Spring Break Scams Target Grandparents & Travelers

Spring Break Sign Means Go On Leave And BeachBring on the sunshine because it’s time for spring break! Whether you’re vacationing on the beach or keeping it simple and staying home with your family, it’s supposed to be a relaxing time. But all that fun may come to a halt when a scammer tries to fool you with a spring break scam.

Travel scams and family/friend emergency scams are common this time of year for consumers planning trips and even for those who aren’t taking a break. Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest recommends staying alert when it comes to any vacation situation.

Grandparent Scams

There were 42 family/friend emergency scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker throughout the Northwest. Scammers attempted to steal $42,00 and made away with an estimated $6,000.

One grandparent in Meridian, Idaho received a phone call from someone she thought was her grandson. He told her he was in jail in Hawaii and needed $4000 for a bond. He transferred the phone over to the captain of the Honolulu Detention Center to explain the whole situation in detail to her. He instructed her to purchase $4000 worth of iTunes gift cards at Best Buy and read the card numbers back to him which is what she did. The next day she called the captain and he told her to do the same thing again but with $2,000 worth of gift cards this time for court and other related fees. That day the captain said her grandson was released but not to call any other family member because her grandson wanted to tell them instead. The next day she discovered it was a scam when her real grandson called her.

The grandparent scam, also known as the stranded student scam, starts out when scammers contact seniors calling in distress. They tell them they got in a bad accident, usually somewhere out of state, and they need help. They ask the elderly person to send them money, but not to call their parents because they want to be the ones to tell them. When the grandparent asks who they’re speaking to the scammer usually says something along the lines of, “I’m your eldest grandchild!”

Some will get skeptical and ask a personal question to see if it’s really their grandchild or hang up and call their actual grandchild’s phone number or another relative to confirm their grandchild is safe. Others get nervous and follow their “grandparent instincts” and try to help their family and send money.

 

Relatives should follow these tips to avoid this scheme and ensure their family members are safe:

  • Stay calm. Scammers want to see an emotional reaction from relatives. They intend to pull on your heartstrings to get you to transfer money quickly. Don’t fall for this. Take a few deep breaths and make sure to identify who you’re speaking with.
  • Never wire money. Wiring money should be the first red flag relatives look out for. When you send money via wiring, pre-paid debit card or transferring there’s no way get it back.
  • Ask a personal question. Before you make any transaction, make sure the caller is your grandchild or relative. Confirm their identity by asking a simple question that the grandchild would know instantly such as their middle name or birthday. Be careful not to reveal any personal information about either person.
  • Discuss with family members. Even if the caller tells you not to contact their parents or any other family member, mention it to someone. Somehow, you’ll find out where the real grandchild is.
  • Get in contact in different ways. Check your grandchild’s social media accounts. If they are excited about a vacation, chances are their millennial urges will kick in and they’ll post a picture of where they are. If they don’t post anything you could always try Facebook messaging, emailing or calling their actual cell phone number.
  • Communicate. To avoid questioning this scam in the first place, make sure to have family members share their travel plans before they leave the state or country. To make sure older family members are aware of this scam, inform them on how the scam works.

Travel Scams

With over 200 travel/vacation scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in the Northwest, an estimated $50,00 was lost by consumers.

Whether you’re a teacher, student or anyone looking to escape for spring break, it can be tempting to purchase a great deal.  BBB advises consumers planning a vacation for spring break to follow these tips:

  • Use a website or company you can trust. Make sure to do your research and review business profiles and read customer reviews when picking out rentals or hotels. Check out travel agencies or search the Accredited Business Directory at bbb.org/northwest.
  • Get details in writing. Confirm any reservations, costs, flights, hotel or rental reservations, cancellation policies or any other trip details in writing. This way you’ll have all your bases covered.
  • Always pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card adds additional protection if you are scammed. Other payments such as wiring money and pre-paid cards are harder to track and most of the time it’s impossible to get your money back.
  • Be wary of vacation packages and deals. If you find a great deal online, remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Lottery/Sweepstakes scams are also very common. Watch out for phone calls, social media ads or emails telling you, “Congratulations! You have won a trip!” These are schemes to get your personal information or a couple hundred dollars, rather than actually giving you a free vacation.

Four Business Tips from a Successful, Local, Small Business

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Article by Aly Schmidt, Seattle Marketplace Manager

Before I made it to the front desk at Budget Blinds in West Seattle. I was greeted with a handshake and a warm “How can we help you today?” from co-owner Kendra Hammer.

Owning a thriving small business in a market like Seattle is quite a feat. The Washington State Employment Security Department reports that King County accommodates nearly 1.28 million jobs in its very diverse labor market. However, Parrish and Kendra Hammer, the owners of Budget Blinds of West Seattle, have endured quite a bit more than Seattle’s demanding market. When they moved their young family of four to Seattle to start their business they did not know about the economic downturn or the family hardships outside of work they would soon face. Even so, they were able to succeed.

