Getting Paid to Drive? It’s Too Good to Be True

road-people-street-smartphone
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

When you’re in between jobs or in need of some supplemental income, it’s hard to say no to the prospect of earning fast, easy money. But honest income generally doesn’t come without putting in some effort, so be cautious of any money-making opportunity that offers a high return for little to no work on your part. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When Sue, a consumer from Lakewood, Wash., received the below email, she was excited at the idea of making money just by putting a company logo on her car. The email said she would be “paid to drive” $800 a week—more than a lot of people earn with a full-time job—just by wrapping her car with an advertisement.

From: Michael
To: Sue
Subject: Toms Job Position
Date: Tue, 12 May 2015 00:31:04 +0200
Greetings,
We are currently seeking to employ individual’s in the USA.
How would you like to make money by simply driving your car advertising for Hennessy, JOHNNIE WALKER, Pepsi, Coke, Apple Product or TOMS shoes.
How it works
Here’s the basic premise of the “paid to drive”
Concept: AUTO WRAP seeks people — regular citizens, professional drivers to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with an advert for “AUTO WRAP” plastered on your car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as “AUTO WRAP” that’s almost seem to be painted on the vehicle and which will cover any portion of your car’s exterior surface.
What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy? Lots of exposure and awareness. The AUTO WRAP tend to be colorful, eye-catching and attract lots of attention when you are stuck in traffic and people can’t avoid seeing the advert on your car alongside them. This program will last for 6 months and the minimum you can participate is 3 months.
We are offering $1,600 every 2 weeks and also an advance payment of $500, the logo will be placed on both doors or the hood of your car if you are interested.
No fee is required from you, “AUTO WRAP” will provide experts who will be responsible for placing and removal of the logo when your contract expires.
Kindly send me the required information’s below.
Please respond only if interested.
Michael
Promotional Manager
TOMS

When Sue responded to the email, she was asked for her personal information, including full name and address. She was then told a check would be mailed to her for an up-front payment and to cover the car-wrapping costs.

Fortunately at that point, Sue grew suspicious and reached out to BBB for guidance.

While there may be a handful of legitimate companies that pay you a bit of money to stick their logo on your personal vehicle, the unsolicited email Sue received is not how they go about hiring people.

What generally happens in this all-too-common scam is the victim will be sent a check for more money than was promised. He will be instructed to deposit the check in his account, wire a portion of it to someone else, and keep the rest. Little does he know the check is fake, and he becomes responsible for the bank’s losses after he’s wired real money to a fraudster. Scammers ask for money to be wired to them because it’s virtually untraceable, like handing someone a wad of cash.

Here are the warning signs of a car-wrapping scam:

  • You’re told all you have to do is sign up, and you’ll be selected. The truth is that the odds are against you. A legitimate company told Bankrate.com they have more than one million drivers in their database—and they’ve hired only 6,000 of them in the last six years.
  • You’re offered the job on the spot. A real company will want to talk to a candidate before hiring him; they won’t offer a job to someone without going through an interview first.
  • The company wants you to send them money. You should never pay up-front fees to receive employment. And no legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask him to wire the money elsewhere.
  • The company promises a free car. There is no such thing as a company that will give you a free car.
  • There are typos and bad grammar. If a job offer is truly coming from a well known brand such as TOMS or Pepsi, the email or letter won’t be riddled with mistakes and poor writing.

How to Respond Positively to Negative Feedback

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you’re lucky—but at some point, your business will be criticized. The Internet is pretty much a free-for-all of customer reviews, complaints and commentary.

Business owners often struggle to find the right words to craft a decent response. And some just don’t respond at all, which can be a huge mistake. When it comes to negative feedback that’s posted online, keep in mind that how you handle it is visible to the world. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and may even give off the perception that you don’t care about your customers.

If and when you do receive negative feedback, you can turn it into an opportunity to regain the trust and respect of that customer, and you could win over some new customers, as well.

Be polite
It’s natural to want to defend your business, your employees or your products and services, but resist the urge. The customer may be in the wrong, but saying so will not help your public image. Never place blame on the customer, and never respond in an emotional, accusatory manner. Instead, step back and take a breath. Consider how the customer feels, and think about what you’d want to hear if you were in his place. Maintain a professional, polite disposition, but be careful not to sound robotic—people want to see that you’re genuine and compassionate.

