Lunch Dates for Busy Singles

meet-me-for-lunch

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.

Considering a Career Change

By Michelle Tabler, Alaska Marketplace Development Manager

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the August issue of Torch Talk.

ChangeCareer2_img

These days it’s common to consider going back to school in order to advance your career. Whether it’s for a bachelor’s or a graduate degree, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly. While motivations vary, many people choose to pursue higher education for potential increased earnings, to gain new skills, or to simply pursue a different career path.

Some companies offer tuition assistance for employees wishing to gain more education. This type of program is considered an investment that allows an employee to continue working while taking courses. In turn they promise to stick with their company and utilize their new found skills.

But there’s also the option of leaving the workforce to focus on school full-time. If your motivation is to increase your pay, it’s important to investigate the availability of jobs and the pay scales in the field you are considering. Generally, those with advanced degrees earn more, but that can vary depending on the type of degree and the career field. And keep in mind, some occupations won’t boost your income when compared to the cost of the degree.

Alaska Career College totes its most popular programs to be the Allied Health Programs. These include: medical assistant, phlebotomy tech, medical coding and billing and massage therapy. Jennifer Deitz, ACC owner said the courses offered at her college are designed to meet a specific need in Alaska. “Alaska Career College is attuned to the economy and the skills needed in this economy.” While the college offers additional programs in Business Administration and Human Resources, most students prefer the health industry courses.

“Because that’s where the good jobs are,” Deitz said.

The college has been BBB Accredited since 1995 and offers courses in Aircraft Dispatching, business, insurance coding and billing, medical assistant, phlebotomy technician and therapeutic massage. Going back to school can provide a unique experience that is intellectually stimulating and offers the opportunity to meet with people of different ages and backgrounds. It is a great networking opportunity for business contacts.

A friend with a BA in communications worked as a TV reporter and producer and then phased into working for nonprofits. After a while she decided to go to graduate school for a master’s degree so she could work as a consultant. She felt the graduate degree would give her more credibility and allow her to compete more successfully in the marketplace.

If you are thinking about going back to school, here are some tips to consider:

Pick the program 

What program would bring the best results. A four-year or two-year degree? You might only need a certificate program to give you that leg up.

Online or in class 

Will you be able to complete the course online or will you need to log in some classroom time? Either way, you might have to find a part– time job or leave work altogether in order to obtain your degree.

Weigh the cost 

In addition to tuition costs, also be sure to budget for books, computers, supplies for specialty classes and a laptop. Fill out the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if you plan to apply for financial aid and grants. There are often advantages to in-state tuition if the courses you plan to take are offered locally.

Going back to school can be highly rewarding. Just be sure to research your options carefully, take into considering the time and costs involved.

Affordable Care Act Brings Changes to IRS Tax Forms

Written by Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager

The holidays are over and tax season has started. Better Business Bureau advises taxpayers to be aware of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting requirements.

Tax Healthcare Blog 1.12.16

Every person filing a tax return will need to provide information on their health care coverage for the year. If you had qualifying coverage all 12 months, you may just need to check a box on your tax return. If you obtained coverage through your state’s Marketplace under the ACA, then you will receive tax form 1095-A to file with your taxes (and you must file a tax return in order to be eligible for future premium assistance). Exemptions are claimed when you file your tax return or through the Marketplace.

The ACA requires minimal essential coverage for each month of the year. Minimum coverage includes: employer provided health insurance; coverage provided through the Health Insurance Marketplace in your state; government-sponsored programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and veteran’s health care programs; policies purchased directly from insurance companies; and other health insurance coverage recognized by the Department of Health & Human Services.

People who purchased health coverage through their state’s Marketplace are in effect reconciling at tax time any advance payments of the premium tax credit paid on their behalf by the government. These credits are based on a sliding scale for those with household incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line based on family size, home address and the cost of health coverage in the area. Individuals who chose to accept advance credit payments for their health insurance premiums will reconcile at tax time. If the advance payments are lower than the actual premium tax credit then the taxpayer will receive the difference as a higher refund or lower tax due. If the advance payments were more than the actual credit, then the taxpayer will owe the difference.

Taxpayers who do not have qualifying health care coverage nor qualify for an exemption will be required to pay a shared responsibility payment when filing their tax return. The IRS includes a worksheet to help calculate this payment.

