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.
According to the AG’s office, the White City company had operated a nationwide scam through a newspaper and magazine subscription ruse.
The numbers are staggering.
Better Business Bureau has received more than 800 complaints against the company within the last 3 years. These include sales and delivery issues as well as problems with service. The most common complaint was billing and collection issues. The volume of complaints, as well as the company’s failure to respond to many of them, have contributed to an F rating for the business.
Consumers told BBB they received bills from the company for magazines they already have subscriptions for, implying it was time for renewal. However, those consumers told us the subscriptions had not expired and they did not originally order from Publisher’s Payment Processing. What’s more, some consumers said the company claimed to have the lowest renewal fee, but they found they could get a better price if they ordered through their magazine’s publisher directly. Many told BBB that Publisher’s Payment Processing would charge a $20 processing fee just to cancel renewals.
The AG’s office says the settlement is not an admission of guilt, but Publisher’s Payment Processing will have to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to Oregon consumers who overpaid or did not receive their magazines. Service fees will also be refunded to Oregonians who have previously received refunds.
“This was a sophisticated operation that generated millions of dollars each year from consumers across the country who thought they were doing business with a reputable magazine or newspaper publisher, but were instead working with a company that made its money by scamming them,” Rosenblum said. “It’s a particular embarrassment to the legitimate Oregon business community when national companies based here don’t play by the rules. The only option was to shut them down—and we have.”
Read the complete Assurance of Voluntary Compliance here.
Creating and launching a business website that looks completely legitimate takes about 30 minutes. But it takes less than five minutes for a consumer to get scammed by one of these rogue, “fly-by-night” websites that are here today and gone tomorrow—with your money.
Double-dealing “brick-and-mortar” businesses continue to exist as well, simply because most consumers aren’t sure how to begin researching a business before interacting with them.
Although the Internet harbors millions of scam artists who prey every day on unsuspecting consumers, the Web also provides portals through which anyone can perform a background check on virtually any business in the world.
7 Ways to Research a Business
- Search for a U.S. or Canadian business on Better Business Bureau’s website or call your local BBB. You’ll find a company’s rating (from A+ through F) along with a history of customer complaints. BBB also provides information about the services or products the business offers and whether government actions have ever been taken against the business. If the business is a BBB Accredited Business, that means the business has agreed to uphold BBB’s eight standards for trust.
- Contact your home or auto insurance agent for advice about directing to you dependable and professional businesses. Because insurance companies deal with a wide variety of commercial businesses, your agent may be able to help you discover whether a business is exceptional or substandard.
- Every U.S. business is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, a government organization whose goal is to protect consumers from unfair trade practices and other unethical business activities. On the FTC website, you can search for news about a particular company relevant to your research. Likewise, the American Bar Association oversees law firms and attorneys, while the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission standardizes financial entities.
- Search local, county and state civil and criminal court records for litigation cases containing the company’s name. Businesses that own property or have filed bankruptcy in the past may be included in country or state tax records if there is a lien against their property. Federal district and bankruptcy courts may also shed further light on the reputation of the business. In addition to running the company’s name through a search portal, checking the names of owners, co-owners and employees may also turn up interesting information pertinent to your research.
- Request a business credit/background report from Experian, Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet or LexisNexis. You will be charged a fee per report, but these are highly reputable services that are known to maintain accurate information on most businesses operating in the U.S.
- Don’t forget to check social media sites for potentially compelling information. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter may offer insights from other customers who have used the company. However, beware of review sites such as Yelp—what reviewers say about a business may be fueled by reasons more personal than business-related, which offers nothing helpful to your research. Take what’s said on those review sites with a grain of salt.
- If you don’t have the time or desire to do a comprehensive background search on a business, you can always hire a private detective or professional background check company that specializes in accessing lesser known databases and performing on-site investigations.
About Better Business Bureau
- BBB is one of the best places to begin researching a business because of its easily navigable interface and the wealth of information provided by its database. In addition, businesses that are accredited by BBB and display BBB’s seal on their website or advertisements are favored by consumers over non-accredited businesses. In fact, 74% of consumers prefer to do business with BBB Accredited Businesses, as stated in a Roper survey.
- A BBB Accredited Business maintains adherence to stringent BBB standards that include consistently applying ethical business practices to all facets of the company, protecting customer privacy, using honest advertising strategies and remaining as transparent as possible to customers.
Taking the time to research a business before hiring them may save you a lot of money, stress and time lost pursuing a potentially lost cause.
‘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!
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.
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!
Whether you live in a large city of a million people or a small community of 10,000, you’ve probably seen efforts encouraging people to “shop local” at some point. But why exactly should you choose a local business? What’s the benefit beyond just being nice to a local?
As it turns out, there are actually plenty of benefits that many people never realize. Here’s a look at just a few of them.
1. You’re putting more of the money you spend right back to the community.
A big reason people shop local is they enjoy “helping the community,” so to speak. People enjoy knowing the money they spend stays right in their area. But when you do shop local, some of that money you spend comes back to help the community a second time. And even better, it’s a larger portion than it would have been from a “big box” store. When a local business owner feels appreciated by the community they’re in, they are much more likely to spend money at a small business themselves—because they know how important support is. They’re also much more likely to make a business donation to community causes (schools, churches, etc.). These businesses understand what it takes to keep a community strong, and are much more apt to be a part of local efforts.
