Category Archives: Better Business Bureau

Prepaid Gifts Can Present Problems

BBB Offers Advice on Giving Gift Cards This Holiday Season

Anchorage, Alaska — December 17, 2014 — Gift cards make great last-minute gifts for holiday shoppers. They are practical, inexpensive and convenient. According to a new report by advisory company CEB TowerGroup, sales of gift cards have risen to $124 billion this year—a 55 percent increase over six years.

While gift card giving increases, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns shoppers that gift card scams are on the rise, too

This holiday season, BBB encourages consumers to watch out for the following:

  • Digital theft: Cybercriminals create a website and pose as an online retailer. When consumers enter their gift card information to make a purchase, the scammers clean out the balance.
  • Physical theft: Thieves visit stores and collect gift card information, then continually check the card number until they see the card has been purchased and activated. They then immediately use up all of the funds.
  • Fake or used-up secondhand cards: Scammers post gift cards to online auctions or classified sites and offer discounted prices on counterfeit or already-used cards. It is virtually impossible to tell whether the cards have any value remaining, to determine whether they’ve been tampered with or to see if they’ve expired.

BBB offers practical advice to consumers shopping for gift cards.

  • Purchase straight from the source. Buy cards directly from the issuing store, no matter how much cheaper they may be elsewhere—especially when shopping for gift cards online. An illegitimate card is a worthless gift.
  • Examine cards carefully. Thoroughly inspect cards and do not buy them if they have been tampered with or altered.
  • Read the terms and conditions. Make sure the recipient won’t get hit with transaction or inactivity fees that will erode the value of the card. If you are giving a gift card to a friend who wants to shop online, make sure the card can be used that way and not just in a store.
  • Ask cashiers to scan and verify cards. Have gift cards scanned and activated at checkout and ask your cashier to verify the balance before leaving the store.
  • Keep the receipts. Many retailers can track where cards are purchased, activated and used. They may be able to replace stolen cards with proper proof of purchase.

It is estimated that $750 million in gift cards will go unredeemed this year. However, legislation passed in 2010 states that the money on prepaid cards cannot expire for at least five years, even if the card’s expiration period is shorter. Learn more about consumers’ gift card rights from the Federal Trade Commission.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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The 12 Schemes of Christmas

Better Business Bureau Warns of Holiday Hoaxes

Anchorage, Alaska — December 10, 2014 — It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and potentially the most profitable for scammers.  Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has put together a list of 12 common Christmas schemes to help consumers stay safe this holiday season.

12. Holiday surveys: In an effort to take advantage of cash-strapped holiday shoppers, scammers pose as popular retailers, e-mailing fake surveys to consumers and promising a credit to their accounts. Links to the “surveys” are often malicious.

11. Suspicious Santa sites: Steer away from “Santa” websites that request unnecessary personal information.  Be especially wary of sites that fail to disclose contact details and privacy policies.

10. Puppy scams: Be careful about buying pets online. Consumers may be unwittingly buying from a puppy mill where dogs have health problems, or they may send money to a scammer and get nothing in return.

9. Fake charities: The holidays create a great opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to fill their own pockets.  Beware of solicitations from charities that cannot deliver on their promises or pretend to be representing victims that do not really exist. Review charities first at give.org.

8. Pickpockets: Crowded malls and the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season make it easy for thieves to grab purses and wallets.

7. Fake coupons: Be cautious when downloading coupons.  Make sure you are on a trustworthy website.  Be suspicious of coupon sites that ask for personal information.

6. Stranded “grandkids”: The classic grandparent scam is still ongoing. Consumers should be suspicious of phone calls from a “family member” claiming to need help and asking for money to be wired overseas.

5. Malware e-cards: Links or attachments in e-cards could contain malware.  Consumers should make sure their spam filters are set and up-to-date.

4. Counterfeit gifts: Be suspicious of sites that offer the “must have” toys, gadgets or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. These deceptive deals, pop-up ads and social media posts often take consumers’ money but leave them empty handed.

3. Stolen gift cards: Buy gift cards only from reputable dealers, not online or from individuals. It is easy for scammers to sell a card and pull out the funds before consumers can even give it as a gift.

2. Travel scams: Watch out for unexpected hotel and flight “confirmation” or “cancellation” notices, which trick consumers into clicking unsafe links to stop unreal reservations.

1. Deceiving deliveries: Do not accept notices about delivery delays or confirmations on unordered packages.  Scammers often pose as well-known retailers or shipping companies to gain false credibility and access to consumers’ computers.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Give Wisely on Giving Tuesday

BBB Offers Advice to Donors This Holiday Season

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec 2, 2014 – #GivingTuesday marks the official start of the holiday giving season, and Better Business Bureau wants to make sure donors give wisely.

“Every year, generous Alaskans open their hearts and wallets,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “And sadly we see too many cases of donors being scammed in the process.”