There are several individual exemptions from the requirement to have qualifying health coverage: annual premiums are more than eight percent of household income; the gap in coverage is less than three consecutive months; hardship that prevents obtaining coverage; or belonging to a group explicitly exempt from the requirement.

New this year, if you had insurance through your employer or were offered coverage, you may receive a form 1095-B or C. This is a good record of your insurance and may be needed if you are applying for some types of exceptions.

Taxes and ACA rules may be confusing to consumers, so if you plan to hire a tax preparer, check out the company at bbb.org. Be sure the preparer has the expertise you need and ask for the fees up front. Have all your information well organized for your appointment, including last year’s return, and list any question you may have. It will save you time and money.

Also, be alert to tax identity theft scams. According to the IRS, tax-related ID theft occurs when a person’s social security number has been stolen and used to file a fraudulent tax return to obtain the refund. BBB is encouraging consumers to file their tax returns as early as possible.

Adopt a Pet, Not a Scam

Written by Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager

Puppy & Kitten Scam PR

A Pennsylvania consumer reported on BBB’s Scam Tracker: “I paid $700 for a kitten that does not exist. My kid is devastated because she was waiting for a kitten to be delivered to our house today.” Another consumer wrote: “All we wanted was a puppy to help us get over the deaths of our beloved pets.”

According to the American Humane Association, the holidays are a popular time to bring a new pet into people’s homes. Puppies and kittens often top the holiday gift list for many children. But consumers should be careful when searching for their new furry family member online which has become the new marketplace for adopting pets.

Online ads usually show photos of adorable puppies or kittens to be rehomed, sold at a low price, or offered for free if the potential owner pays “transportation charges.”  Scammers will even go so far as to send a questionnaire to the buyer asking for personal information as part of the application process. They reel you in with attractively low prices for popular breeds and promise to deliver the pet to your doorstep. The scammer may also require that “shipping” fees be paid in advance by wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. Scammers may even use the name of a legitimate transportation company but give fraudulent contact information.

Once the money is received, the seller claims the pet is on the way but requests additional funds for charges such as taxes, insurance, vaccinations, new kennels – all sorts of concocted fees to extort more money. Some emails even promise that the fees will be “refunded” once the pet has arrived.

Not only do these puppies and kittens not arrive at their destination, but they typically don’t even exist. Consumers all over the country have been scammed out of hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of dollars on each of these scams.

Potential pet owners can look for red flags that an online sale may not be legitimate. Is the seller requesting that the payment be wired or put on a prepaid card? It’s never a good idea to wire money to someone you don’t know – it’s the same as sending cash. The money cannot be traced or recovered.

Do the ad and emails contain poor grammar and misspellings? Many fraudulent schemes originate overseas, so scammers may not have a good grasp of the English language. And be wary if the seller only wants to communicate by email or text, but not by phone.

If the seller is pressuring you to make a decision right away, that may also signal a possible scam. A sense of immediacy can cause victims to act without doing proper research. One fraudulent email stated: “We urge you to make the deposit within the next 30-45 minutes before departure time at 10 am today.”

Is the price too good to be true? Be wary of any ads offering rare breeds for lower than market prices or offering the pet for free (if shipping is paid). Scammers often weave sad tales: “I’m just looking for someone to provide my kittens with care and love because my daughter, who was their companion, died a month ago and now they are lonely.” Then, be suspicious if the seller requests upfront shipping costs for a third-party transport company.

Before responding to an ad, you can do an online search by pasting the wording into a search engine. You may find information or complaints from others about the seller.

Be cautious when shopping online for a pet and look out for red flags that may indicate a scam. A good piece of advice – consider adopting locally.

The Psychology behind Scams

Since coming to work for BBB, I’ve spoken to numerous people who were victims of scams. Most of these schemes involved money – some people were out a hundred or so, others were out thousands of dollars – or identity theft. The people that fall for scams are no different than my friends and me.

Scam Blog Post
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The emails I receive from Nigerian princes or lotteries promising millions of dollars are deleted, but I’ve hesitated when receiving messages from what appears to be my bank or credit card company. I’ve wanted to click on the email, but I’ve learned to just delete. I’m also tempted to click on ads I see on social media because they are so tailored to my online viewing by marketers. I want to click on friend’s Facebook posts where they ‘liked’ a video that I may want to see. Often though, these clicks can put malware on my computer or take me to websites that aren’t legit. I know that, but it is tempting – even for me. Imagine an elderly person who isn’t online savvy.

