Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book Sees an Increase in Impostor Scams

Scam Alert Indicates Rip Off And Advertisement
Scam Alert Showing Rip Off And Sign

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network released its annual Data Book with over 3.1 million complaints from the 2016 calendar year. Better Business Bureau is a major contributor of complaint data along with other non-governmental organizations and many state law enforcement organizations.

By sharing this report, law enforcement partners across the nation can use the database information to track emerging trends in scams and deception and to help with pending investigations.

The data book is based on unverified complaints reported by consumers with 42 percent of those complaints being fraud complaints, 13 percent identity theft complaints and 45 percent other types of complaints.

Out of the 30 complaint categories, debt collection was ranked number one with 28 percent of the overall complaints. Impostor scams and identity theft scams came in second with 13 percent each, followed by 10 percent of the complaints involving Telephone and Mobile Services.Impostor scams grew from 11 percent to 13 percent in the last year which means it’s a growing problem.

The data book includes national statistics as well as a state-by-state listing of top complaint categories in each state. Based on the consumer complaints from 2016, the breakdown of complaints from BBB Northwest states is as follows.

ALASKA

There was a total of 3,376 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Alaska. Of that, there were 2,663 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Alaska consumers were:

  1. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries (Complaints: 599, Percentage: 22%)
  2. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 472, Percentage: 18%)
  3. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 177, Percentage: 7%)
  4. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 172, Percentage: 6%)
  5. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 154, Percentage: 6%)
  6. Debt Collection (Complaints: 143, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 105, Percentage: 4%)
  8. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users (Complaints: 69, Percentage: 3%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 64, Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Cards (Complaints: 58, Percentage: 2%)

There was a total of 713 identity theft complaints from Alaska victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 349, Percentage: 49%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 169, Percentage: 24%)
  3. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 88, Percentage: 12%)
  4. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 48, Percentage: 7%)
  5. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 42, Percentage: 6%)
  6. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 33, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 71, Percentage: 10%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 1, Percentage: <1%)

IDAHO

There was a total of 9,148 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Idaho. Of that, there were 7,800 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Idaho consumers were:

  1. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 1,849, Percentage: 24%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 1,000, Percentage: 13%)
  3. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 713, Percentage: 9%)
  4. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries (Complaints: 700, Percentage: 9%)
  5. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 477, Percentage: 6%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 386, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 347, Percentage: 4%)
  8. Internet Services (Complaints: 231, Percentage: 3%)
  9. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 221, Percentage: 3%)
  10. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report (Complaints: 176, Percentage: 2%)

There was a total of 1,348 identity theft complaints from Idaho victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 509, Percentage: 38%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 371, Percentage: 28%)
  3. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 183, Percentage: 14%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 116, Percentage: 9%)
  5. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 113, Percentage: 8%)
  6. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 47, Percentage: 3%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 176, Percentage: 13%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints:-, Percentage: -)

MONTANA

There was a total of 5,311 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Montana. Of that, there were 4,600 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Montana consumers were:

  1. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 1,222, Percentage: 27%)
  2. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries (Complaints: 695, Percentage: 15%)
  3. Debt Collection (Complaints: 400, Percentage: 9%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 385, Percentage: 8%)
  5. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 279, Percentage: 6%)
  6. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 236, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 159, Percentage: 3%)
  8. Foreign Money Offers and Counterfeit Check Scams (Complaints: 107, Percentage: 2%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 101, Percentage: 2%)
  10. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 88, 2%)

There was a total of 711 identity theft complaints from Montana victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 292, Percentage: 41%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 226, Percentage: 32%)
  3. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 70, Percentage: 10%)
  4. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 50, Percentage: 7%)
  5. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 37, 5%)
  6. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 31, Percentage: 4%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 84, Percentage: 12%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 2, Percentage: <1%)

OREGON

There was a total of 26,697 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Oregon. Of that, there were 22,385 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Oregon consumers were:

  1. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 5,363, Percentage: 24%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 3,717, Percentage: 17%)
  3. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 2,279, Percentage: 10%)
  4. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 1,758, Percentage: 8%)
  5. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 1,671, Percentage: 7%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 1,052, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 737, Percentage: 3%)
  8. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 520, Percentage: 2%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 518, Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Cards (Complaints: 510, Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 4,312 identity theft complaints from Oregon victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 1,571, Percentage: 36%)
  2. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 1,506, Percentage: 35%)
  3. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 511, Percentage: 12%)
  4. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 356, Percentage: 8%)
  5. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 221, Percentage: 5%)
  6. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 168, Percentage: 4%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 513, Percentage: 12%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 8, Percentage: <1%)