Kendra Hammer offers the following tips for leading a successful small local business:

Learn to Delegate

“It’s hard to hand things off to others when you know you are good at what you do,” Kendra said.

The couple knew all the functions within their business but when they needed extra hands it was often difficult to pass the workload on. To ensure a smooth transition Kendra began hands-on training with her employees. That freed the couple to begin focusing on other business priorities outside of the office. They have been able to add more jobs to the area and create more opportunities for better customer service. Delegation really came into play when their family was faced with unexpected hardship which led Kendra to tell me about another priority of hers.

Always Find the Silver Lining

“Six and a half years ago my daughter had a brain aneurysm rupture and she suffered a stroke,” Kendra said. “Six months after that, the repair they made ruptured and she had to have emergency open brain surgery.”

It was through this trying time the Hammer’s really focused on delegating to their staff, but it’s also where they learned times of hardship can create great growth. Believe it or not, this hard time helped the Hammer’s develop a new sales structure. Parrish and Kendra had to alternate their schedules so one of them could work while the other could care for their daughter. Their hours spent in sales dropped tremendously but their sales numbers seemed unaffected.

“To this day, we don’t go out on sales calls two days in a row,” Kendra said.

Unintentionally they found a more efficient way of operating. The mother of two always tries to find a silver lining in every hardship and encourages all others to do the same.

Go the Extra Mile

“A lot of our customers are moving into a new place and have nothing for their windows … we will automatically provide temporary window treatments for any bathrooms and any bedrooms that are being slept in until their order arrives,” Kendra said.

The extra effort put forth by Budget Blinds of West Seattle is meant to help customers while they get settled in. It’s also not something the Budget Blinds brand requires.

“It just makes our customers feel taken care of,” Kendra said, “That’s really important to us.”

The Hammer’s exemplify going above and beyond in more ways than one. They also follow up with each customer a few weeks after installation to ensure everything is working well, they have been a BBB Accredited Business for almost 10 years, and they have a showroom to display all the products they offer. The Budget Blinds business model is traditionally a shop-at-home-service with all their products available in vans. However, Parrish and Kendra decided a store front would give them the presence in the community they wanted and they have seen their extra investment pay off.

Get Involved in Your Community

“Sponsoring local events or becoming involved in community groups pays off in more than one way,” Kendra said.

She believes a business can grow their presence in the community while having fun. This leads to more public relations and increased clientele. Kendra feels strongly about community involvement so Budget Blinds of West Seattle has a diversified array of events and groups they support. Each year they are approached by almost a dozen schools in the area to support auctions and fundraisers. They sponsor the West Seattle Blog, Westside Baby and they even purchased ad space in programs for the local theatre and arts.

“I don’t have to search for events to help anymore, people come to us because they know we like to be involved,” Kendra said. “It’s wonderful.”

Like the Hammers, most business owners deal with growth, personal setbacks, customer service and the community in their service area. Whether you are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, changing a few things in your existing business operations, or you are a consumer looking for types of businesses to trust, I hope this list of tips inspires you to step out and do something new or set new expectations for who you choose to do business with.

Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book Sees an Increase in Impostor Scams

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALASKA

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

IDAHO

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

MONTANA

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

OREGON

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

WASHINGTON

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

WYOMING

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

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

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

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

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

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

 

 

 

February Scam Wrap-Up

Top Scams 2015

By Veronica Craker, Content and Communications Director

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

ALASKA 

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

Inheritance Scam 

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

Publisher’s Clearing House Scam

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

IDAHO

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

Lottery Winner Scam

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

Tax Collection scam

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

MONTANA

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

Fake puppy website

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

Advance Loan Scam

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

OREGON

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

Fake Invoice Scam

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

Utility Scam

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

WASHINGTON

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

Can You Hear Me Now? 

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

Online Purchase Scam

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

 

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

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Written by Jordan Stambaugh, Owner of Stambaugh Designs 

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

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

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

This is no longer the case.

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

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

What makes a website mobile friendly? 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not too late to update your website. 

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

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

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



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

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

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

Confessions of an Online Fashion Scam

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By Jade Garcia, PR Coordinator

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

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

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

Consumer Experience

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Spot Look-alike Sellers

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

Look for the BBB Seal.

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

Advertisement on Social Media

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

Security Settings.

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

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

Unusual Forms of Payment.

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

Declined Card at Purchase.

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

Be Wary of Signing Up for an Account.

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

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

Missoula Builder Offers Tips of the Trade

jbuilthealthyhomesWritten by Dan Buchta, Montana Marketplace Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also advised for people to trust their instincts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho Business Fueled by the Sun

renewableenergynw1

Written by Emily Valla, Senior Marketplace Director

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

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

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

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

The outside, however, would match the temperature.