As part of the National Day of Giving, BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges consumers to take action before donating.

  • Don’t be pressured. Take time when making a donation and avoid on-the-spot decisions. Reputable organizations will welcome a gift at any time.
  • Know the charity. Locate charities that meet specific needs and research how donations will be used. Visit bbb.org/charity before cutting a check or donating an item.
  • Watch for impostors. Beware of fly-by-night operations with names that are similar to legitimate charities.
  • Donate directly. When in doubt, check it out. Confirm the legitimacy of charities by contacting them directly, and avoid clicking on email links or giving in to phone solicitors.
  • Secure identities. Never share banking or credit card information with unknown or unexpected solicitors.

Search for local BBB Accredited Charities and Seal Holders at http://go.bbb.org/akorww-charitydirectory. Additionally, the Mobile Giving Foundation gives cell phone users safe opportunities to find trustworthy charities where they can make contributions via text message.

BBB congratulates charities, families, businesses, students and community centers around the world for their generosity during #GivingTuesday. For more holiday tips and information on how to give safely, visit BBB Scam Stopper and give.org.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Shop Safely this Holiday Season

Scammers Take Advantage of Consumers during Holiday Shopping Season

Anchorage, Alaska — November 20, 2014 — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday—the holiday shopping season is here, and Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Western Washington and Oregon is advising consumers to shop and give wisely.

According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers spent an average of $407 last year and more than 100 million consumers shopped on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

While there are many bargains to be had, BBB warns of deals that are too good to be true.
Safety first. Anticipate traffic and be careful of crowds. Never leave a wallet, credit card or purse on a counter or in an unattended shopping cart. It is a good idea to shop with a companion or ask for a security escort to the car.
Don’t fall for false advertising. Some companies will resort to ads that are misleading, deceptive or fraudulent. Bait-and-switch tactics are designed to bring consumers into a store but push them toward more expensive items.
Check return and exchange policies. Store policies can change for Black Friday deals. Consumers should educate themselves on whether returns are possible.  Final sales, a very short return window and in-store only credits are common during the holiday shopping season.
Shop local. Consumers can save time and money by supporting small businesses in their community. Check neighborhood retailers for their weekend deals on Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday. Some stores may be able to price-match some items.
- Beware of counterfeit sites and sales on Cyber Monday. The anonymity of the Internet often makes it difficult to discern between the legitimate and the counterfeit. Exceptionally low prices, distorted photos and missing contact information are often signs of a phony online retailer.
Give wisely and thoughtfully. Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  Before donating to a charity, make sure it is vetted. Consumers can see a charity’s rating at BBB.org or Give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
BBB advises consumers to check a business’ rating and reviews before buying.  For more information, visit BBB.org and download BBB’s iPhone App for reviews on-the-go.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Better Business Bureau Offers $10K Scholarship

BBB Foundation Presents the Students of Integrity Scholarship

Anchorage, Alaska — November 17, 2014 — Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has officially launched the 2015 Students of Integrity Scholarship. High school seniors in the Northwest will have a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship by creating a 90-second video that demonstrates how BBB helps people become smart consumers.

“BBB values the importance of higher education and teens who personify high ethics,” BBB CEO Tyler Andrew said. “We believe this scholarship will enable a student to pursue both in a fun and creative way.”

Students can check their eligibility and apply online. A panel of judges from all three states will choose the winning entry in March. The deadline to apply is January 30, 2015.

The winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship and travel expenses to Portland where BBB will present him or her with a check at the March 28 Portland Trail Blazers game at the Moda Center.

Students may apply individually or in groups. The video entries of the top 15 finalists will be posted on BBB’s YouTube channel for public viewing.

For more information, click here

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BBB Revokes Accreditation of Local Businesses

DuPont, Wash. — November 10, 2014 — During the third quarter of 2014, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington revoked the accreditation of 15 businesses for failing to uphold BBB Standards of Accreditation. BBB’s board of directors took action on the companies between July 1 and September 30.

BBB Accreditation is a privilege and signifies that businesses are accountable, honest, responsive, transparent and ethical. Expulsion from accreditation status is unfortunate, but BBB takes the enforcement of its standards seriously. BBB Accredited Businesses promise to embody integrity in all business dealings—based on BBB Code of Business Practices—and many of the revocations were due to a failure to quickly respond to disputes in good faith.

During the same time period, BBB denied accreditation applications for 11 additional companies for not meeting standards.

Consumers turn to BBB daily for reliable online business reviews. When companies fail to uphold standards, BBB takes action to protect marketplace trust.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is one of 113 in North America and the largest BBB by geographical service area. BBB is a neutral not-for-profit public reporting agency committed to trust in the marketplace. For more information on ethical business standards and BBB Accreditation, or to access free BBB Business Reviews, Charity Reviews, scam alerts or find local event information, contact BBB or visit bbb.org.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Scammers Prey on Public’s Fear of Ebola

BBB, FDA offer tips to recognize fraudulent health products

Anchorage, Alaska — October 16, 2014 — Scams tend to follow the news, especially when a health scare makes the headlines. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns consumers that scam artists are preying on the public’s fear of Ebola. Fraudsters are making unsubstantiated claims that the disease can be cured or prevented by using products containing everything from silver to herbal oils to snake venom.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned consumers, “There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola.”

