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.

 

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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.

December Scam Wrap-Up

Sign Scam Represents Rip Off And Scams

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

ALASKA 

This month there were eight scams reported in Alaska with an estimated $10,600 lost.

Lottery Winner Scam

An Anchor Point woman reported she received a notice in the mail stating she won an international lottery. The letter claimed she needed to travel to Madrid, Spain to collect the $4 million prize.

Debt Collection Scam

A woman from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson reported they were contacted by “CFS,” an unknown mediation firm attempting to collect debt from him. The debt collector stated he was hired by Midland Financial, but the woman reports she spoke with Midland Financial and they had no record of “CFS” or the man he spoke with.

OREGON 

This month there were 38 scams reported in Oregon with an estimated $14,000 lost.

Grandparent Scam

A Eugene man reported he was a target of the “family emergency” scam. The man reports he received a call from someone asking him if they knew who he was talking too. The man told the caller he thought they were his grandson. The caller said they were in fact his grandson and that he got into trouble in Florida. The caller said he needed assistance getting out of jail. The Eugene man called his actual grandson who told him he was not in Florida, but was in Oregon getting ready for work.

Yellow Pages Invoice Scam

A Portland woman reported she received a fake invoice from Yellow Pages Oregon. The woman reports the fax requested she verify her information for a free listing. The woman responded to the fax and a month later she received a $1,100 bill claiming she had signed a legally binding one-year advertising contract. The woman reports she still receives notices with additional fees added to the original bill.

MONTANA 

This month there were three scams reported in Montana with an estimated $550 lost.

Debt Collections Scam

A Missoula woman reported someone she knows received a call from a man claiming to be with the Consumer Assistance Bureau. The man called to claim a debt for her “elderly friend” that needed to be paid immediately or she would have to go to court and pay a $100 late fee. The woman reports the man threatened her and another person who called to check on him.

Online Purchase Scam

A Bozeman woman reported she lost $553.50 to an online purchase scam. The woman reports she purchased a trial of eye and face creams for $10.90. Afterward, she received the items again for five months, with costs totaling $553.50. The woman reports she did not agree to having the product sent monthly. The products arrived without paperwork, tracking number, confirmation number or receipt.

IDAHO 

This month there were 36 scams reported in Idaho with an estimated $675 lost.

Dish Network Scam

A Rigby woman reported she received a call from a Dish Network representative who offered to upgrade her service for free. She agreed and gave them the last four digits of her social security number to process the upgrade. Then they informed her she needed to send them $150. The woman hung up on the caller and called Dish Network and they told her someone was spoofing their phone number to convince people to give them money.

Breast Cancer Donation Scam

A Meridian woman reported someone by the name of “Sara” called her continuously for five weeks asking for donations to a cancer charity. They requested a $200 donation to be paid by credit or debit card. The woman asked the caller to send information about the charity, but they stated it costs money for stamps so they couldn’t send her anything. Eventually, the woman contacted the American Cancer Society and was told they do not call to solicit donations.

WASHINGTON 

This month there were 59 scams reported in Washington with an estimated $11,000 lost.

Lottery Scam

A Yakima man reported he received a letter stating he won $1.3 million. He was told he needed to send $12.99 cash, money order or check to receive the award. The man reports he did not enter a contest.

Grant Loan Scam

A Yakima woman reported she received a phone call from someone offering her an unsecured loan for $1,000. All she had to do was purchase a $120 Amazon gift card and call them back with the number. The woman did not buy the gift card.

WYOMING

This month there was one scam reported in Western Wyoming.

A Jackson woman reports she received a phone call from someone claiming to be collecting donations for Wyoming veterans. The woman had never heard of the charity and asked to be removed from their call list. The caller continues to call the woman asking for donations.

 

Have a Healthy and Happy 2017!

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In 2016 consumers turned to BBB serving the Northwest more than 5,328 times to look up health clubs, fitness centers, and gyms. Unfortunately, BBB has processed an estimated 90 complaints for the fitness industry in 2016 as well. The complaints ranged from billing and collection issues to contract issues.