Many people find it hard to believe that others have fallen victim to any of the Nigerian email scams. A Microsoft Researcher, Cormac Herley, believes that by sending these types of emails full of misspellings and incorrect language, the scammers are weeding out all but the most gullible (http://research.microsoft.com/apps/pubs/default.aspx?id=167719). If a scammer needs to spend time manipulating a victim, he only wants those who are most susceptible to their exploitation. They are looking for the most gullible, not the smartest victims.

Many scammers target seniors in several common schemes. Their investment is normally just the cost of buying lists and installing computer-based phone lines and voice mail. Often, the con artists are operating from out of the country. Lottery, romance (online dating websites), charity, investment, home repair and grandparent scams most often target seniors, but there are many victims not in this demographic.

Scammers use a psychology of manipulation. They gain a victim’s trust by asking personal questions to find emotional triggers that they’ll use to operate their con. First, they may play on a victim’s sympathies: medical bills to be paid for children in the hospital or disaster victims. Second, con artists want victims to make an impulsive decision. There’s normally some sort of time limit (this offer will expire), it’s a limited quantity or only a few people were selected so you must act immediately. Another manipulation is that they often convince their prey not to talk to family members, their banks or others. They may convince the victim that friends and family are lying to them and that the scammer is their only friend. They are in essence separating the victim from his/her support network.

If these methods eventually stop working, scammers may use threats and intimidation. They may tell the victim that they are sending someone to their home or to harm a family member. I spoke to one victim who started pawning his household items once he ran out of cash in order to keep paying the scammer because of threats of physical harm. His family finally put a stop to the scam.

Even short-term schemes use the threat of lawsuits or arrests to con money from victims: a common ploy is to call victims and tell them they’ve missed jury duty or owe parking fines. If payment isn’t made, police will be sent to arrest them. Very little can be done to recapture money that has been wired or put on a green dot card. The recipient is anonymous and can be anywhere in the world – the scammer is untraceable. Cash sent by Western Union or Moneygram to a specific location can actually be picked up at any agent office.

There are steps that can be taken to avoid being scammed:

  • Ignore any unsolicited calls or emails. It’s okay to hang up the phone! Don’t even start a conversation because scammers are good at manipulation. And just delete any emails where you are unsure of the source.
  • Don’t act impulsively. Do not allow anyone to influence you into a decision by giving you a time limit or other restrictions. Do talk to friends and family.
  • Always protect your personal information. Don’t fill out any questionnaires or contest entries online. Never give your credit card, bank account, social security, driver’s license numbers or any other personal information over the phone or online if you didn’t initiate the contact.

Always request written information about the product, service or charity. If you receive an unsolicited call, email or knock at the door, do not be pushed into making a hurried decision.

Protecting Seniors from Relentless Scammers

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on lottery scams and the vulnerability of seniors to this type of scheme – whether by phone, mail, or email. Since then, I have received more reports from victims. Community partners throughout the state have all mentioned an uptick in cases of lottery scams.

Senior Picture 1
Luther visiting our BBB Alaska office with fake lottery notifications he received in the mail.

Just last month, I spoke with the daughter of a 91-year old woman who contacted Better Business Bureau with her mom’s story. It’s a heartbreaking story. She told me that her mom has sent a total of $20,000 to scammers. It all began with the scam artists claiming to be the IRS and that her mom owed money. When that didn’t work, they called back and said they were with “Publisher’s Clearing House.” As this scam normally works, the mom was told to send money for fees, taxes, etc. to obtain her millions of dollars in “winnings.”

I decided to call a few of my media contacts to report the increase in lottery scam victims. By pure coincidence, while the TV news reporter was in my office to do the interview, an elderly gentleman, Luther, came into our office to ask us about a lottery check he had received. His bank had refused to cash it, telling him it was a fake check. He didn’t believe his bank and brought it to us. Of course, the letter and purported lottery check were not real. He told us that he had sent money previously on lotteries that he thought he won, but of course had never received his “winnings!” The reporter had a bona fide victim to interview right there and the story was on the 10 PM news that night.