Keep it short
It’s usually best to keep your response brief. Acknowledge the customer’s feedback, and invite them to discuss it at length with you over the phone or at your place of business. Going into too much detail in your public response is akin to airing dirty laundry. Consider a simple “We’re so sorry you had that experience with our company. We invite you to call our customer service desk if you’d like to talk more about the specifics of the situation.” It can go a long way toward making the customer feel heard, encouraging a real dialog and showing others that you give proper attention to unhappy customers.

See it as a learning opportunity
When you’re feeling criticized or even attacked, it can be difficult to see the value behind someone’s not-so-pleasant feedback. However, consider this: There are companies that pay big money to survey real people for insight on how to better themselves, and you just got it for free! The comments your business receives online are a kind of customer research, and you can benefit from it. Make note of any suggestions or questions that are mentioned in the comments, and seriously consider whether you can use this feedback to better your business.

To quote Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Know when to walk away
You won’t be able to fix every problem and make everyone happy, and unfortunately, there are some people who derive pleasure from pushing your buttons. They don’t want your help; they just want to start an argument. On the Internet, this type of person is called a troll, and it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them.

How do you tell the difference between a real gripe and someone who just enjoys stirring the pot? Follow the steps above: Be polite, keep it short and try to find the value in the critique. If despite your best efforts they refuse to have a civil, productive discussion with you, it’s OK to let it go. Remember that everyone else will see how you handled the comments, and they’ll be impressed you kept your cool.

Want to Open Your Own Business? Start Here

Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com
Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

When you envision your dream job, you probably think about things such as the difference you’ll make in the world, what your office or store will look like, how much money you’ll make, how satisfied and accomplished you’ll feel at the end of each week.

I feel fairly confident in assuming that your vision does not include a boss. In your dream job, you’d be your own boss! You’d be an entrepreneur, living out the American Dream.

You’ve spent countless hours imagining it, so why not go for it? What holds most people back from taking the leap and starting their own business—manifesting their dream job—is uncertainty and fear.

The cold, hard truth is that about half of all new businesses don’t make it past five years, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA); only a third survive 10 years or more.

Yet small businesses are everywhere, the backbone of our communities. There are more than 340,000 small businesses in Oregon, according to the SBA. In spite of the possibility of failure, people are still trying. And when true entrepreneurs fail, they learn from it and try again.

There’s no question that owning your own business is risky. But with risk comes reward. To paraphrase French author André Gide, you can’t cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

The following guidance may help you get closer to turning your dream job into a reality.

Do what you know and love. Don’t start a business because you think you’ll get rich quick. A business built around your passion and talent is much more likely to succeed. If your heart isn’t in it, your chances of growing and being profitable are slim.

Make a business plan. This is your roadmap to success. Describe what makes you stand out from your competitors, who your target customers are and how you plan to market your business. A well written business plan will also support your request for funding from your bank or government programs.

Be wise with money. Save up as much as you can before launching your business, but you’ll likely still need financing. Check with the SBA to find resources and government-backed loans. If you’ll need retail or office space, location is important, but keep a budget in mind and try to negotiate on price. When you’re up and running, keep a detailed profit and loss statement, and always keep current on your loan payments, taxes and bills.

Stay in compliance. Find out from the IRS what business taxes you’ll need to pay. Check with the Washington Department of RevenueOregon Secretary of State or Alaska Department of Commerce to find out if you need to register your business with the state. A specialty license may also be required, depending on the type of work you’ll be doing.

Manage your reputation. It’s a given that potential customers or clients will search online for information about you and your business. According to research by ZenDesk, 88 percent of people have been influenced by an online review. Take a little time each day to work on your website and social media profiles, and respond to positive and negative comments in a professional manner. Delivering on your promises is essential, too. Build trust by doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Chances are you won’t get it exactly, perfectly right the first time. You will experience ups and downs, successes and failures. If your idea isn’t panning out, reflect on the mistakes you’ve made and what went wrong, and think about what you could have done differently. Don’t let your ego keep you from calling it quits when it’s appropriate. If it’s time to walk away, take time to regroup—and then try again.

The Importance of Giving Back

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Your customers—especially the younger generation—want to know what your business is doing to make the world a better place. According to a 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of consumers take corporate social responsibility into account when deciding where to shop and which products and services to purchase.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is the most outward-thinking place I’ve ever worked. From free ID theft prevention events to educational webinars to volunteer work, BBB and its staff serve as a great reminder of the value of giving back to the community.

BBB also awards college scholarships to local high school seniors each year. This year was a little different than years past: BBB held a video contest for the first time, and the jackpot was bigger than ever. This year’s $10,000 scholarship was recently awarded to a talented, bright young man from Alaska who plans to attend Brigham Young.

