scams here.  They are so numerous and prolific, that we only post the most widespread.  However, this one is different.  It's not just a phishing scam, trying to get your personal info for unscrupulous marketing purposes; they're trying to steal your money in a sophisticated con.  The scammer pretends to be someone you know and tries to talk you into applying for a government grant.  They convince victims to wire money to a grant writer in order to secure the grant.  This con job may seem complicated, but it can be done by one person.  One person can have several chat windows open at the same time, claiming to be several different people and having them all wire money to a "grant writer" who is actually the scammer himself.

Wells Fargo Fakers - Con men claiming to be with Wells Fargo are telling people over the phone that they will close people's account, due to security issues, if they are not provided with verification of the victim's bank account number and debit card number, including security code, of course.  They are calling from 913-649-1595.  One of our complaint analysts called the number from the BBB main line and it was out of service. However, a call from a cell phone goes right through. I don't know how they managed that.

DLR Sales - An envelope stuffing firm that is soliciting in the area.  We've gotten some calls. I can't say this enough, ALL ENVELOPE STUFFING COMPANIES ARE SCAMS. All of them. Always. Forever. For more information about why they're scams, check out a previous post of ours.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Charity Wednesday: Charitable Contributions Make Great Holiday Gifts

As of this writing, there are only 94 days until Christmas.  And this cooler weather is definitely making me think about our holiday plans.    

Like many, I love the holidays, but dread the search for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. Economic forecasts for the ever-important holiday shopping season aren't great. Unemployment and underemployment, and high gas prices certainly have something to do with that.  But another factor may be that everyone else shares my dread. 

Charities, already weathering a tough giving climate, are likely to have a challenging holiday season, too.

So here's my plea to consider honoring your family and friends this season by making a donation to a cause they support.   Maybe the surest way, finally, into Aunt Bertha's heart is through a donation to the local stray cat rescue group?   The BBB Wise Giving Alliance and the BBB of Greater Kansas City have reviews of local and national charities to help you make smart giving choices.  

One of my most treasured gifts of years past was a bee-hive a friend gave in my name to a family in need through the Heifer Project.  The bee hive gave a poor family a source of income.  A much better choice on her part than, say, than a box of chocolates my sweet tooth could do without.

Another way to support charities this holiday season is through Giving Cards sold by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Similar to a pre-loaded debit card, these cards enable your recipient to choose as their beneficiary any 501 (c) 3 charitable organization, including schools, churches, and synagogues.

So as you start making lists of what to buy for whom, consider making lasting gifts that won't clutter up anyone's home or add to any waist lines.  Giving through charities is a guaranteed way to make lots of people happy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charity Wednesday: Pay Attention to a Critic's Own Bias

When scanning through my Google Alerts for charity scams, this story by the St. Louis Dispatch caught my attention.  It seems that Mother's Against Drunk Driving (aka MADD), a BBB accredited charity, has gotten some flack lately from the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a lobbying organization that supports the interests of restaurants and bars that serve alcohol. 

Like many charities, the economy has been hard on the MADD's fundraising efforts.  It appears that the ratio of what they spend on programs to what they earn through fundraising may be down slightly.  Jumping on this information, ABI is warning potential donors about the pitfalls of donating to MADD.

But is ABI a benevolent champion of curbing drunk driving simply urging concerned citizens not to donate to an ineffective charity, or are they exaggerating facts to try to silence an organization they see as a threat to their members? You make your own decision.  I'll just say that I follow the logic of Slate Magazine's William Saletan  when, in a similar piece, he notes "If MADD were truly ineffective, ABI would be happy to let MADD's donors go on wasting their money. ABI is trying to defund MADD not because MADD diverts money from drunken-driving crackdowns, but because MADD spends money on drunken-driving crackdowns."

ABI is a very vocal opponent of alcohol-detectors in cars.  MADD, in its efforts to ensure that intoxicated persons do not operate what my mother calls "lethal weapons on wheels"  is a strong proponent of the development of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS).  ABI perceives that the businesses it represents would stand to loose money if such a system were routinely installed in vehicles.  It's easy to connect the dots and see why they'll jump on any news that will keep MADD from succeeding.

I'm not an unbiased reporter of this information.  As a mother, I know that the most dangerous place for my kids is my minivan - no matter how much I spent on their car seats.  And a dear family friend had a son who should be in his early 30's, but because of a drunk driver will be forever six years old. 