WASHINGTON

There was a total of 48,733 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Washington. Of that, there were 40,423 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Washington consumers were:

  1. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 9,783, Percentage: 24%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 6,463, Percentage: 16%)
  3. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 4,234, Percentage: 10%)
  4. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 3,042, Percentage: 8%)
  5. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 1,994, Percentage: 5%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 1,923, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 1,593, Percentage: 4%)
  8. Internet Services (Complaints: 1,213, Percentage: 3%)
  9. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 961, Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Cards (Complaints: 871, Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 8,310 identity theft complaints from Washington victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 3,421, Percentage: 41%)
  2. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 2,478, Percentage: 30%)
  3. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 1,052, Percentage: 13%)
  4. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 696, Percentage: 8%)
  5. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 452, Percentage: 5%)
  6. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 356, Percentage: 4%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 1,098, Percentage: 13%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 19, Percentage: <1%)

WYOMING

There was a total of 2,874 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints in Wyoming. Of that, there were 2,437 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaint categories by Wyoming consumers were:

  1. Impostor Scams (Complaints: 489, Percentage: 20%)
  2. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries (Complaints: 315, Percentage: 13%)
  3. Debt Collection (Complaints: 291, Percentage: 12%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 216, Percentage: 9%)
  5. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 155, Percentage: 6%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 153, Percentage: 6%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 92, Percentage: 4%)
  8. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 68, Percentage: 3%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 64, Percentage: 3%)
  10. Foreign Money Offers and Counterfeit Check (Complaints: 55, Percentage: 2%)

There was a total of 437 identity theft complaints from Wyoming victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Employment- or Tax-Related Fraud (Complaints: 162, Percentage: 37%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 124, Percentage: 28%)
  3. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 49, Percentage: 11%)
  4. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 40, Percentage: 9%)
  5. Loan or Lease Fraud (Complaints: 33, Percentage: 8%)
  6. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 21, Percentage: 5%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 55, Percentage: 13%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 1, Percentage:  <1%)

 

 

 

February Scam Wrap-Up

Top Scams 2015

By Veronica Craker, Content and Communications Director

The following are scams that were reported to Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest in February. In most instances names and locations have been omitted to protect the victims’ privacy.

ALASKA 

This month there were 13 scams reported in Alaska with an estimated $1,300 lost.

Inheritance Scam 

An Anchorage woman reported she lost $1,200 in a fake inheritance scam. The woman reports she was contacted by the email alansotosotos@gmail.com letting her know a relative had passed away and left their estate to her. But in order to obtain the inheritance she needed to send money totaling $1,200 via MoneyGram to three separate people for legal fees and a death certificate. She was also convinced to send a copy of her 2015 income tax return.

Publisher’s Clearing House Scam

An Anchorage man reports he was targeted by a Publisher’s Clearing House scam. The man reports he was told he had won $250,000 six years ago, and the deadline to collect was expiring. The man was told to pay a $250 filing fee and the check would be delivered to his house. The man did not pay the fee.

IDAHO

This month there were 109 scams reported in Idaho with an estimated $2,400 lost.

Lottery Winner Scam

A Homedale woman reports she lost $1,700 to a lottery scam. The woman reports she was told she won $3.5 million and a new car. She was instructed to send two money orders to a woman in Florida and a man in Utah. After sending to money orders, one for $699 and another for $1,099 the Post Office stopped her from sending anything else. She soon realized it was not legitimate.

Tax Collection scam

A Nampa woman reported she was the target of a tax collection scam. The woman reports she received a recorded message saying she owed money to the IRS. These types of scams increase during tax season.

MONTANA

This month there were 26 scams reported in Montana with an estimated $950 lost.

Fake puppy website

A Hamilton man reports he lost $700 when he tried to purchase a puppy online. The man states he tried to purchase a puppy from Jiminies Shetland Sheepdog Kennels. He paid $700 via MoneyGram for the dog. Then he was told he needed to pay an additional $1,200 for insurance. The Hamilton man contacted local law enforcement and has not sent any additional money.

Advance Loan Scam

A Missoula woman reports she lost more than $200 when she tried to get a payday advance loan from 60mincash.com. She reports, she paid $200, but never received her loan. Now she is being contacted for more money to pay back the loan she never received.