To get the most out of your membership and to avoid signing up for something you can’t afford and won’t use, follow these tips:

  • Warm up with a tour. Before signing up at any gym, ask to take a tour of the facilities. Make sure the gym has the equipment, classes, and trainers you are looking for. Ask about busy times, wait times for equipment, whether classes require pre-registration, availability, and cost of trainers.
  • Look for discounts. Gyms often offer specials at the beginning of the year. From free week passes to heavy discounts to first time members, this is a great way to see if the gym is a good fit for you and save on sign up costs.
  • Don’t feel coerced. Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics to join right away. A reputable gym will want you to read the contract thoroughly before signing up. Make sure that all verbal promises made by the salesperson are also in writing. Be sure to ask about the cancellation policies and how membership is renewed.
  • Know the true costs. Gyms often use special introductory offers to encourage new members, but the price could go up more than you budgeted once the initial period is over. Make sure you understand what the regular monthly fees will be and what they include.
  • Check bbb.org. BBB has Business Reviews on more than 15,000 health clubs, fitness centers, and gyms. Read what previous customers say and see how the businesses respond to complaints.

To find a list of accredited fitness centers in the Northwest visit our Accredited Business Directory.

Workplace Gift-Giving Dos and Don’ts

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It’s that time of year where companies are preparing for the holiday and gift-giving season. Giving and receiving gifts may be enjoyable, but it is important to understand proper workplace etiquette before going shopping.

Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest offers the following tips for gift-giving in the workplace:

Follow Office Policy

Before you do anything check with your manager or human resources department to understand the inner-office gift exchange policy. There might be certain stipulations on what you can and cannot give for gifts. For example, it might be against company policy to give cash or alcohol out during business hours.

Skip Your Boss Unless Its Baked

While it’s tempting to give your boss a gift as a thank you for his leadership, it’s not actually appropriate to give a higher-up a gift. If you are set on giving your manager a gift, opt for baked goods or something homemade that doesn’t cost a great deal. You can also pool your money with co-workers to give a present that’s from the entire department.

Stick to the Agreed Upon Amount 

Office gift exchanges usually have a price limit to avoid overspending. Don’t try to impress your colleagues by going over the agreed upon price. Shaming co-workers is not the best way to create office camaraderie. On the other hand, if you cannot afford to participate in any gift exchange, simply bow out. It shouldn’t be a requirement in your company to partake in the festivities. So don’t feel bad if you sit this one out. Again, you can always bake cookies and bring those to your office mates instead!

Avoid the Risqué 

Pass on any gifts that come across as sarcastic or vulgar. Even if you know the gift recipient very well, crude gifts have no real place in the office. Stick to something appropriate that compliments the receiver to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable.

Say Thank You

Mind your manners and be sure to thank the person who took the time to get you a gift. You can do this by either sending a thank you note or by shooting over an email of gratitude.

Be Mindful of Scams Targeting Veterans

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As families honor former military personnel on Veterans Day, Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest urges consumers to remain vigilant against scammers targeting veterans.

The  Consumer Sentinel Network reports nearly 100,000 military members complained of being targeted by financial crimes in 2015, with identity theft and impostor scams topping the list. Con artists often use malevolent tactics to steal the money and identities of veterans and their families.

Better Business Bureau reminds service men and women to watch for these common military scams:

Phone Scams: Impostors pose as Veterans Administration employees and call veterans to request they update their credit card, bank or other financial records with the VA. Fraudsters use scare tactics by threatening cancelation of benefits to collect birthdates, Social Security numbers and bank account information.

Rental Listings: Cyber thieves create bogus online rental listings and lure in potential victims by offering military discounts. Victims are asked to wire deposits and first month’s rent to “landlords” who happen to be out of the country.

Military Loans: Sketchy lenders promise “instant approvals” and no credit checks, but loans often carry extremely high interest rates and hidden fees.

Insurance Policies: Solicitors make false statements or inflate claims regarding the benefits of policies they offer, using high-pressured sales pitches to sell expensive—and often unnecessary—life insurance policies.

Donors looking to give to a military-affiliated charity this Veterans Day are urged to use Wise Giving Alliance in finding a trustworthy charity.  Consumers are also advised to research businesses through bbb.org before giving out personal information, making payments or giving donations.