BBB Credibility

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

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

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

Solar Power Savings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January Scam Wrap-Up

Scam Computer Key

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

ALASKA

This month there were 17 scams reported in Alaska with an estimated $6,100 lost.

Utility Scam

An Anchorage resident reported someone impersonated Municipal Light and Power in order to steal $300 from them. They claim they received a call from someone saying they needed to pay their electricity bill or they would be disconnected. The caller told them someone would be by their home in a few hours to disconnect the power if they didn’t pay up over the phone. After getting off the phone with the person the victim called back to say they were not with that utility company. The person on the other end of the phone preceded to pretend to be someone else. The Anchorage resident ceased communication.

Online Purchase Scam

An Anchorage man reported he lost $4,650 when he tried to purchase a Cockatoo for $1,400. The man claimed he was told to use United Pet Express to ship the bird. When he contacted the shipping company they informed him he needed to make a $2,400 deposit to cover any issues with delivery, which he did. Before the bird was shipped he was told he needed to pay $750 to cover the birds’ shots. Finally, he received a message from the “delivery man” stating he needed another $690 to drop off the bird and the refund. The man refused the pay any more money, and never received the bird.

OREGON

This month there were 83 scams reported in Oregon with an estimated $2,860 lost.

Counterfeit product

A Medford woman reports she lost $429 after she ordered two hoverboards from a California company for Christmas. The woman reports one of the hoverboards did not work. She called the company, but got a message stating the voicemail box was full. She emailed the company three times and got a response from customer service asking what was wrong with the machine. After explaining her problem, she never received a response. Her order did not come with a return address and repeated attempts to contact the company have not been answered.

Rental Home scam

A Gresham woman reported she lost $400 in a rental home scam. The woman reports she found a Craigslist ad for a rental house in Portland. The landlord said they lived in New York and requested she send a deposit via MoneyGram to his personal assistant and then he would send the keys. The women sent $400, but never received the keys.

IDAHO

This month there were 106 scams reported to Scam Tracker out of Idaho with an estimated $17,775 lost.

Facebook friend scam

A Caldwell man reported a fake Facebook friend tried to con him out of thousands of dollars. The man states he received a message on Facebook from who appeared to be an old friend of his. The friend said he had won $150,000 through a Facebook contest and the Caldwell man was also listed as a winner. He was told to send a message to “Agent Terry Williams” with “Non-Governmental Organization.” The man did this and was told by the “agent” that in order to receive his funds he would need to pay up. The man states: “He then sent me a list of amounts I could claim as my winnings starting at $100,000 and going up to $600,000. The catch here is that you pay $1,050 to claim $100,00, up to $10,500 to claim $600,000.” He was also told he needed to keep the contest a secret. The man became suspicious and reported the incident to BBB Scam Tracker.

Tax Collection scam

A Boise man reported he received an automated voice message claiming to be the IRS and he had a lawsuit and federal arrest warrant issued against him. He was told to call a number immediately. The man knew he did not have any legal action against him and did not call the number. He then reported the incident to BBB Scam Tracker.

MONTANA

This month there were 14 scams reported to Scam Tracker out of Montana with an estimated $300 lost.

Passport service scheme

A Manhattan woman reported she lost $178 when she tried to expedite the passport process for her five-year-old. The woman used an online service that told her they could help rush the process on obtaining a passport for her child. However, after paying the fee she contacted the National Passport Information Center and was informed the child had to be present at the office in order to obtain a passport and the information she was receiving from the business was not accurate.

Online Windows Support scam

A Deer Lodge woman reported she was almost victim of a tech scam. The woman reports she was working on her computer when she received a notice with a Microsoft logo telling her she had a virus and to call 877-767-7342. The woman called the number and spoke to man named “Bruno Williams.” He asked to do a diagnostic test to her computer remotely. The woman became suspicious and hung up on the man.

WASHINGTON

This month there were 200 scams reported to Scam Tracker out of Washington with an estimated $9,600 lost.

Online pet purchase scam

A Spanaway woman reported she lost $505 in a pet purchase scam. The woman reports she purchased a puppy from http://www.modestshihtzu.com via MoneyGram. The woman states once the seller received the money they requested additional funds to transport the dog in a special crate. When she refused, the seller told her they would deliver a dead puppy at her doorstep. The woman ceased speaking with the seller, but have received threatening emails from them.

Pierce County Sheriff Imposter Scam

A Buckley woman reports she received a call from someone claiming to be with the Pierce County Sheriff. The woman reports she received a call from a “Lt. Parker” who told her a warrant had been issued for her arrest for failure to appear for a civil duty court in December. She became suspicious when the caller told her she needed to purchase $1,975 in MoneyPak cards and to call the “Sheriff’s Treasurer” to give them the confirmation numbers so she wouldn’t be arrested when she went to the sheriff’s office to sign some paperwork. The woman contacted her local police department and confirmed the call was a scam.

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.