OREGON

This month there were 100 scams reported in Oregon with an estimated $200 lost.

Fake Invoice Scam

A Portland woman reported she lost $45 in a fake invoice scam. The woman reports her office received hard-copy invoices to renew multiple domains expiring in the upcoming months. The invoice states: “This notice is not a bill, it is rather an easy means of payment should you decide to switch your domain name registration to Internet Domain Name Services.” One of the invoices was paid before the mistake was discovered.

Utility Scam

A Portland woman reported they were the target of a solar power program scam. The woman reports they received a pre-recorded call asking them if they were interested in reducing their energy bill by 14 percent. She clicked “1” for “yes” and then spoke with a man who requested personal information for billing. The woman asked what company this was and was told “Community services” and then “Solar Power Program.” When she pushed the caller with more questions they became angry with her and hung up on her.

WASHINGTON

This month there were 246 scams reported in Washington with an estimated $4,650 lost.

Can You Hear Me Now? 

A Seattle man reported he lost $100 to the “Can You Hear Me Now?” phishing scam. The man reports his wife received a call and since she doesn’t speak English he answered the phone for her. He reports the caller said they were adjusting their headset and asked him if he could hear her. The man checked his credit card statement the next day and found an unauthorized transaction for $100.79 for a California hotel.

Online Purchase Scam

An Auburn woman reported she lost $559.45 in an online purchase scam. The woman reports she purchased medical products through www.evamedicals.com. She was unable to pay for the order online, but was sent an email from the company requesting she make a payment via Western Union or MoneyGram. The woman sent the payment, but never received her products. She tried calling the number listed, but it was not working.

 

Google’s “Mobilegeddon” and What it Means for Your Website

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Written by Jordan Stambaugh, Owner of Stambaugh Designs 

Google recently updated their search algorithm to include one important new metric – mobile devices. It was rumored that an update was coming that would totally change the online search landscape and the rumors were right.

What are the risks of not having a mobile friendly website?

Google’s search algorithm looks at over 200 factors when choosing which website to rank over another. Now one of those factors, and arguably the most important variable, is mobile-friendliness. Before the search algorithm update in 2015, all websites were created equal – a mobile-friendly website was not favored over one that was not.

This is no longer the case.

If your tree service website is not optimized for mobile devices then you run the risk of not showing up in search results when people search for your “Tree Service + Your City” on their mobile devices.

Many businesses are starting to realize the importance of ranking well on Google. If you don’t show up on the first page of Google, you’re practically invisible.

What makes a website mobile friendly? 

A mobile friendly website is a website that responds to the size of the user’s screen. There’s a Bellingham, Washington tree service website that is mobile friendly. The navigation, text and images all respond nicely to the size of the user’s screen.

You can test if your website is mobile friendly by using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test Tool.

A quicker way to see if a website is mobile friendly is to resize your browser window (on a desktop or laptop computer). If the text, images, and forms all scale down to fit nicely in the smaller browser window then congratulations! Your website is mobile friendly.

If you discover that you have over set text and images are cut off by the browser’s window, then unfortunately your website isn’t optimized for viewing on mobile devices.

About a year ago it was official – people search for things more on their smartphones than desktop computers. If your website isn’t mobile friendly then you’re bumped out of those search results.

It’s not too late to update your website. 

Let’s face it – more and more business is being conducted online. By not showing up on the first page of Google you could be leaving a lot of business on the table. But there is good news!

It’s not too late to update your website to have a mobile friendly design. By getting a mobile friendly website you will start to perform better in mobile search results which can bring you more business leads.

Your website should be viewed as your best employee – only if it’s optimized. A website works 24/7/365 with no over time. It’s also more effective than canvassing a neighborhood with a few of your crew members because people searching for your business on Google already want what you offer.



Jordan M. Stambaugh has a degree in Digital Media Design and specializes in website creation and SEO services for local businesses.

He has helped numerous businesses rank in local search results, generating more revenue for companies in the tree service, home improvement, dental, plumbing, painting, repairs, beauty, solar industries and more.

 You’ll find him at Stambaugh Designs helping companies grow their business and at his business and design blog writing about website design and internet marketing.