But this story is a good lesson on not taking criticism at face value.  Everyone has an agenda.  In our relationships with charities, its good to know where our favorite organizations stand with supporters and detractors.  And why.  

Charity Wednesdays: Philanthropy Midwest Conference: Oct 17-18

If you are in any way involved with a nonprofit, do yourself a favor and attend this year's Philanthropy Midwest Conference. This year it will be held at the Kansas City Convention Center, October 17-18. 

I make it a point to attend this event every year and I always come away with something that helps me professionally and in the private work I do with charities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scams of the Week: September 13, 2011

Consumers Global Awards - They claim that winners can claim $850,000. All they have to do is wire off a measly $850 to pay for advance taxes. The customer would have to wire the money via Western Union to Leroy Leslie, 401 M St. Queens, NY.  Of course, it's probably just someone claiming to be Leroy Leslie. If a person has less than $1000 wired to them, they don't have to show ID. The recipient also doesn't have to show up at a particular location, so once the money is sent, there's no way to track where the recipient went. They throw around names like Publishers Clearinghouse, and, surprisingly, the Better Business Bureau.  It's Bogus. They call from a Vegas area code 702-765-4513 and 1-888-685-4999.

First US Title - They are the supposed Escrow company for a timeshare resale company called Goldstein & Barnes.  I've posted several advisories on scams just like these two earlier this year.  This one claims to be in Kansas City and is, in all likelihood, a reincarnation of a scam that has claimed to be here before.

Fast Unsecured Cash Loans - It is extremely dangerous to get an online payday loan. The incredible majority, if not all of them, are scams of some sort or another. This doesn't even list a physical address or phone number. If you have any questions or concerns, you would be out of luck. The weirdest thing about this site is that they have a bunch of links to products sold on Amazon.com. So, while they are trying to get you to commit to a loan that you will probably never be able to pay back, they are shilling for products that you couldn't afford or you wouldn't be on their site. So weird.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Law Breaks Bad Roofing Habits

On June 30, 2011, Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill into law that intends to curb unscrupulous roofing sales tactics. Before working for the Better Business Bureau, I was a roofer for eight years. Roofing paid my way through my first two years of college and I remember my time in the sun fondly. With my experience as a roofer and complaint analyst for the BBB, I realized that a law was inevitable because of the behavior of a considerable number of roofing companies--some local businesses, some out-of-area stormchasers.

The new law prohibits contractors from advertising or promising to pay any amount of an insurance deductible. It extends the consumer's right of rescission (right to cancel contract) from three days to five days, when concerning insurance claims. This must be printed in the contract.  If the contract is cancelled, the contractor must return any payments to the customer within ten days. This prevents businesses from purchasing materials for the job and then demanding payment within a couple days of entering a contract.  The most important part of the law forbids contractors from representing or negotiating with an insurance carrier on behalf of the homeowner.  The Kansas City Better Business Bureau has warned roofing companies to avoid this business tactic for more than a year. It is a sad occasion where the industry could not regulate itself and the legislature was forced to act.

Roofers negotiating with homowners' insurance carriers became commonplace when an unscrupulous company called American Shingle brought their tactics to Missouri from their headquarters in Atlanta.  Even though we warned businesses not to adopt their methods, roofers felt compelled to do so to remain competitive.  We issued a warning to consumers stating, "A business with a vested interest in getting your money should not have power to make home repair decisions for you. Whether or not the company's intentions are honorable, there is no need to take such steps for a roof. It is your money and your home. If you don't feel qualified to make decisions about home repair, find a trusted individual and ask them to do it for you."