Experimental vaccines may have been mentioned in the news, but they are not available to the public yet. “These investigational products are in the early stages of product development, have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, and the supply is very limited,” the FDA said.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says it does have safety tips for travelers to West Africa, but the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is extremely low. However, when fear is high, unproven and fraudulent products start to appear.

Consumers who have seen bogus products or false claims should report them to the FDA and may also inform BBB. The following tips from the FDA may also help consumers recognize fraudulent health products.

– One product does it all. Be suspicious of a product that claims to cure a wide range of diseases. One product could not be so effective against a long, varied list of conditions.
– Personal testimonials. Success stories are easily fabricated and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
– Quick fixes. Few diseases can be treated rapidly, even with legitimate products.
– “All natural.” Numerous products claiming to be “all natural” in fact contain hidden, untested and potentially dangerous or lethal ingredients.
– “Miracle cure.” If a true cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by doctors—not buried in newspaper advertisements, infomercials and websites.
– Conspiracy theories. Claims about government conspiracies are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions they should be asking about the so-called miracle cure.

Additionally, BBB urges consumers to use caution when donating to an Ebola-related cause. Click here for wise-giving tips.

BBB reminds consumers to always check with a doctor or health care professional before purchasing or using an unproven product or one with questionable claims.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Stop Digital Risks During Cyber Security Month

BBB Partners with STOP.THINK.CONNECT.™ to Increase Online Safety and Awareness

Anchorage, Alaska – October 1, 2014 – October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. As part of a global cyber security awareness campaign, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon is partnering with STOP.THINK.CONNECT.™ to help digital citizens stay safe online.

In today’s highly connected and networking environment, it is important to address cybercrime and growing online security problems. According to STOP.THINK.CONNECT.™, 96 percent of Americans feel a personal responsibility to be safer and more secure online.

“At BBB we’re focused on educating both consumers and businesses about how to protect themselves against online fraud,” said Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska Oregon and Western Washington. “By partnering with consumer advocacy groups and STOP.THINK.CONNECT.™, we are dedicated to helping all digital citizens stay safer and more secure online.”

As part of BBB’s commitment to cyber security awareness, both organizations encourage online users to take extra security measures this month by completing a few simple steps.

– Keep a clean machine. Whether it is a PC, mobile device or laptop, make sure security software is current and up-to-date. Having the latest software on all devices can be one of the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.
– Protect personal information. Secure accounts by making passwords long, strong and unique.
– Connect with care. Avoid opening unsolicited emails or links. Use caution when logging on to public Wi-Fi hotspots and send personal information only to websites that are fully encrypted.
– Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, and share with friends, family and colleagues to encourage them to be web wise. Visit staysafeonline.org for more ways to spot online problems and keep devices clean and safe.
– Share with care. A good online citizen only posts about others what he would want posted about himself.

During October, BBB will be promoting National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Visit BBB’s Facebook page for more details.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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‘Mavens’ Want Out of Julep Subscription Boxes

Consumers Allege Company Ignores Cancellation Requests

Anchorage, Alaska — September 18, 2014 — Beauty has a price—especially for subscribers of Seattle-based Julep Beauty Inc, who say once they sign up, it is nearly impossible to get out.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has identified a pattern of complaints from the cosmetic retailer’s consumers, who claim Julep is unresponsive to phone calls, emails and Facebook messages. Consumers also allege after following cancellation instructions, the company continues to charge them.

“The only way to cancel the service is to call someone,” a Seattle consumer reported to BBB. “They say this is for privacy reasons, but they had no problem collecting my credit card information online in order to start the service. Clearly, this is a thinly veiled attempt to make cancelling their service more difficult than it needs to be.”

To date, BBB has received 172 complaints from Julep’s consumers; 113 of those have gone unanswered and 5 remain unresolved, earning the company an F rating.

According to Julep’s website, subscribers called “mavens” will receive a customized package each month containing nail polish and other cosmetics, and they may cancel at any time. But consumers allege the company makes it difficult to terminate a subscription.

Another Seattle consumer reported calling Julep’s customer service line 27 times before she reached a live person, and still the monthly charges did not stop. “I had to call AMEX to have Julep blocked as a merchant so that they could not continue to charge my card for a subscription that I had already cancelled,” she wrote in her complaint to BBB.

BBB urges consumers to use caution when they consider signing up for a subscription service.