Confessions of an Online Fashion Scam

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By Jade Garcia, PR Coordinator

You’re browsing Facebook and see an ad on the side of the screen with the shoes you’ve had your eye on for a while. You glance at it because it’s just an ad. But then you do a double take because the website is selling it for a lot less than other retailers! You get so excited about the deal that you decide to put two pairs into your shopping cart and click the checkout button and enter your debit card to purchase them both.

The next day you check your email to see if your purchase has shipped, but you never received a confirmation email. Back on the website you find a phone number. When you try calling, it rings and leads you to a voicemail. Next you check your bank account to see if they charged you for the shoes. Instead there’s a random transaction from a company you have never heard of before. What’s going on?

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This is just a scenario of what could happen to you when you run into an online purchase scam.

Consumer Experience

A consumer reported to Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest that she experienced a similar scam on sportsfanatic.co.

“I first saw their posts on Facebook ads- which now I know that should’ve been a sign,” she said.

She adds that she went to the Sports Fanatic website and saw the BBB shield, but never clicked on it to see a review.

When a couple weeks passed with no confirmation email and no package arriving with her sweatshirt, she tried looking up their phone number. She didn’t see one on their website so she emailed support@sportsfanatic.co. When she never received a call or email back she looked at her bank account and noticed a fraudulent charge listed as Summit View LLC.

Luckily, this consumer reported the incident to the BBB Scam Tracker and her bank. Through her bank, she was able to get her money back and change bank accounts so this business couldn’t charge her again. By reporting this scam to Scam Tracker, she warns other consumers to look out for these online shopping scams.

 

To dodge these scams, BBB warns to look out for the following red flags:

Spot Look-alike Sellers

 Watch out for URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words or letters. It’s easy for scammers to mimic a famous retailer’s website. Even the confirmation email can be deceiving and seem legitimate. Check out retailers at bbb.org before you shop.

Look for the BBB Seal.

Some websites are misusing the BBB seal. To check if a company is truly accredited click on the blue BBB torch icon and you should be redirected to bbb.org to view the company’s business review. If not, it’s likely a fake.

Advertisement on Social Media

Forty percent of the scams reported to BBB Northwest were advertised on social media or used it as a means of contact. Remember, anyone can create a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account. Check to see if the social media accounts have links to websites to make sure the business is legitimate.

Security Settings.

If the site is secure there should be an “s” in “https://” and a lock icon in the address bar on the purchase or shopping cart page.

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Still not sure if the site is a scam or not? Before checking out and typing in a form of payment, make sure to follow these tips:

Unusual Forms of Payment.

Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay for purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc. These payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone.

Declined Card at Purchase.

Multiple consumers have reported to BBB that when they make a purchase on the site, their card claims to be declined and within hours their cards are charged several times.

Be Wary of Signing Up for an Account.

Some websites require credit card information when creating an account. By creating an account and providing personal information, it may mean signing up for an unknown subscription, charge or for scammers to hack your card information.

To find out more about scams or to report one go to BBB Scam Tracker.

Washington Company Supports Employee Growth

zeroezWritten by Kirstin Davis, Marketplace Director Eastern Washington/North Idaho

Tenaciously smart, no jerks, be real, bold regard and coolness.

These could be considered adjectives or community pool rules, but instead they are the core values of Zerorez Spokane. The words stand life size inside the company building in Spokane Valley.

Skateboards, beards, massage loungers, mascots and Foosball.

These could be things you see on fraternity row at a University, but instead they are the visuals you see as you wander the Zerorez Spokane warehouse. When 23-year-old Jeremy McGee decided he was going to honor his entrepreneurial spirit, he started with the fortitude and energy of all the above.

“I just wanted to have something I could build, something that would allow me to work with people, grow my talents and theirs too,” he said.

McGee climbed into his first and only cleaning truck in 2004. But he didn’t have many jobs that first day. So, he got out and started knocking on doors.

Eventually his perseverance and customer service skills paid off and one truck turned into multiple trucks. As McGee matured so did the business and McGee knew things were progressing to another level.

“The most monumental tipping point was moving from being a technician and actually doing the work to being the leader,” McGee said.

Eventually, McGee stepped away from operations and marketing and hired directors for the roles. This allowed him to focus on mentoring his team so they could make day-to-day decisions independently. Today, Zerorez Spokane employs 30 people and has a fleet of 14 trucks.

The Zerorez warehouse is a playground of support, creativity and elbow grease. Company culture is a priority for McGee, who fosters personal and professional growth for all team members. Many technicians clean carpets for two to four years and don’t imagine being in the position long term.