Roofers informed homeowners that they would deal directly with insurance companies, making sure that insurance adjusters did not miss any damage. This never made sense, because it is the roofer's responsibility to provide the EXACT SAME information in a formal estimate, which the homeowner could then turn over to the insurance company.  Getting an estimate gives the homeowner the chance to get other estimates and feel no obligation to file a claim with the insurance company if the damage is minor. Roofers asked homeowners to sign a contract in advance of any bid and to file an claim with their insurance companies.  This caused problems when insurance companies would deny claims, even with the "help" of the roofer present during the appraisal.  These claims counted against the homeowners' policies and they received nothing but wasted time (sometimes homeowners would have to pay their deductible to fix minor issues, and it still counted against their policy).  Roofers frequently pointed out issues that were not important or not caused by hail.  Many stormchasers breezed through town and had homeowners file claims with their insurance company for hail damage even though the area had not received hail for years. Worst of all, several roofers had in their contract, no matter how much money was approved by the insurance company, the checks would be paid directly to the roofer.  If the cost of the roofing job fell thousands of dollars below payout, the roofers kept the difference.  Some stormchasers went as far as cutting corners to make the difference larger. American Shingle was in possession of 3000 such payouts when they went out of business, leaving thousands of customers with damaged roofs, no money to fix them, and a higher insurance payment.

Innumerable roofers gave consumers the impression that insurance companies would stiff them if they didn't have a roofer present during the appraisal. Many are still making that claim (in the comments). First of all, homeowners can provide a company's written estimate  to the insurance company in advance (or three companies' written estimates, which the adjuster prefers). Therefore the insurance adjuster must address why they will not cover something that needs to be repaired. Also, even if the insurance company tries to stiff the homeowner, the insurance industry is highly regulated.  The homeowner can report their activity to the Missouri Department of Insurance. No such higher regulatory authority exists to specifically regulate roofers.

The new law may not be popular with some roofing companies, especially stormchasers, but it should also be easy to comply with it.  The roofing industry will essentially revert back to the way it was before American Shingle came in and messed it all up.

9/11 - Ten Years Later, Still Give Wisely

From our friends at the Metro New York BBB:

Give with Both Head and Heart When Supporting
9/11 Charities

New York, NY – September 8, 2011 – Ten years after September 11, 2001, Americans remain deeply moved by the tragedy of that day and generously willing to aid those who still suffer from the impact of 9/11 events. A number of charities, both old and new, are currently soliciting donations in order to respond to ongoing needs of victims and their families, to support 9/11 memorials, and to carry out other legitimate 9/11 related purposes. However, recent news reports have suggested that some charities that solicited funds in the name of 9/11 relief did not apply the funds appropriately. It is wise to be wary.

BBB recommends: do your homework before giving to the 9/11 cause of your choice. Here are some tips to consider if you are approached with a 9/11 related giving opportunity, especially one that seems unfamiliar, or that is similar to the name of a well-known charity.

Ask questions about why the charity still needs to collect 9/11 related money now. What ongoing purposes are they serving that flow from the events of 9/11? You can request written details from the charity about what it does with the donations.

Check with the IRS at www.irs.gov/app/pub-78/ to verify the organization’s tax exempt status. In New York State, you can also verify charity registration through the New York State
Attorney General’s Charities Bureau at www.charitiesnys.com.

Contact your BBB to get BBB charity reviews on 9/11 related charities. See national BBB charity reviews at www.bbb.org/charity. Metro New York area charity reviews are also available through www.newyork.bbb.org.

Contact us at nypas@newyork.bbb.org to suggest a charity for BBB review, and to report any unfamiliar organizations that are collecting 9/11 funds now.

In the months following the 9/11 disaster, the Metro New York BBB Foundation’s New York Philanthropic Advisory Service surveyed 9/11 related charities and published a report about its findings. To view that report Click Here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Share This With Your Kids

It's cool, it's relevant, it will keep them from getting scammed.  It's a clip from Biz Kid$, a great PBS program aimed at teaching kids how to become savvy consumers.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

BBB's Long History With Miracle Cures

One of the most prominent scams of 2010 involved acai berry products. Many manufacturers claimed that acai berry could lower blood pressure, reduce weight and other equally unsubstantiated claims. In truth, it does nothing more than other fruits.  Manufacturers of acai berry products offered free trials for their super-amazing-weight-loss miracle.  The free trials always have a catch.  In most cases, the cancellation policies are obscure, hidden, vague and basically impossible to fulfill.  Consumers are then roped into contracts to purchase products they don't want and don't work.

I found this interview with Professor Michael Baum, who is a leading British Oncologist specializing in breast cancer treatment.  He is an outspoken critic of "alternative medicine" (aka Homeopathy, aka Snake Oil, aka Miracle Cures). Early in this clip, he explains the difference between alternative medicine and complimentary medicine and explains why alternative medicine doesn't work.