Do a reputation check. First check the company’s online reputation by reading what other consumers have said about their own experiences. BBB publishes the details of complaints, and now also posts verified Customer Reviews.
Read the fine print. Before submitting payment information, carefully read the terms and conditions of the offer. Understand the billing schedule, product guarantees, return policy and cancellation policy.
Document communications. Keep track of all transactions, phone calls, emails and other communications with the company. This documentation will be useful if it becomes necessary to file a credit card chargeback.

BBB advises consumers to file a complaint at BBB.org if a business is unwilling to work to resolve concerns.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Timeshare Company Accused of Swindling Consumers out of Thousands

BBB Issues Alert against Classic Connections Travel Company Inc

Anchorage, Alaska — September 10, 2014 — Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has received a recent pattern of complaints regarding the sales and advertising practices of Classic Connections Travel Company Inc in Tukwila, Wash. The company’s website appears to provide information on vacation packages, but consumers allege they have been conned out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a complaint to BBB, one consumer says he lost $156,000 to the company. “I want the contract either honored and finalized or my money back,” he said.

Consumers say it starts with a phone call from a CCTC operator saying he represents a buyer who is interested in purchasing the customer’s Mexican timeshare property. The company promises no up-front fees to complete the transaction, consumers report. However, victims allege just before the deal closes, CCTC claims the Mexican government now requires prepayment for taxes and fees.

Complaints filed with BBB reveal the company repeatedly requests consumers to wire thousands of dollars to cover these supposed fees. Victims have paid amounts ranging from $2,350 to $156,000. After paying, they say CCTC no longer responds to their phone calls or emails. Complaints against the business come from consumers all over the country, including Idaho and California.

“We cannot get anyone to call us back or even email us…We are out over $6,000 including wire transfer fees,” another complainant said.

Additionally, BBB has learned CCTC is not licensed for timeshare or real estate transactions in Washington.

BBB urges timeshare owners to be on alert anytime a business claims to have a buyer for them, especially if the property is not listed for sale.

– Gather the facts. Make sure the company is who it claims to be. Check to see if it is properly licensed and consider its BBB Business Review.
– Read reviews. Research the business to see what other people are saying about their own experiences. Look for verified Customer Reviews from BBB.
– Be wary of wire transfers. Businesses who ask for wire transfers or payments via a prepaid debit card should raise red flags. Never wire money to a stranger.
– Avoid upfront fees. Legitimate companies typically take their fees after the sale is done or deduct it from the sale price. Do not pay for a promise.

Better Business Bureau advises consumers to report suspicious business activity. If a business appears to be dishonest and will not work to resolve concerns, file a complaint at BBB.org. And stay connected with the latest consumer alerts and warnings at BBB’s Social Hub.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | michelle.tabler@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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“Scholastic School Supply” Scam Hits Classrooms Across the Country

BBB Issues Warning On Phony Invoices

Anchorage, Alaska — September 9, 2014 — Schools nationwide are reporting an increase in a supply scam centered on the company Scholastic School Supply.

Consumers allege the imposter business is sending out fake invoices to schools and districts in the amount of $647.50 for a bulk purchase of text books that was never purchased or received.  The only contact information on the invoices is an email address that consumers say does not respond to messages and a phone number that routes to a series of voicemail boxes.

The invoice lists an address in Las Vegas, but the Better Business Bureau in Nevada has been unable to find any corporation filings, business licensing or other documentation for Scholastic School Supply in that state.

BBB in Nevada has received a total of 51 complaints from consumers in 22 states.  It has also seen more than 2,000 inquiries regarding this scam, with an increase of 15 complaints a day.

Scammers often use names that are similar to well-known businesses to make their cons seem legitimate.  Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington urges schools and other organizations to be careful before paying any invoice.

– Encourage the school treasurer to watch for invoice scams.
– Make sure the invoice is coming from a valid source.
– Check out the company that is sending the invoice.
– Centralize purchasing and billing so that the person paying the invoices knows what was ordered and who the vendors are.
– Do a basic Internet search to see if other organizations have reported similar problems.

BBB advises consumers to not pay suspicious invoices, and instead contact the Federal Trade Commission. To find out more about scams or to report one, check out BBB Scam Stopper and stay connected to BBB’s Social Hub.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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BBB Revokes Accreditationi of Local Businesses

Anchorage, Alaska — September 5, 2014 — Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington revoked the accreditation of 8 businesses during the second quarter of 2014 for failing to uphold BBB Standards of Accreditation. BBB’s board of directors took action on the companies between April 1 and June 30.

BBB Accreditation is a privilege and signifies that businesses are accountable, honest, responsive, transparent and ethical. Expulsion from accreditation status is unfortunate, but BBB takes the enforcement of its standards seriously. Accredited companies promise to embody integrity in all business dealings—based on the BBB Code of Business Practices—and many of the accreditation revocations were due to a failure to quickly respond to disputes in good faith.

During the same time period, BBB denied accreditation applications for 10 additional companies for not meeting standards.