“We are completely transparent when techs come on board,” McGee said. “This is an opportunity for them to grow in a span of time and then move on to bigger and better things, and that’s what we hope for them.”

Tyson Chapman was one of the first cleaning technicians for McGee. He worked his way up to a technician leader and became part of the management team. Eventually, Chapman was ready for more and McGee was more than happy to continue supporting his ambition.

In 2014, they strategized a plan to take the Zerorez brand to the Tri-Cities, with Chapman taking on the leadership role. McGee would provide the start-up funding, hiring and marketing resources while Chapman took to the streets with a cleaning van. The first month was the most successful in franchise history. Last year Chapman bought McGee out and today Chapman has five trucks servicing the Tri-Cities.

“If you are about yourself and try to make a buck, that can work.,” Chapman said. “If you in turn do something for others, you will grow.”

You won’t find a community service policy at Zerorez, however it is big part of the culture and authentic. It may be in the form of a food drive, pink shoe covers in October or donated cleaning services.

“If they see a need to take care of somebody that is in grief or need, they can act on it,” McGee said. “Technicians feel empowered by this ability to give back. It’s not a mandate —we don’t regulate it.”

McGee’s products are simplified with alkaline based and oxidized empowered water.

“We were green before green was cool,” McGee said.

High temperature water and efficient equipment allows them to clean without using soaps or shampoos, which are designed to attract dirt.

Cleaning inside people’s homes is a very personal service and requires excellent customer service and trust. Legitimacy and reputation is a priority for McGee and was one of the reasons he decided to become a BBB Accredited Business in 2011. According to McGee, customer service satisfaction for the industry is on average 30 percent, but Zerorez sits at 82 percent. McGee said they set goals to improve the customer experience.

“It’s helped us really know how we can better serve the customer,” he said. “It gives us something else to watch and learn from.”

Even as an established entrepreneur with a young family, McGee sleeps well.

“It is a simple industry,” he said. “What allows me to sleep at night is knowing that we’re being honest and doing the right thing and the customer gets to see that happen personally.”

Missoula Builder Offers Tips of the Trade

jbuilthealthyhomesWritten by Dan Buchta, Montana Marketplace Director

The real estate market has been heating up in the Northwest region and home values have been shooting up. Home values are so hot across the state of Montana that many are looking to reinvest in their home by considering home remodel projects. Still, others see it as a good time to cash in on their home’s rising value so they can build their dream home on a new lot.

For some, taking on a home remodeling project can be intimidating. Then there is the time and effort that goes into building a home. From selecting the lot, floorplans, finishes, securing financing and even finding the right builder —it can be one of the most daunting projects ever attempted.

Jason Townley from J Built Healthy Homes, LLC knows the realities of constructing a home. Two years ago, Townley relocated his home building business to Missoula from Kalispell. He got started in the home building business more than 30 years ago, as a carpenter for a Master Builder and over the years he has expanded his talents and training to include all aspects of construction from design and planning, materials selection, built in furniture design, paperwork, etc., all the way to completion of the project.

To help promote his business in a new city, Townley turned to Better Business Bureau. The BBB was a household name where he grew up, just 20 miles outside of Boston. He

associates the BBB brand with trust and said he finds himself more likely to hire someone with the BBB seal.

“When I moved to Missoula, I didn’t really know many people and nobody knew about my business,” he said. “I figured that I would be more likely to hire a business with the BBB seal and that there are probably a lot of other people out there like me who feel the same way.”

Jason likes to work with a small to medium sized crews and to be involved on-site from start to finish on every project.

“For me it is great because it is always different, it is always changing, you are not just framing house, after house, after house –which gets boring,” Townley said. “When you build a house, side it and then go inside and build the cabinets, built-ins, and trim —it gives you an appreciation for when you are framing the house on how the whole project is supposed to come together.”

It is also a very different landscape for finding help today than it was five years ago. It seems there has been some pent-up demand for building, remodeling, and home repair services and now consumers are aggressively hiring for these services. What does that mean for people looking to build their dream home? They will find that builders and remodelers are less willing to discount their services as they might have in the past. Because discounting could mean cutting corners.

“Watch out for builders or contractors who are more like sales people,” Townley said. “They may have a silver tongue and quote you a price that is in your budget, but then they start the work and they tell you that the job will require extra time and more money.”

He also advised for people to trust their instincts.