A week later, Luther brought his most recent mail to me – another bunch of fraudulent enticements: a “check” for $789,986 from a so-called national advertising campaign (which, by the way, he had signed the “cash payment authorization” and was ready to mail), free gifts from Grandma Rosa, an Old Time Spiritualist who could help him add an extra $1,000 to his social security checks, a “treasury notice” to transfer $1,021,650 into his account for just $26, and a six-page letter from Sophros I, a “Medium-Clairvoyant Specialist for visions regarding money” who, for $55, will send his sacred scarf of happiness and power and his aura-triastral number which will help Luther win millions in the lottery. The list goes on and on. It almost sounds like a joke, but I’m not making any of this up.

What’s not funny is that Luther believed what the letters said. When I spoke to his daughter, Patty, she confirmed that her dad had sent money not only to these email schemes but to scammers who call on the phone. She told me they call constantly. She has had to change his phone number, but the calls continue because her dad calls the scammers with his new number.

According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse (https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/research), seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse.

Beth Goldstein, Supervising Attorney with the Office of Elder Fraud & Assistance for the State of Alaska, confirmed that there has been a definite increase in reported lottery scams with seniors. These reports come into her office from banks, police officers, investment company regulatory attorneys and, sometimes, from adult children.

These scammers are relentless about calling, sometimes 10-20 times a day. They wear down vulnerable victims. And often, once the victim is out of money, the scammers will threaten them with bodily harm if they don’t continue to pay. Luther’s daughter, Patty, told me the caller told her they were outside and would shoot her. Goldstein told me of a case where a senior victim’s phone number was changed by her family but the scammer called the victim’s neighbor, expressed concern for her health, and asked the neighbor to check on her and call them back with the new phone number!

Adult children and other family members often don’t know where to go for help. Goldstein told me that family members can call the phone company to block incoming and/or outgoing numbers. The Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. The Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance can file a Financial Abuse Petition for Protection from financial exploitation (lasting 20 days) on behalf of seniors over age 60. Banks can then withhold funds. If necessary, the Elder Fraud office can also obtain a long term order lasting 6 months which should be enough time for the adult children to become involved.

If you have a family member who has been a victim, you can call the Elder Fraud and Assistance Office at 907-334-5989 or the Alaska Department of Law Consumer Protection Unit at 907-269-5200. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 907-562-0704 to report the experience.

Off to College

Going off to college can be both exciting and daunting – whether the school is in your home town or thousands of miles away. I remember when I left home to travel to an out-of-state university, I was more excited than nervous. We didn’t have to worry about identity theft or Craigslist rental housing scams. The college application process seemed so much simpler and less dramatic. You sent in a paper application with a check, took the SAT’s just once with no prep classes, and in many cases, went off to a college campus you had never seen before. On the other hand, what I wouldn’t have given for a laptop computer and the internet instead of my graduation-present Smith Corona electric typewriter (with a box of carbon paper and correction tape) and the hours upon hours spent at my school library’s using the microfiche machines to look for hard copy reference material for term papers.

These days, there are a lot more things to consider if you or a family member is starting college. With various scams so much in the news today, it’s prudent to be cautious.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants

According to Saving for College, the average cost of tuition for four years of college is between $39,000 for a public university and $134,000 at a private college. Most students have to rely on financial aid.

If you are applying for aid, be diligent about doing your research:

  • Be wary of any companies that want to charge a fee for a scholarship application or a grant. You should never have to pay a fee.
  • Don’t pay money to any company which offers to find scholarships for you. This information is readily available online, free of charge.
  • Shady companies will promise an unusually low interest rate for a student loan but have large fees attached. Instead, research loans that are offered through federal programs and local banks.
  • Delete any emails you receive that announce you’ve won a scholarship that you never applied for. This is a phishing attempt to garner personal and financial information.

Health Insurance

College students have several options for medical coverage. Most can stay on their parent’s health insurance policy until age 26. Be sure to check with your insurance company if you are going to college in another area as there may be out-of-network charges. A second option may be health plans for students offered by the college at an affordable rate. Coverages may be more limited than a parent’s group health insurance, so be sure to compare plans. A third option is to buy an individual health insurance policy through an insurance broker or the state’s insurance exchange.

Insuring Personal Belongings Dorms or Student Apartments

With students now overloaded with expensive tech devices such as computers, iPads, cell phones, digital music players, and bicycles (not including their clothes and books!), it’s important to properly insure these items. Most parent’s homeowner’s policies will cover their child’s contents in a dorm room, but the policy deductible (often $500) will apply. Coverages will include losses such as theft and fire, but not for lost items.