Consumers turn to BBB daily for reliable online business reviews; when companies fail to uphold standards, BBB takes action to protect marketplace trust.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Get Cheated by Back-to-School Gimmicks

BBB Issues Tips for Safe Online Shopping and Apartment Hunting

Anchorage, Alaska. — August 14, 2014 — As Alaskans prepare to fork out more cash this school year, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offers advice for both parents and students before they hit store shelves and online stores.

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shopping will top $26 billion this year. Online shopping is on the rise with more than half of students using their smartphones to make purchases.  This could open the door for scammers to target shoppers.

Meanwhile, thousands of college students are apartment hunting.  If they’re not careful, they could fall into bad lease terms.

BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has received 171 complaints against apartment complexes this year alone.

To be a savvy shopper and wise renter, BBB advises consumers to:

1. Be wary of ads or links offering gift cards for filling out surveys or entering contests. These links could lead to malicious sites that could download malware to a smartphone or computer.  Remember: ads that look too good to be true, often are.
2. Be on the lookout for text message scammers.  Scammers are known to send text messages claiming to be brand name stores asking consumers to claim freebies by texting their personal information.  These are likely phishing scams that could lead to identity theft.
3. Understand tenant’s rights and responsibilities.  An apartment lease should always include specifics on how all maintenance and repair concerns are handled.  It should also clearly state what the rent amount covers, such as utilities or cable TV.
4. Know the red flags of a rental scam.  Be careful of landlords who are located elsewhere or require a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the property.  Steer clear of landlords who ask renters to wire money through services such as Western Union or MoneyGram.
5. Take precautions before moving in.  Document the apartment’s condition by taking pictures of the unit prior to move-in.  This will protect renters from being held responsible for damages they didn’t do.

For more trustworthy consumer tips and BBB accredited property management companies, visit BBB.org.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Social Media Sites Could Lead to ID Theft

Better Business Bureau Warns That Some Websites Can Compromise Personal Information

Anchorage, Alaska – August 12, 2014 – Whether it’s giving online birthday wishes, connecting with former classmates or gaming with friends, social media has become a powerful networking tool for businesses, consumers and, now more than ever, crooks.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns of new tricks aimed at stealing the personal information of not only online users but their contacts, too.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, consumers lost more than $780 million last year because of internet crime; nearly 50% more than in 2012. With recent data breaches and more online sharing, BBB advises social networkers to click cautiously.

·         Post with care. Avoid sharing private information publicly. Steer clear of posting birthdates, family names and relatives’ information online.

·         Check privacy policies. Read and understand how websites use information they collect and be sure it’s never sold to an outside party.

·         Keep guard. Games, quizzes and surveys are fun, but if they require entering personal information, don’t respond and stop playing.

·         Click with caution. Avoid following links that are unsolicited, even if they appear on a social media page. One wrong click could lead to unwanted sites or add malware to a computer.

·         Block the fakes. Beware of fake social media profiles that appear to be using the names of friends. Be cautious about “friending” people.

·         Strengthen passwords. Change passwords frequently, at least once every six months. Use long phrases, numbers and a symbol to help prevent hackers gaining access to accounts.

Visit StopThinkConnect for more information on how to stay safe online, and connect with BBB and its Social Hub for the latest news and consumer alerts.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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NY Times: Russian Hackers Amass More than 1 Billion Internet Passwords

BBB Warns Consumers to Be Proactive in Securing Personal Data

Anchorage, Alaska – Aug. 6, 2014 –The New York Times reported this morning that a Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses.

While details are still limited, including which companies have fallen victim or how the hackers conducted the breach, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington urges consumers to protect their online accounts. The Times reports the hackers appear to be using stolen information to send spam on social networking sites like Twitter, and could be selling personal data on the black market.

BBB understands there is not much consumers can do to prevent data breaches from happening, but vigilance will help minimize the risk of falling victim to identity theft.

– Change passwords. Never use the same password for every online account or website.
– Monitor credit and bank statements. Go online to verify account information and do not wait for paper statements.
– Set up alerts. Set up automatic activity alerts on banking and credit card accounts and with the three credit reporting agencies.
– Report suspicious activity. Immediately report unauthorized charges and place a credit freeze on any compromised accounts.
– Save receipts. Keep all receipts handy in case charges need to be substantiated

Also visit OnGuardOnline.gov, a website run by the Federal Trade Commission, for more tips on avoiding scams and protecting your computer.

Scammers will likely take advantage of this high-profile public data breach to phish for personal information. Over the next few weeks, be extremely wary of unsolicited emails or phone calls from purported financial institutions. Do not click on links, download attachments or provide sensitive information—like Social Security numbers—to unknown parties.

Business owners:  Make sure that your customers’ information is being protected. Check out BBB’s free Data Security – Made Simpler guide for businesses at bbb.org/data-security.