“We are impressed by the creativity and effort put into all the videos,” BBB CEO Tyler Andrew said. “When we launched the scholarship, we wanted to increase awareness among teens on the importance of marketplace trust.”

This scholarship—this one act of generosity—actually triggers a cycle:

  1. givingbackBy offering a scholarship, BBB is promoting its name and mission to the youngest generation. This ensures kids will know where to look for trust when they become adults and enter the marketplace as consumers and business owners. The scholarship also reminds parents about BBB’s services to the public.
  2. These consumers will then look to BBB for trustworthy information on local businesses. And as stated in a Roper survey, 74 percent of consumers prefer to do business with a BBB Accredited Business.
  3. Accredited Businesses pay annual dues to BBB. They will continue to renew their Accreditation each year as long as they see a return on their investment: more customers.
  4. BBB uses these annual dues to fund its day-to-day operations and its services to the public—including the scholarship.

Corporate social responsibility can help your business gain customers, but it can also help you retain and attract talented employees.

Allowing your employees to be involved in volunteer activities can help them feel more fulfilled and enriched. Reports show that when employees have the opportunity to give back to the community, they have a renewed appreciation for their contributions to your company.

If you’d like to become more involved in your community, there are some simple things you can do to get started. If you have a storefront, keep a collection jar for your favorite local charity at your front desk. Employees and customers alike will effect real change just by dropping off their spare change. You could also organize an employee volunteer day. A group activity such as cooking for a homeless shelter or painting an elderly neighbor’s house can have the added bonus of boosting camaraderie among your staff.

Not only is giving back good for business, but it’s the right thing to do. It builds relationships, it makes your employees feel more engaged and satisfied, and it reminds you just how lucky you are.

Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids

Image courtesy of artur84 | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you begin to look into summer camp options for your children, look beyond the pretty brochures and friendly sales pitches. Make sure the camp you have in mind is safe, well supervised and not a financial trap.

Dig deeper than whether a camp has bird watching, bracelet weaving or swimming lessons. Find out if it has a history of complaints, and make certain it has been in business long enough to substantiate its claims.

Visit the camp and pay careful attention to living, eating, medical and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery or off-site trips. Inquire about the staff-to-camper ratio, the criteria for hiring counselors and whether a doctor or nurse will be on-site. Also ask about the camp’s insurance coverage.

Ask to see a daily schedule, even if it’s from last season. Make note of the hours, the variety of activities, the type of food that is served and any transportation that is involved.

Cover financial matters up front. Know all the fees up front, from the base price and any extra activities charges to whether meals and transportation are covered. Get everything in writing, including details about the deposit and refund policy.

Get references from parents of repeat campers, and ask why they recommend the camp. Inquire with the camp about the camper and counselor return rate.

Look for camps accredited by the American Camp Association, a nonprofit that works to ensure the quality of summertime programs. Accreditation with the ACA means the camp meets up to 300 nationally recognized standards.

Watch Out for IRS Scams

Image courtesy of Adamophoto | freerangestock.com

During the final two weeks of the tax filing season, scammers are increasing their efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service in attempts to steal money or personal information from consumers.

Taxpayers should be alert for these two common IRS scams.

1. The Phone Scam

You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent. They demand immediate payment via prepaid card or wire transfer, and they threaten you with jail time, deportation or driver’s license suspension. They may even know the last four digits of your Social Security number or other personal information.

The truth: The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill or giving you the opportunity to appeal the amount they claim you owe. They will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, nor will they require you use a specific payment method. They will not threaten you.

How to spot the scam:

  • You have received nothing in the mail from the IRS.
  • They demand payment immediately.
  • They threaten to get the local police or an immigration agency involved.

What to do:

  • If you know or suspect you do owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. They can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or report it online at the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Page.
  • File a report through the Federal Trade Commission’s FTC Complaint Assistant. Include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

2. The Email Scam

You receive an email that claims to be from the IRS, telling you that you’re eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It instructs you to click on a link in the email to access a form for the tax refund. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information.

The truth: Taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain a refund; refunds are based on the tax return they submit to the IRS. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email or ask for personal identifying or financial information via email.

How to spot the scam:

  • The email requests detailed personal and financial information.
  • It dangles bait to get you to respond to the email and threatens a consequence for not responding.
  • It gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong.
  • It uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing.
  • It links to a site that’s not the actual IRS website (www.irs.gov).