“You should have a good gut feeling about the person you are going to hire. This person may be spending weeks inside your home,” he said. “Make sure it is someone you feel good about being there.”

For anyone taking on a home remodeling project or building a new home it’s important to be patient with the timeline.

“People watch HGTV and all these home shows and they see a home get a complete makeover in two days,” Townley said. “A lot of time, that is what they expect when they hire a contractor or builder. It is unrealistic. It takes time to get a job done right.”

It is evident that Townley is passionate about his work. While he is a licensed contractor, he prefers the title of builder.

“Contractors just do the paperwork,” he said. “Builders do the paperwork, manage the subs, and actually do the physical work. I love doing the physical work that is involved in building a home – that is the fun part.”

When asked about the biggest challenges of his job, he stated he tries to share and articulate how the finished project will look by laying it out on paper. Two people can look at the same layout with a different perspective. The challenge is getting on the same page as the homeowner and making sure the finished product meets the vision the homeowner had at the start of the project.

“I just want them to be happy,” he said. “And I want to make sure that the finished job meets their expectations.”

Idaho Business Fueled by the Sun

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Written by Emily Valla, Senior Marketplace Director

As Carl Simpson points out the contraptions on a roof at a Meridian home, his eyes light up. He is clearly passionate about what he does, and why he does it. For the past seven years, Simpson has installed more than 1,000 solar tubes as part of his Treasure Valley- based business, Renewable Energy Northwest.

You may have heard of solar panels providing electricity to homes and businesses —and Simpson can do that too —but, his expertise is on solar thermal energy. Think, heating your hot water by the power of the sun.

The tubes sit on top of a roof, on an exterior wall, or even on the ground, and absorb energy from the sun. Simpson describes the unit as two glass tubes with a vacuum in between.

“The ultra violet rays go inside the tube, and (the inside) can be 400 degrees in an hour even at negative 30 degrees,” said Simpson.

The outside, however, would match the temperature.

BBB Credibility

Renewable Energy NW became BBB Accredited in 2012. Accreditation is important to Simpson, because he doesn’t have many competitors, which isn’t typically why businesses seek accreditation. What Simpson does is unique, and he often finds potential customers don’t know much about solar thermal energy. When they go to seek other quotes, Simpson says they don’t always find other options. So, to establish credibility, he sought to align with Better Business Bureau.

“(It’s) extremely important that we deliver satisfaction and affordable renewable energy solutions,” Simpson said in an email.

He wants his customers to do their homework and find he is committed to upholding BBB Standards.

Solar Power Savings

Simpson regularly outfits existing homes, to the tune of about 80 per year, but he does just as many new construction homes. He says that’s where there is the most opportunity: solar energy can be integrated into the design from the start. A large portion of Simpson’s business is commercial projects.

One of Simpson’s favorite projects was a car wash in Fruitland. He says the installation paid for itself within 18 months, when comparing the cost savings over natural gas to heat the water used in the wash. A CPA by training, Simpson pays close attention to the numbers when it comes to cost savings. He wants clients to be aware of incentives available to them for installing the solar units, and he sends links to the possible options along with quotes before beginning a project.

Potential cost savings are a big attractant for potential customers, as are environmental impacts. Simpson says his system is 94 percent efficient, and can function on days with minimal sunlight. Customers often begin with just heating hot water, which Simpson says is about a quarter of most customer’s energy bills. If they’re interested, customers can also do heating and cooling systems, including radiant floor heat. Simpson says homeowners with pools are often attracted to solar energy.

For those considering making the switch to solar thermal energy, Simpson encourages them to do their homework. He suggests asking questions about permitting and what the installation process is, as this is an important safety step.

Important questions to ask include: What is the strategy to prevent overheating? How will the installed units look? What is the warranty if anything breaks? As satisfied customers are the core of Simpson’s business, he offers a 10-year warranty on panels.

And to ensure he’s doing everything he can to assist the customer he welcomes customer feedback.

To learn more about Renewable Energy NW visit renewableenergynwllc.com.

Portland Business Is a Family Affair

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Written by Veronica Craker, Content and Communications Director

When Carey Flamer-Powell and her wife welcomed their daughter in 2011, it sparked a passion to give back that ultimately launched her Portland business, All Families Surrogacy.

“Once we had our daughter it was this amazing feeling of someone giving us a huge gift,” Flamer-Powell said. “There’s no way we could create that gift without the help from a perfect stranger.”