All Americans are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus; the only official source for these reports is at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Visit akorww.bbb.org for the latest consumer alerts and stay connected with the latest information from BBB on its Social Hub.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Alaska RV Company Sputters, Leaves Consumers Angry

Anchorage, Alaska — July 30, 2014 — Anchorage-based B&B RV Rental LLC has earned itself an “F” rating with Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington after it failed to respond to more than 20 complaints within the last three years.

B&B RV Rental LLC leases and rents recreational vehicles, campers and motor homes to vacationers in Alaska. Customers allege the business fails to honor rental agreements, falsely advertises damaged and unsafe RVs as new models and does not deliver on its promises to refund money.

“This company has cost us thousands of dollars in rental fees,” one customer wrote to BBB. “We had to call and scramble to find replacement motorhomes which cost us an additional $8000.00.”

Another customer wrote, “With no refund from this company our trip of a lifetime has been turned into a nightmare of a lifetime.”

B&B RV Rental LLC also does business under the names AKMotorhome.com and AK Motor Home.

BBB recognized a pattern of complaints in June 2014, but the company refused to address the problems. BBB is concerned about the nature of these complaints and reminds consumers to thoroughly research companies at bbb.org before making purchases or paying for services.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Avoid the Blitz by Blocking Fake Ticket Offers

BBB Warns of Scams as Hawk Tickets Go on Sale

Anchorage, Alaska. — July 21, 2014 — As single-game tickets for the Seahawks go on sale Monday, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns fans to be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals.

Online classified ads list thousands of sports tickets, but BBB reminds shoppers that oftentimes there are no guarantees, and sellers don’t have to provide identification to list tickets. With high prices and diehard fans, it is certain that fraudsters will try to hustle fake tickets.

Before plucking down cash or giving credit card numbers, review BBB’s advice to Hawk fans:

– Play smart. Use credit when buying game tickets; if the tickets don’t arrive or turn out to be fakes, charges can be disputed.
– Pass up offers to wire money. Con artists often use classified websites such as Craigslist to post non-existent tickets, and then ask for payment to be wired.
– Call an audible. If the tickets appear suspicious, walk away. Look for smeared ink, uneven edges and flimsy paper. Always research ticket sellers first at bbb.org.
– Take a timeout. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always take time to choose authorized ticket and merchandise retailers; check with the official Seahawks site for more information.

BBB wants to help fans kick off the NFL season right. For more advice on avoiding common scams, visit  BBB’s News & Events page and BBB’s Social Hub.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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DNW Awarded the BBB Certificate for Excellence

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager for Better Business Bureau Serving Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington, is proud to announce that Delta News Web has been awarded the BBB Certificate for Excellence in Consumer Protection and Advocacy for outstanding news coverage on consumer protection, military and business outreach.

Michelle Tabler
Alaska Regional Manager

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Free Wi-Fi Connections Lead to Sidejacking

BBB Warns of Growing Online Attacks Targeting Wi-Fi Users

Anchorage, Alaska. – June 25, 2014 – Sidejacking is a common term for man-in-the-middle “eavesdropping” attacks that occur through unsecured Wi-Fi connections. Coffee shops, college campuses, airports and hotels are breeding grounds for hackers who try to compromise personal information and place computers at risk for viruses.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns users to be cautious when connecting to public hotspots and surfing on a non-secure internet connection.

Using public Wi-Fi is inherently risky; laptops, smartphones and tablets are all susceptible to security breaches. Exercising best practices takes only a few extra seconds and can eliminate many dangers.

BBB recommends the following steps to protect from hackers:

· Update protection. Make sure virus protection and anti-malware programs are up-to-date and active.

· Never assume connections are legitimate. Many fake networks deliberately utilize similar names, such as “coffee_shop” or “official airport wifi.”

· Look for connection authenticity. Look for signs posted at the location providing the connection, or ask an employee for information about the legitimate Wi-Fi access point.

· Use a Virtual Private Network. VPNs encrypt data that passes through the connection and prevent interception.

· Avoid specific websites. Social networking channels, online banking services and certain shopping sites contain significant amounts of personal/financial data that, if hijacked, could seriously compromise identities.

BBB reminds online users to frequently change passwords and to not stay permanently logged in to wireless networks. For more information about online safety, check out OnGuardOnline.gov; visit the BBB News & Events page for the latest scam alerts and marketplace updates.

BBBnews and events link: http://www.bbb.org/alaskaoregonwesternwashington/news-events/

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Seniors Still Swindled by Scammers

BBB updates seniors about current scams for World Elder Abuse Day 2014

Anchorage, Alaska – June 13, 2014 –The stories are heartbreaking. Grandmothers and grandfathers who are abused, neglected and financially exploited. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, hundreds of thousands of seniors are victimized every year.

June 15, 2014 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington wants Oregonians to know the warning signs of abuse.