If living off-campus, a parent’s homeowners policy may still cover, but only up to a certain percentage. It may be best to buy an inexpensive renters policy. Note that if there are roommates sharing an apartment, each person should obtain their own policy. Check with your insurance agent to see what options work best for your family. Be sure to inventory all possessions by taking photos and writing down serial numbers.

For students venturing to college out-of-state who have a car, they may need to buy a separate auto insurance policy. Check with your insurance company to see if the vehicle can stay on your policy while away at college. Ask about any resident student discounts if they are away at school with no vehicle. As they are driving your vehicles less, the rates may go down but still keep them insured for their visits home as well as for the possibility that they may occasionally drive a roommate’s vehicle.

Off-Campus Student Housing

Craigslist scams for rental housing have become more and more prevalent countrywide. Scammers hijack existing rental and for-sale home listings and offer them as rentals for a really low price.  This is the number one red flag that the ad is a scam.

Other red flags to beware of:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. It probably is.
  • The landlord is not in the area and only communicates through email.
  • The landlord wants the deposit wired. Remember – wiring money is the same as sending cash. If it ends up being a scam, you won’t get your money back.

It’s best to deal with local realty companies and word-of-mouth from friends. Ask for advice at the student assistance office on campus. And, visit the rental unit in-person.

Better Business Bureau urges parents and students to be wary of possible scams. Do your research at bbb.org and then invest in a bright future.

Shopping for a Used Car? Beware of Flood Damage

Image courtesy of ponsulak | freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of ponsulak | freedigitalphotos.net

With the recent floods in Texas, Oklahoma and other states, consumers looking to purchase a used car—even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska—should be wary. Scammers and unscrupulous car dealers often ship these damaged vehicles to other states to sell to unsuspecting buyers after natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimates up to 10,000 insured vehicles in Texas had water damage from the May 2015 floods.

Flood-damaged vehicles that have been declared a total loss by an insurance company will have “salvage” stamped on the title. Most of these vehicles are then sold to parts companies who will sell the useable parts.

But scammers get around that by title washing: transferring ownership and retitling the autos in several states where they often “lose” the salvage stamp in the process. Other flooded vehicles may not have gone through the insurance claim process. They were purchased at bargain prices and taken to another state by unscrupulous sellers, so a title search will not indicate the car may have water damage.

These cars will show up on used car lots, in the classifieds ads in newspapers, on street corners with “For Sale” signs and online at sites such as Craigslist. Because these natural disasters happened in another part of the country, it may not be on a local car buyer’s radar to look for water damage. Flooded vehicles can be cleaned up to disguise the water damage while they are actually rotting on the inside. The car’s electrical, mechanical and computer systems can be corroded and rusting, and the lubricants may be contaminated.

“Approach a used vehicle thinking it has been flooded and look for signs to prove it,” says Frank Scafidi, Director of Public Affairs for the NICB. “If you don’t find water damage, great. If you do, don’t walk, but run from buying it.”

You can protect yourself from buying a flood-damaged vehicle by doing your research first. Remember: if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do a title search through a national tracking company such as Carfax. Review the title and ownership papers for damage labels. Check the date and place of the vehicle transfer to see if it came from a flood-damaged area. And always have a trusted mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it, and ask to have the vehicle searched for flood damage that would not be visible.

Test drive the vehicle but also look for other telltale signs of possible water damage:

  • Is there a musty odor?
  • Check the wires under the dashboard. Are they flexible or are they brittle or cracked? This is a sign the car may have been submerged in water.
  • Are there any signs of rust?
  • Check all carpeting, including in the trunk. Check the condition under the carpet for signs of sand or dirt. Has the carpeting been changed? Is it too loose or not the same color as the interior of the car?
  • Check the glove compartment and beneath the seats.
  • Test everything in the car. Turn on the ignition to see if all lights and gauges come on (including the air bag lights); test the windshield wipers, turn signals, radio, air-conditioner and heater.
  • Remove a door panel and look for water marks. Check the door speakers, as they will often show damage from flooding.
  • Check under the hood for mud, grass, leaves or rust in the engine.

Better Business Bureau urges consumers to be cautious when purchasing a used vehicle. Do your research at bbb.org and make the investment to have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.