What to do:

  • Do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email.
  • Contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS is truly trying to contact you.
  • Forward the suspicious email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov, then delete the email from your inbox.

Cyber Security Is Important for Small Businesses

Image courtesy of Pexels.com
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

We’ve all heard about the cyber attacks on large businesses—including Home Depot, Anthem and Target—but small businesses are actually the most common targets of online scam artists.

According to StaySafeOnline.org, 71 percent of data breaches happen to small businesses, and nearly half of all small businesses have been the victim of a cyber attack. Visa Inc reports that 95 percent of credit card breaches it discovers are from its smallest business customers.

Criminals are attracted to small businesses for three reasons:

  1. Due to a lack of resources, they are less equipped to handle an attack.
  2. The information hackers want—credit card credentials, intellectual property, personally identifiable information—is often less guarded on a small business system.
  3. Small businesses’ partnerships with larger businesses provide back-channel access to a hacker’s true targets.

Protecting personal information should be a high priority for any business. A data breach is not just a financial problem, but it will make customers lose trust in a business. Your customers will stop coming to you if they don’t believe their information is safe in your hands. Among small businesses that suffer a breach, a staggering 60 percent will go out of business in six months, according to Experian.

To protect your business and your customers, it is imperative you have safe-measures in place as well as a plan for recovery in the event of a cyber attack. Consider the tips below, and read Better Business Bureau’s comprehensive guide on data security for businesses at bbb.org/data-security.

Minimize what you save. Don’t collect or keep any information you don’t absolutely need. When information is no longer needed, make sure it is destroyed responsibly.

Restrict access. Limit access to data to only the people who need the information in order to do their jobs. Sensitive electronic information should be encrypted, and portable electronic devices should be secured. Any paper records should be locked up when not in use.

Use strong passwords. Never use the default password provided by your IT person or service provider. Each computer user at your company should have his or her own unique password. Never use simple passwords such as your name, your business name, “12345,” “ABCDE” or “password,” and never use the same password for multiple accounts. Strong passwords include a combination of numbers, letters and symbols, and they should be changed every 60 days.

Block intruders. Use up-to-date antivirus protection and firewalls. Most antivirus programs will automatically update the software as new viruses and spyware become known, but you should also run a full scan for viruses and spam at least once a week. Make sure your Internet connection is secure, and keep any guest Wi-Fi networks completely separate from the rest of your networks. Be aware that personal websites, including social networks, can be a gateway for malware and viruses; use business computers for business-only purposes.

Share with caution. Use a secure connection, such as SSL technology, when transmitting data over the Internet. Do not transmit sensitive information via email unless it is encrypted. When mailing physical records, use a security envelope, request package tracking and require the recipient to sign for the package.

Back up information. Back up data on all computers automatically, or at least weekly, including word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, financial records and human resources files. Store backups in a secure location that is offsite or in the cloud.

Before Buying or Selling a Timeshare, Consider This

Image courtesy of Pexels.com
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

In the midst of dreary winter weather in the Pacific Northwest, it’s nice to think about a getaway somewhere sunny and tropical.

But vacations to exotic places can be expensive, and they often seem out of reach. As a result, many people choose to invest in a timeshare property, believing that will make vacations more affordable.

However, some timeshare “deals” are just too good to be true. Here are some things to consider before making an investment.

Evaluate the location and quality of the timeshare. You want to do business with a reputable company in a location you can see yourself visiting often in the long-term.

Understand the benefits and the obligations. Though the cost may be lower than buying a second property, it doesn’t mean additional costs don’t exist. There are maintenance fees and property taxes.

Read and understand the contract before you sign. Be aware of cancellation policies and other fees. Ask someone who has experience in real estate to read the contract to ensure you are getting a fair deal.

Always cancel in writing. The FTC suggests when canceling a purchase, you should always send a letter through certified mail with a return receipt request so there is documentation of the interaction.

Be cautious of buying outside the U.S. If you buy a timeshare with a company that operates outside of the U.S., they do not have the same obligations and you will not be protected under U.S. law.

When you’re ready to sell your timeshare, do your research before hiring a timeshare reseller. Find out where the company is located and in which states it does business. Ask if the salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located, and verify this with the state licensing board (Washington: Department of Licensing, Oregon: Real Estate Agency, Alaska: Real Estate Commission). Ask if the company charges a commission, handles the entire closing and provides escrow services. Consider it a red flag if they charge an upfront fee.