Since 2012, service men and women have been utilizing BBB’s Military Line, a program that provides free resources to all branches of the U.S. military, including financial literacy information, scam alerts and access to BBB services such as complaint handling and dispute resolution.

Thanksgiving on a Budget

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Are you dreaming of a giant and succulent turkey, buttery rolls, mashed potatoes swimming in gravy and warm belly filling stuffing?

Thanksgiving is just weeks away and while you may still be knee deep in Halloween candy, it’s never too early to begin planning out your holiday menu. That includes figuring out how much you’re willing to spend on Turkey Day.

On average, Americans spend $2,875,000 on Thanksgiving dinner food each year. That’s according to Statistic Brain, which also shows that amount to be an estimated $56.18 per household. That’s a lot of food and if you’re already tightening your belts for the upcoming gift-centered holidays it might be causing you a bit of stress.

To help families have a frugal but fun Turkey Day, we offer 5 Tips for celebrating Thanksgiving on a Budget:

Plan the Menu, Stick to the Budget

This may seem obvious, but it really is the most important tip out there. You need to know how much money you want to spend and what you want to spend it on. You also need to know how many people you will be cooking for. If you can only afford a 10lb turkey, but are set to feed a dozen or so people you may need to rethink the rest of the menu.

That’s where our next tip comes in…

Make it a Potluck

Who says you have to do all the cooking by yourself? Enlist friends and family to help put the meal together. If you are playing host, offer to provide the turkey and drinks and then let everyone else fill in the rest. Not only does this help with the last-minute cooking stress, but it ensures that everyone will have at least one thing they like to eat at the gathering.

Bake from scratch

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It might feel like a hassle to spend the hours in the kitchen making pumpkin pie from scratch, but it is a cheaper alternative to buying the pie. You likely already have many of the ingredients sitting in your pantry, which instantly saves you on cost. Desserts are perfect dishes to get out of the way a day or two before Thanksgiving as many taste just as good —if not better —the next day.

Shop Second Hand

Don’t fret if you’re hosting for the first time and don’t have fancy chinaware to serve your holiday meal on. There is an easy way to host an appealing and cheap dinner party without resorting to paper plates. Consider doing your shopping at Goodwill or another second hand store. You may luck out and come across a complete dinnerware set that looks like it has been in in the family for years —in a charming way. If you can’t find a complete set, consider mix-matching pieces to create a Bohemian theme for your Thanksgiving dinner.

And this brings us to our next tip…

Natural Décor

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Professionally done holiday décor and floral arrangements are a perfect way to capture the spirit of the season. But if you can’t quite afford the linen tablecloths or season-appropriate flower centerpieces, there are other options. Decorating with gourds and pumpkins is inexpensive and easy, but you can do more if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and pull out the glue gun. Try going for a woodsy theme by bringing in twigs, branches and fall leaves from outside. Decorate them with glitter spray or beads for a whimsical look to keep the autumn theme going. Forgo tablecloths for runners by cutting a strip of burlap to give the table a rustic look. And you can never go wrong with mason jars filled with wildflowers or berry branches.

Need help creating a personal budget or want more financial assistance? Visit BBB’S Financial Building Blocks page to learn more.

October Scam Wrap-up

Scam Computer Key

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

ALASKA

Healthcare Scam

An Anchorage woman reported she was contacted about healthcare services that may have been a scam. She states she got a phone call from someone asking for her Medicaid information to see if she qualified for healthcare services. The woman believed the call to be a scam to obtain her personal information and reported the call to Scam Tracker.   

Lottery Scam

A Haines man reported he received a card in the mail stating he had an unclaimed reward worth up to $100. He was told to call a toll-free number to claim the winnings or they would be forfeited. He called the number and was told he needed to pay $4.95 over the phone with his credit card. They offered to drop the price to $2.95 since he was a senior. The man did not report whether he paid the charge, but he did report the incident to Scam Tracker.

IDAHO

Government Grant scam

An Idaho Falls man lost $2,300 in a government grant scam. The man states he was told to purchase two iTunes gift cards for $299 and $1,999 and read the numbers over the phone. The caller claimed this would release $11,800, which would be placed in his account. After doing this he was told he needed to purchase another one for $1,200. He has since quit communicating with the caller.