The same-sex couple turned to a fertility clinic in Portland to find a donor to help them have a child. For them, the process was relatively easy and within a year of trying, they were parents. But Flamer-Powell knew their case was special and there were families all over the world finding it difficult to have children.

In 2014 Flamer-Powell created All Families Surrogacy and her business exploded with growth.

“We went from zero to a very full clientele in about three months,” she said. “Surrogacy is a very high demand in the United States because there aren’t very many countries that do it.”

The most common form of surrogacy, and the one Flamer-Powell practices, is gestational surrogacy. With this type of surrogacy, the surrogate is simply the carrier and has no biological or legal ties to the baby.

“We are sort of the last country that practices it ethically, meaning all parties have separate legal representation,” Flamer-Powell said. “All parties are fully informed of the risks, legally, medically and psychologically.”

Compensation for surrogates can differ, but there is typically a base fee of $30,000 for first-time surrogates and $35,000 for experienced surrogates. This doesn’t include other expenditures that might pop up during the process.

“The biggest misconception about surrogacy is that people think surrogates are doing this for money and nothing could be further from the truth,” Flamer-Powell said.

Most of Flamer-Powell’s staff, including herself, have served as surrogates. This has provided everyone with a unique perspective on the process and has helped them create a warm environment for both the parents and the carrier.

The Surrogates

Angela Padilla, who serves as a surrogate case manager, was a surrogate for another company before going to work for All Families Surrogacy. She said she didn’t get the type of attention and support she was hoping to get when she signed up. But she’s found that with Flamer-Powell.

“I just wanted to help a family have a child because it happened so easily with me and my husband,” Padilla said. “Really, the parents should get the credit. Everything they’ve been through as parents, I don’t know if my husband and I could do that.”

Why BBB

About a year into her business Flamer-Powell decided to become BBB accredited. She said it is a way to offer peace of mind to her clients and surrogates.

“I want to ensure surrogates and the parents, we’re here for the long haul, we’re transparent and ethical, we have nothing to hide and we’re trying to do everything we can to provide stability in the world of surrogacy,” she said.

To learn more about Flamer-Powell’s business visit allfamiliessurrogacy.com.

Lunch Dates for Busy Singles

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Written by Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager

Patti LaFond, owner of BBB accredited coaching and matchmaking company Meet Me for Lunch in Anchorage, met her husband, Chuck, at a ‘break-up’ party she and her ex-boyfriend threw when their relationship ended after seven years.

Yes, that’s how they met.

LaFond started out as a tour operator and eventually specialized in Alaska tours for single women. She advertised the tours in AlaskaMen Magazine as “Experience Alaska and meet Alaskan men along the way.”

The themed packaged tours brought groups to Alaska six times a year, visiting Anchorage, Kodiak, Skagway, Fairbanks and Seward. That was how LaFond honed her matchmaking skills. Meet Me for Lunch evolved from these singles tours to a local service where Patti could facilitate introducing single people to each other to create long lasting relationships.

LaFond, who didn’t know anything about professional matchmaking, checked out other dating franchises before deciding to start her own company. She advertised in magazines, TV, radio and word-of-mouth resulting in a dating machine signing up an average of five people a day. This didn’t exactly sit in line with her values of bringing couples together for long-term relationships —not simply a revolving door dating service.

Today, matchmaking is just one part of her company. Her subsidiary, Dynamic Dating, is the coaching side of her business which includes in-person sessions and two signature eight-module programs. According to her statistics, there have been 90 plus marriages, with another 52 percent of people in her database in long-term relationships.

LaFond is a big supporter of Better Business Bureau after becoming accredited in 2009. She likens her business to a therapist’s office where everything discussed is personal.

“How else would someone check me out because everything is confidential,” she said. “I tell people to check me out with BBB.”

One of her successful matches was Alicia and Conrad Froh who met in 2009 through MMFL and married in 2012. Both were in their mid-50’s at the time. It was Alicia’s second date but Conrad’s ninth or tenth and he was about to give up.

Alicia had tried online dating sites before without success.

“There are too many variables that are missing on online dating sites. You don’t know what you’re getting,” she said. “With Patti’s company, you must pass a background check —she takes out the unknowns.”

When asked about consumers using online dating sites compared to a fee based matchmaking service like hers, LaFond responded that online dating sites are not competition.

“Go try and figure it out on your own,” she said. “Get the ball rolling. You are casting a big net going online with hardly any filters.”