2. You’re helping your community stay unique.
There’s a reason that one of the first things people do with out-of-town visitors is take them to their favorite local restaurant or coffee shop. People love sharing what makes their town unique, or what makes it “better” than all the rest. And local businesses truly are what make an area special. When visitors shop at these stores, they get a sense they’re really “somewhere” instead of the same store they have down the block from their own house. You’ll probably find products at these stores that aren’t available anywhere else. Ask someone about a recent trip they took, and they’ll either tell you about the incredible local cuisine and the quirky shop they found, or how the weather was as they drove to the chain restaurant.
3. You’re getting better service.
It sounds obvious, but nobody knows a community like someone who lives there. When you trust a local business, you’re dealing with someone who knows and understands your area. Sure, the big box store employees may be locals, too, but they don’t have the same investment in the community a local shop does. This doesn’t apply to all types of stores, but there are times when you just need a local’s perspective—at a garden store, for example. A small business owner will take the time to make sure you purchase exactly what you need and exactly what’s going to work for your area, and they will likely throw in some good advice you wouldn’t have otherwise.
4. You’re helping the environment.
If you do any interstate traveling at all, you’ve seen the large semi-trucks crawling across the roadway. These trucks are a vital part of the transportation of goods in this country, but if you’ve watched the smoke that billows from their exhaust, you’re probably thought it can’t be too good on the Earth. When you shop local, you’ve got the knowledge you had a little less part in that pollution than you would have otherwise. In addition, there’s a great chance that shopping local means you drove less mileage yourself, meaning you contributed a little less pollution from your own car.
5. Price isn’t always the bottom line.
It’s no secret that you might pay a little more for something when you shop local. But it’s an investment that’s worth it. Here’s the important part, though: Small businesses try to keep their prices as competitive as they can. They’re not choosing to charge more, but it’s simply a necessity. They can’t afford an expensive TV advertising campaign, and they can’t afford to undercut the prices of the big guys. But what they can do is focus on quality. More often than not, purchasing a product you know is quality from someone who is involved in your community makes all the difference.
But if for no other reason than the ones listed here, it’s always nice to support a local business simply to recognize the hard work and passion that went in to building that business. As any business owner can attest, it’s not easy. Local business owners truly are the backbone of any community, and your support means more than you probably know.
If you have a choice, make an extra effort to shop local. You may pay a little more, but know that you’re investing not just in a local resident, but in the community where you live.
I love to save money. So when it came time to buy my wedding dress, I was determined to get the deal of a lifetime.
My quest took me to the Internet where I dutifully typed in the designer and style number of the gown of my dreams. Immediately tons of search results filled my screen with prices that were incredibly cheap. All of a sudden, my $3,000 gown could be mine for a mere $400. Done! I entered my credit card information, name and address and hit the “Buy” button. The website warned me that it would take up to a month before my dress arrived. No problem—I’d placed the order well in advance, so I figured I had plenty of time.
Three months later, I was still waiting for my gown.
Panicked, I started emailing the company, asking when I would receive my dress. No response. I called and got the runaround—not to mention the language barrier that comes with buying from an online retailer overseas.
Then, by some miracle, the dress finally arrived at my doorstep. But my relief quickly vanished when I saw that the gown was stuffed into a dingy bag barely bigger than a freezer bag and smelled like a musty basement. Inside I found a cheap, counterfeit dress that looked nothing like the pictures of the gown I had seen online. The material was flimsy, the sewing was poorly done and it didn’t fit.
Sadly, it was too late for me to get another dress, and of course no one returned my calls when I tried to get a refund.
Learn from my mistake. Get your gown from a trusted bridal shop—or if you order online, do your research first and read reviews. I wish I had known back then that BBB has a list of Accredited Businesses specifically in the wedding industry. That would’ve saved me a lot of trouble and heartache.
Counterfeit gowns are just one of the many areas engaged couples need to beware of as they’re planning for their big day. You can read all about the latest wedding scams and how to avoid them here.
What stresses you out the most when it comes to planning your wedding? Take our Facebook poll!
As you begin to look into summer camp options for your children, look beyond the pretty brochures and friendly sales pitches. Make sure the camp you have in mind is safe, well supervised and not a financial trap.
Dig deeper than whether a camp has bird watching, bracelet weaving or swimming lessons. Find out if it has a history of complaints, and make certain it has been in business long enough to substantiate its claims.
Visit the camp and pay careful attention to living, eating, medical and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery or off-site trips. Inquire about the staff-to-camper ratio, the criteria for hiring counselors and whether a doctor or nurse will be on-site. Also ask about the camp’s insurance coverage.
Ask to see a daily schedule, even if it’s from last season. Make note of the hours, the variety of activities, the type of food that is served and any transportation that is involved.
Cover financial matters up front. Know all the fees up front, from the base price and any extra activities charges to whether meals and transportation are covered. Get everything in writing, including details about the deposit and refund policy.