Jury Duty Scam

A Nampa man reported he lost $189.30 after he received a call from someone claiming there was a warrant out for his arrest for not reporting to jury duty. The man believed it to be true as he did ignore a jury duty notice. The man was told to purchase a Green Dot card at Walgreens for $189.30 and go to the Canyon County Court House. He purchased the cards and relayed the Green Dot card number to the caller. The caller told him the card did not work and he needed to go back and get another one. That is when the man realized it was not a legitimate call.

MONTANA

Medical Equipment Scam

A Belgrade Montana woman reports her mother lost $350 after she was contacted by a company selling medical alert systems. The woman states her mother paid $350 over the phone and never received the system. All calls made to the number go directly to voicemail.

Advertising Scam

A Great Falls woman reports the company HS Backers tried to sell her advertising on athletic scoreboards at local high schools. The company claimed to be representing Great Falls High School and C.M. Russell High School. The woman did not purchase advertising and later learned the company does not do business with those schools.

OREGON

Malware Scam

A Salem woman reported she lost $200 to a malware scam. She states she was using her laptop when a notice appeared on her screen advising her to call tech support. Her computer froze so she called the number. The person who answered claimed to be with JRG Ventures LLC. They told her she needed to pay $149.00 for a “one-time fix” and an additional $50 to help with any further issues.  She soon realized she downloaded malware and was tricked into paying for assistance.

Puppy Scam

A Coos Bay woman reported she lost $600 in a puppy scam. She states she purchased a St. Bernard puppy from www.maxwellsaintbernards.com. After making her payment she was told she needed to send $670 for pet insurance and travel. The company refused to refund her money and she ceased doing business with them.

WASHINGTON

Online Business Scam

A Kirkland man reported he lost $30 when an online business failed to send him his product. The company website, http://www.slumber.la, ceased communication with the man after his purchase failed to arrive.

Fake Kitten Adoption Scam

A Seattle man reported he came across a fraudulent cat adoption site. The man states the site www.kittensforadoption.us is a phishing scam posting fake numbers and cat pictures to obtain customers personal information.

Avoid “Pinkwashing” This October

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It might be autumn, but instead of being inundated with pumpkin spice tastes and smells, store shelves are lined with everything pink. Just this week I spotted a pink water bottles, pink ribbon earrings and even pink headphones.

That’s because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This annual event is organized by multiple breast cancer charities to increase awareness about the disease. This usually involves events for the public to participate in and fundraisers to help fund cancer research.

According to Breastcancer.org, one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. An estimated 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer is expected to be diagnosed in men in 2016. But there is some good news. Cancer incident and death rates are declining. And that’s why awareness months —like the one taking place right now —are so important.

During this time many companies dedicate a portion of their proceeds to cancer awareness and research, even going as far as creating and selling pink versions of their products. It’s a way to let consumers know that their money is going toward a cancer charity. But just how much of that money is actually going toward helping cancer patients get better?

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There have been reports of companies selling their products with a new pink look in order to convince the buyer the money is going toward a good cause, but actually pocket all the money. This is known as “pinkwashing.”

To make sure donations go to the right place, Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest advises consumers to research pink product claims before making a purchase or getting caught up in the hype.

Take the following steps when purchasing a product for its charity claims:

Be a smart shopper

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Find out what percentage of the sale price will be donated. Most companies put this information on the packaging and even include a link to detail where their donation will go. Don’t assume every organization listed on the box is a tax exempt charity. You may have to dig deeper to determine their status.

Do some research.

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Look into the business you’re purchasing from and the charity they are donating too. There are numerous cancer research charities so do your homework to ensure your buck is being spent in the right place. Be sure to get the charities name and look them up on give.org to see whether they are a reputable charity.

Spend wisely.

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Think about the product you want. Is it something you actually need or do you simply like the pink design? Resist the urge to shop on the spot. Be considerate of your purchase, especially when it is solely to benefit a charity. If you don’t need the product, consider making a donation directly to the charity of your choice.

But, hey, if you really like those pink headphones and you’re sure the money is going toward a trustworthy charity —I say go for it!