Seniors are often vulnerable to fraud and financial crimes. They are easy to reach at home, are too polite to hang up on calls from strangers, and are more likely to have financial means. BBB wants seniors and their families to be aware of the following scams:

  • Grandparent Scams— Scammers call and claim to be grandchildren who need help. Common ploys might be, “I’m stranded on spring break” or “I’ve been arrested” or “hospitalized” and need money for medical purposes, to get out of jail or back home. The cons generally ask their victims to wire money. They claim their voice sounds different because of an accident or crisis, and ask that the grandparents not tell their parents.
  • Charity Scams— Con artists will ask for donations or money for raffles to benefit charities. BBB recommends only making donations to reputable charities. Seniors can go to give.org to read reports on local and national charities and find ways to give wisely.
  • Healthcare Scams— Scammers will call or email, claiming to be with Medicare or insurance companies. They’ll ask to confirm personal information, in order to send a new card or announce a new plan. Additionally, they might tell victims, they need to send money for the new plan or card.
  • Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams— Victims receive letters in the mail stating they have won the lottery or sweepstakes. The letters will instruct the person to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion of the money back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees. The checks are usually bogus and victims end up losing the money. Remember, never send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.

Family and friends need to do their part and watch for the following signs of financial exploitation:

  • Missing belongings and property
  • Unusual bank activity
  • Unnecessary purchases
  • Sudden changes to power of attorney or wills
  • Sudden interest in investments or business opportunities
  • Several unpaid bills or bounced checks.

To report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation occurring in the home or in long-term care facilities in Alaska, call 1-877-857-3500 (907-334-5989 in Anchorage) or contact local law enforcement agencies

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

 

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Avoid Having to “Re-Do” Remodels and Home Repairs

Better Business Bureau Helps Consumers Find Reputable Workers

Anchorage, Alaska — June 3, 2014 — According to the National Association of Home Builders, 60 percent of home owners hired professional contractors to perform work in 2011. And with consumers each spending an average of $4,000 per year on home repairs, this large industry attracts a lot of companies—good and bad. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington advises remodelers about choosing the right tools for pricey jobs to avoid costly re-do’s of shoddy work.

·         Research credentials. Check for permanent places of business, telephone numbers, tax ID numbers and business licenses. Make sure businesses are financially stable and ask for proof.

·         Verify insurance coverage. Ask to see copies of liability coverage and workers’ compensation certificates. If contractors aren’t properly insured, home owners may be liable for accidents that happen on their properties; ensure that coverage runs through job completions.

·         Examine licensing and bonding. Licenses protect consumers and payment bonds will ensure liens cannot be placed on homes if subcontractors do not get paid.

·         Ask about reputations. Ask contractors for lists of completed projects and double-check with previous customers. Verified customer reviews on local businesses are available at bbb.org.

·         Read the fine print. Carefully read and understand contracts; look over warranties and any provisions that may void them. Once contracts have been signed, make sure all changes are in writing—never rely on verbal agreements.

·         Avoid large upfront payments. Initial payments should not exceed $1,000 or 10 percent of total contracts and only pay for work that has been satisfactorily completed.

Consumers should avoid contractors who use high-pressure sales tactics, refuse to give written estimates or contracts, fail to get proper permits or require full or substantial payments before the work begins. Remember, the lowest price is not necessarily the best.

Finding the right company for the right job takes a little work, but will be worth it in the end. Visit the BBB Accredited Business online directory to find local reputable contractors.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Scammers Take Aim This Memorial Day

BBB Warns Service Men and Women to be on Guard of Shysters

Anchorage, AK. – May 22, 2014 – As Alaskans take time to honor service men and women this Memorial Day, Better Business Bureau warns of scammers who have their sights set on ripping off military personnel and their families.

“It doesn’t get much lower than this,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska Oregon and Western Washington. “Too many times we hear stories of people coming back from deployment only to be sucked into elaborate and costly scams.”

BBB is alerting the military community and the public to malicious tactics that scammers use to steal money and identities.

Phone Scams: Impostors pose as Veterans Administration employees and call to “verify” personal information, sometimes using scare tactics like VA benefits cancellations to collecting 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, requiring that deposits and rent be wired to landlords who are 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.

BBB advises consumers to take the following precautions on Memorial Day:

  • Do the recon. Learn about businesses and charities by visiting bbb.org before making payments or donations.
  • Arm computers. Never click on unknown links in unsolicited emails, which may install malware and attempt to steal identities.
  • Take watch. Deployed service members can issue “active duty” credit alerts to minimize the risk of identity theft. Creditors are then required to verify identification before making adjustments to accounts.