For Safe Travels, Take Precautions to Avoid Scams

Image courtesy of fito | freerangestock.com
Image courtesy of fito | freerangestock.com

‘Tis the season for summer vacations! Whether traveling in your home state, throughout the U.S. or to a foreign country, taking precautions and knowing about potential scams could save you from a ruined vacation.

Book Online Securely

When booking travel arrangements and hotels online, it is safer to go to a company’s official website or call them directly. Do not click on online ads or links from emails. If using travel search engines, be wary of sites that offer prices significantly lower than other sites. If you choose to book through a third-party booking company, follow up directly with the hotel, airline or rental car company. You don’t want to find out after you arrive at a destination that the reservations were never made!

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URL security

Make sure you have a secure connection before entering your personal or financial information; the web address or URL should start with “https” and show a lock icon.

Always pay with a credit card when booking vacations, and make sure you receive confirmation in writing. In the event that something goes awry with your vacation, you may be able to file a chargeback with your credit card company. If you are asked to wire money for a rental, that’s a big red flag that the deal is probably not legitimate. Never wire money to someone you do not personally know and trust.

Do Your Research

BBB has seen numerous reports of vacationers arriving at their destination only to find that the rental doesn’t exist or does not resemble the photos online. Use trusted websites, ask friends for referrals or use a travel agent to ensure you’re going to get what you pay for.

Be skeptical about vacation packages that are offered online, by email or on the phone. If a cruise or resort price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Victims are often saddled with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in additional “fees,” or the accommodations may be totally inadequate.

Also watch out for promises of “free” airline tickets—there’s always a catch. Victims are often lured with promises of free plane tickets to attend a seminar, which usually involves spending thousands of dollars to buy into a vacation club. Those tickets turn out to be only vouchers with fees that often cost more than a regularly priced plane ticket. And the vacation club? If you did buy in, you might find there are many barriers to actually booking a vacation unless you upgrade your membership or pay additional fees.

Travel Safely

Remember to notify your credit card companies before you leave, especially if you are traveling to foreign countries. There aren’t many things more frustrating and inconvenient than having your credit card declined while traveling because the company thinks it’s being used fraudulently.

During travel and once you arrive at your destination, surf cautiously on public Wi-Fi networks (e.g. hotels, airports, coffee shops, libraries). Avoid file sharing and financial transactions, and disconnect when not in use. Be wary of hotel lobby computers available for guests. Identity thieves have been known to add keyloggers onto public computers that track passwords. Believe it or not, your smartphone’s 3G or 4G may be more secure.

While staying in a hotel, carefully scrutinize any menus that are slipped under your door. Fraudsters sometimes use phony menus to trick a guest into calling them to order food, and the consumer ends up giving his credit card information to identity thieves. And of course, no food will be delivered.

Beware of fake front desk phone calls, especially late at night. A scammer pretending to be hotel staff will claim there was a problem with your credit card, and ask you to confirm your card details over the phone. Don’t do it! Personally check with the front desk in the morning to correct any billing issues.

At the end of your hotel stay, check your final bill. Watch for fees that you didn’t incur, such as minibar purchases or TV on-demand movie rentals.


Be vigilant and careful when planning your vacation, and then go and have a wonderful time!

Alaska Student Wins BBB Scholarship Contest

This year, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offered one $10,000 scholarship for a student (or up to three students on a team) in our three-state region. High school seniors applied for the scholarship by creating a 90-second video demonstrating how BBB helps people become smarter consumers. Judges evaluated the applications based on BBB branding, effort and creativity, content and total website views.

Spencer Mitton (center)
Spencer Mitton (center)

Spencer Mitton, a student at South Anchorage High School in Alaska, won this year’s contest from a pool of 16 finalists (individuals and teams). His video offers consumer tips on preventing identity fraud, garnering more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Spencer grew up in Anchorage and plans to attend Brigham Young University this fall to study engineering. He has always been strong in math and science but found that he also enjoys creative projects. He has been studying graphic design on his own since middle school—a talent that is evident by his winning video. Spencer would eventually like to combine innovation with math and science in the technology industry.

Currently the captain of his high school cross-country running team, Spencer would like to continue competitive running while attending college. During the summer months, Spencer runs his own business mowing lawns and teaching piano for clientele that he has built over the past few years.

Spencer is also the winner of the Anchorage School District’s Spirit of Youth Award and has earned the Eagle Scout award for community service.