National Consumer Protection Week

Your ‪BBB‬ is partnering with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to celebrate National Consumer Protection Week from March 1-7. Below, we’ve compiled warning signs and tips on 6 of the most common scams we’ve seen affect local consumers.

Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/

1. Phishing emails ask for personal info and may contain links to malware. Antivirus software can help, but the best protection is a good sense of judgment. Legitimate companies and government agencies never ask you to confirm personal info via email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/

2. Don’t fall victim to an advance-fee loan scam. Check out the company at bbb.org/search. Be skeptical of any offer where you have to pay money up front. Walk away if you’re asked for money immediately, especially if it’s supposedly for “insurance,” “processing,” or “paperwork.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/

3. With overpayment scams, a buyer “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the amount they owe. They ask you to deposit it and wire them the difference. The original check turns out to be a fake, leaving you on the hook to pay the bank for any money withdrawn. Always wait for a deposit to clear before writing checks against the funds—it can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/

4. Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes—grandchildren “stranded” in a foreign country, the hotel front desk “verifying” your credit card in the middle of the night, “charity” solicitations from groups you’ve never supported in the past. Never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to someone who has contacted you to ask for them.

winner5. In a lottery/sweepstakes scam, you get an unsolicited phone call, email or letter stating you’ve won a prize, but in order to collect the winnings, you have to wire a small sum of money to pay for “processing fees” or “taxes.” You never get your “winnings,” and the scammer has your money. You never have to pay to receive legitimate winnings.

Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com
Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com

6. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law… and angry consumers. They knock on your door with a story or a deal: a roofer spots missing shingles on your roof, a paver has leftover asphalt and can give you a deal on driveway resealing. Then you can’t track them down after they’ve left you with a shoddy or incomplete job. Never agree to do business with someone you haven’t researched first. Start at bbb.org/search.

Go to ncpw.gov to find more consumer tips and free materials from government and private organizations.

Top 3 Scams Targeting Businesses

business-scamsReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Since I began working at Better Business Bureau more than four years ago, I have learned a lot: how to be a smarter consumer, how a business ought to handle complaints, the warning signs of a scam and what various government agencies can do to help people. I do still make mistakes—for example, I certainly did not choose the best repair shop when my car broke down last year! But I am much more confident and calm in how I handle troubling situations, thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained from BBB. (And I was able to resolve the car situation.)

Education is key when it comes to protecting yourself and your business from fraudsters. To avoid falling victim to three of the most common business scams, everyone in your office needs to be alert and aware.

Labor law poster scam: An important-looking letter addressed to your company informs you that you need to order new versions of some labor law posters. Attached is an order form for you to fill out and return along with payment, which can be up to several hundred dollars. The wording in the letter implies that failure to pay for these posters will result in your company being out of compliance with state and federal labor laws—and there could be legal ramifications.

  • How to protect your business: There are, in fact, certain posters that need to be displayed in every workplace according to the law. However, the posters can be obtained for free from your state labor department. In Oregon, contact the Bureau of Labor & Industries at (971) 673-0761 or oregon.gov/boli for details on which posters you need and how to order them.

Office supplies scam: A delivery of office supplies arrives on your company’s doorstep, and an employee pays for them, assuming a colleague must have placed an order. But it turns out the box contains items you didn’t order and don’t need, or it’s completely empty.

  • How to protect your business: Make sure your company has a formal process for ordering office supplies, paying for them and accepting deliveries. If you keep track of all orders placed, the employee responsible for accepting deliveries should be able to match any shipment to the tracking sheet before accepting it.

Directory listing scam: You receive a phone call asking to update or confirm your company’s contact information in a business directory listing, and you’re led to believe it’s the Yellow Pages. A short time later, you receive an invoice for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a listing in a directory you’ve never heard of—and, typically, one that doesn’t even exist. Unsuspecting employees may pay the bill, not realizing you never agreed to the charges. If you refuse to pay or try to cancel your listing, the scammers threaten you with legal action and aggressive collection tactics. They may even play back a doctored recording of your phone conversation as “proof” of your agreement to the charges.

  • How to protect your business: Steer clear of solicitations for directory listings. Instead, be proactive and selective about which directories you want your business to be listed in, and contact them yourself to initiate a listing. When the time comes to renew, verify any contact from someone claiming to be with the directory company.

If you are aware of a sketchy company or if you have fallen victim to a scam, report your experience to Better Business Bureau at (503) 212-3022 or oregon.bbb.org and the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 or ftc.gov. The knowledge you share could save countless businesses from becoming victims themselves.