Get references from parents of repeat campers, and ask why they recommend the camp. Inquire with the camp about the camper and counselor return rate.
Look for camps accredited by the American Camp Association, a nonprofit that works to ensure the quality of summertime programs. Accreditation with the ACA means the camp meets up to 300 nationally recognized standards.
In the midst of dreary winter weather in the Pacific Northwest, it’s nice to think about a getaway somewhere sunny and tropical.
But vacations to exotic places can be expensive, and they often seem out of reach. As a result, many people choose to invest in a timeshare property, believing that will make vacations more affordable.
However, some timeshare “deals” are just too good to be true. Here are some things to consider before making an investment.
Evaluate the location and quality of the timeshare. You want to do business with a reputable company in a location you can see yourself visiting often in the long-term.
Understand the benefits and the obligations. Though the cost may be lower than buying a second property, it doesn’t mean additional costs don’t exist. There are maintenance fees and property taxes.
Read and understand the contract before you sign. Be aware of cancellation policies and other fees. Ask someone who has experience in real estate to read the contract to ensure you are getting a fair deal.
Always cancel in writing. The FTC suggests when canceling a purchase, you should always send a letter through certified mail with a return receipt request so there is documentation of the interaction.
Be cautious of buying outside the U.S. If you buy a timeshare with a company that operates outside of the U.S., they do not have the same obligations and you will not be protected under U.S. law.
When you’re ready to sell your timeshare, do your research before hiring a timeshare reseller. Find out where the company is located and in which states it does business. Ask if the salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located, and verify this with the state licensing board (Washington: Department of Licensing, Oregon: Real Estate Agency, Alaska: Real Estate Commission). Ask if the company charges a commission, handles the entire closing and provides escrow services. Consider it a red flag if they charge an upfront fee.
The best way to search business reputations just got a little bit better! On February 11, 2015, Better Business Bureau announced a partnership with Porch.com, cementing an innovative partnership intended to provide consumers with the opportunity to make more accurate, researched decisions when searching for the right home improvement professional. With convenient access to customer reviews and consumer ratings all in one opportune location, it’s easier than ever for homeowners to make the best possible choice for their home.
BBB is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1912 as a way to develop marketplace trust by providing a forum for individuals to supply company recommendations, seek conflict resolution and resolve issues with community businesses. With a solid reputation for legitimacy, BBB serves as a trustworthy way for consumers to confront problems and for companies to develop a strong reputation, offering dozens of location-specific services in metro areas all across the United States and Canada. In addition, BBB acts as an intermediary for more than four million companies, settling disputes and fostering strong relationships while maintaining one of the largest databases of reviews and complaint records in the world. In 2014, the BBB system contained more than 165 million Business Reviews, serving a strong and reliable marketplace resource. In order to boost credibility, businesses have the ability to support the BBB by becoming an Accredited Business, providing an additional level of certification and approval.
Porch, the home network, enables homeowners to make smart home improvement decisions by giving them the information they need to find the right professionals, get inspiration and manage their home. Founded by CEO and Chairman Matt Ehrlichman in 2013, Porch’s database of more than 3.2 million professionals also serves as the in-store resource for all 1,700 Lowe’s stores. The Porch App, a first of its kind app, gives homeowners direct access to a personal Porch Concierge to help find the best professionals for their home.
For small business owners and sole proprietors, Internet reputation can be extremely valuable. With the popularity of review sites, consumers rarely contact a business without spending a few minutes reading reviews and comparing similar companies. Companies with a strong and positive web presence are more likely to gain customers and do more business, making consistent, quality reviews important. By creating a partnership between one of the most reliable web sources for trustworthy reviews and ratings, Porch has the potential to become the No. 1 resource for homeowners.
The newly-forged partnership between Porch and BBB is adding a much-needed level of reliability to an already popular interface. Users of Porch are now able to see relevant BBB ratings and reviews without any additional effort in order to make the best possible decisions. Under the rating section on each contractor’s page, BBB information is available for easy access. Homeowners can quickly see a contractor’s BBB rating, Accredited Business credential and disclaimer information in order to make an informed decision with minimal effort. If a contractor is not accredited or has no ratings, this information is also included. According to the partnership terms, new information will be made available every 24 hours, ensuring that Porch users have round-the-clock access to accurate, timely information about area professionals.
While BBB ratings will be available for easy access on the Porch site, the partnership will not have any effect on BBB reviews, maintaining the organization’s credibility and marketplace reliability. BBB does not provide any confidential information to partners and serves simply as a source for legitimate and trusted industry reviews. Businesses will be unable to edit or remove BBB information, ensuring that Porch users have access to dependable and unaltered information.
When two industry leaders merge, the end result is almost always beneficial for all parties involved. With the union between Better Business Bureau and Porch, homeowners can now choose contractors with the utmost confidence. Providing easy, convenient access to thousands of business reviews, certifications and ratings, consumers now have access to up-to-date, trustworthy information in order to ensure a successful pairing for families, individuals and craftsmen alike. From construction to-do-it yourself home improvement projects, each and every job is guaranteed to be a surefire success.