LaFond believes personal coaching and the singles events she organizes sets her apart from other dating companies and has been a component in her success. She adds that woman feel safe using her services because she screens all participants.

LaFond believes dating is a bit different than it was 20, even 10 years ago. In the past, it was customary for men to be expected to pay for the date, while today splitting the check is totally acceptable. It was also once customary for men to make the initial phone call, but today women often make the first move.

One of the biggest differences now is how couples communicate. Between texting, email and social media the dating scene is constantly changing.

But LaFond points out one thing to remain constant is women still seek her out for discretion and security. While men use her services because it is more efficient and less time consuming.

They simply need to show up.

To learn more about Meet Me for Lunch visit meetmeforlunch.net.

New Incentives for Employers Help Workers Recover After a Workplace Injury

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Leah with one of her patients.

Written by Rena Shawver,  L&I Return to Work Partnerships

Leah’s Story

When a horse reared up behind her, all Leah could do was hope for the best as the 1,200-pound animal came down on top of her.  The vet tech knew instantly her back was broken.  After multiple surgeries to repair several breaks and a long recovery period, Leah had recovered physically as much as possible.  Among other things, her “new normal” meant no heavy lifting. She realized her permanent physical restrictions would not allow her to work with large animals again.  But being a veterinarian technician was the only work she knew; and she loved her job. 

Today, Leah is working full-time as a vet tech with a new employer at a small animal emergency clinic. Although she was hired for her skill, as a certified preferred worker through the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), her employment comes with financial incentives that will benefit both her and her employer.

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Veterinarian technician Leah Wiltse-Perry was severely injured when a horse she was leading reared up and came down on her, breaking her back in several places. Through the Preferred Worker Program, she’s been able to find a medically-appropriate permanent job as a vet tech working with small animals at Pet Emergency Clinic in Spokane.

Supporting workers after recovery

Like Leah, some workers are not able to go back to their old jobs because of permanent medical restrictions caused by a workplace injury or illness. They’ve healed but are limited from doing certain tasks.

L&I certifies these workers through the Preferred Worker Program and provides financial incentives and premium relief to eligible employers who create medically-appropriate, long-term jobs for preferred workers.

Major changes to the Preferred Worker Program

Last January, the Washington State Legislature expanded the Preferred Worker Program to allow all employers in Washington State, including the employer of injury and self-insured employers, the opportunity to hire a preferred worker.

Under the rules of the expanded program, employers will receive the following:

  • Financial protection against subsequent claims,
  • Premium relief,
  • Bonus payment equal to 10% of the worker’s wages or $10,000, whichever is less, for continuous employment, and
  • Reimbursement for:
    • 50% of the base wages paid to the preferred worker, up to $10,000.
    • Some of the cost of tools, clothing, and equipment the worker needs to do the job.
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Leah shows her supervisor, Mike O’Dea, DVM, and her Vocational Service Specialist, Ellen Nagourney, how the modified equipment bought through L&I’s incentive programs help her at work.

Why offer incentives to support jobs?

Many employers at heart want to help their workers after an injury, but find making that transition from the job of injury to a new job that meets the worker’s physical or mental restrictions a hardship financially.

Preferred Worker Program incentives help the worker and employer keep their relationship, giving them extra support and guidance through a transition period often with the help of a vocational counselor.

Other return-to-work incentives

Stay at Work is another return-to-work incentive program. L&I reimburses eligible employers for some of their costs when they provide temporary, light-duty jobs for injured workers while they heal. Employers covered through the workers’ compensation State Fund may qualify for financial incentives from both the Stay at Work Program and the Preferred Worker Program.

Hiring employers could also qualify for additional financial help to modify equipment at worksites that will help preferred workers complete certain work-related tasks.

Using return-to-work programs help lower an employers’ workers’ compensation costs both in the short and long-term.

Learn more about the Preferred Worker Program

Already, about 100 employers have contacted L&I with interest in hiring some of the 1,500 certified preferred workers who are ready to work and are supported by the financial incentives of the Preferred Worker Program.

To learn more, sign up for one of L&I’s  Preferred Worker workshops by going to www.Lni.wa.gov/PreferredWorker.  Or contact the Preferred Worker Program by phone at 1-800-845-2634 or by email at PrefWorkerProg@Lni.wa.gov to ask how to apply for preferred worker benefits.

Hear more about Leah’s story by watching this video.