Through BBB Foundation, the BBB Military Line provides free resources to all branches of the U.S. military, including financial literacy information, scam alerts and access to BBB services like complaint handling and dispute resolution.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Let Scammers Get the Upper Hand This Mother’s Day

BBB Warns Consumers to be Extra Cautious When Treating Moms 

Anchorage, AK – May 8, 2014 – Whether it’s a beautiful bouquet or a box of chocolates, sons and daughters are expected to pay big this Mother’s Day. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers plan to spend more than $160 each on gifts for mothers and wives leading up to the 2014 occasion. But Better Business Bureau warns that if consumers aren’t careful, those purchases could leave moms with wilted feelings.

“Consumers need to take extra precautions before placing orders, especially online,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “Whether it’s flowers, e-cards or vouchers received in the mail, it’s important to always read the fine print and check with BBB.”

  • Research first. Check out BBB Business Reviews to see complaint histories and read customer reviews. When buying online, carefully analyze the terms and conditions to understand post-purchase options.
  • Validate contact information. Confirm phone numbers and addresses before making purchases to ensure that potential problems can be managed.
  • Ask about guarantees. Request written receipts for orders and ask about refund policies in case deliveries are late, arrive damaged or never arrive at all.
  • Verify security. When shopping online use reputable secure websites and never enter personal information in pop-up screens. Pay with credit cards when possible, which offer additional securities.
  • Confirm shipping and delivery deadlines. Check with the florists, retailers and websites to be certain that gifts arrive on time. Clearly specify delivery dates and ask for guarantees. Remember, last-minute or overnight shipping will be costly; consider scheduling deliveries for a day or two before major holidays.

Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to get out and shop local; support the community by shopping at neighborhood florists and other business. In-person visits will eliminate confusion and guarantee the quality of the products. To find local accredited businesses this Mother’s Day visit bbb.org.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Get “Tripped Up” During Travel Season

Better Business Bureau Helps Consumers Avoid Destination Detractors

Anchorage, Alaska — May 6, 2014 — Sunshine, warm sand and exotic meals are tempting after long dark winters and many people are emerging from hibernation to prepare for summer travel. But before booking dream vacations, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns Alaskans to be wary of travel troubles.

Once destinations have been selected, BBB reminds travelers to follow checklists before making payments or signing contracts.

  • Get offers in writing. Visit bbb.org to check the reliability of companies offering travel bargains, especially businesses offering timeshares or inclusive packages. Ask for cancellation and refund policies.
  • Read the fine print. Once offers are in writing, pay special attention to asterisks and footnotes, which usually indicate restrictions and additional fees.
  • Research travel insurance options. Not all trips are created equal. If a trip only costs a few hundred dollars, it’s probably not worth the cost of insurance; if it’s the trip of a lifetime which costs thousands of dollars, it’s a good consideration.
  • Confirm details independently. Check reservations and availability; ask for brochures directly from hotels and find out which features are included. Compare rates with other travel agencies.
  • Protect identities. Make travel arrangements with trusted companies. Never provide credit card information to unsolicited callers.
  • Get passports early. According to the U.S. State Department, it can take up to six weeks to process passport applications. Remember, all American citizens are required to show passports when leaving and re-entering the United States—including Canada and Mexico.

After returning from a trip, BBB recommends proactive follow-up:

  • Save receipts and evaluate bills.
  • Check accounts for unauthorized purchases.
  • Monitor credit reports by requesting free annual copies from annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.

BBB wants consumers to enjoy their travels in 2014. Take a trip to BBB News & Events for more travel tips, scam alerts and consumer news.

Michelle Tabler, Oregon Public Relations Manager:  pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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BBB Warns of Attacks on Income

Reports Outline Large Tax-Related Scams

Anchorage, Alaska – April 14, 2014 – As the filing deadline quickly approaches, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is warning tax-paying consumers to file cautiously.

On the Phone:

On March 20, 2014, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration issued a statement that more than 20,000 people have collectively lost more than $1 million in the “largest ever” phone fraud scam of its kind. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office issued a similar alert.

On the Internet:

The Internal Revenue Service is highlighting sophisticated new phishing campaigns that threaten legal action because of “processing errors” and request personal information.

E-filing continues to be a primary target for cyber thieves, who can collect personal data and divert refunds to their own accounts without the victims’ knowledge.

Identity Theft:

Tax-related identity theft is the number one threat to taxpayers, according to the IRS. BBB issued a release in January 2014 which highlights the increase in threats and what filers can do to protect identities. Read Tax Season Brings Out Identity Thieves for more information.

Remember, the filing deadline is April 15, 2014. Failure to file may result in fees and penalties. For more information on protecting identities, visit BBB News & Events. To report phishing or tax-related identity theft, visit irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Be A Financial Fool This April

BBB Helps Consumers during Financial Literacy Month

 April 1, 2014 — Anchorage, Alaska — In March 2004, the United States Senate officially recognized April as Financial Literacy Month, in an effort to highlight the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy financial habits and outline the serious consequences that may be associated with a lack of understanding.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington wants consumers to be financially “in the know.”  During the month of April, follow BBB on Facebook for daily financial tips about earning, saving, protecting assets, spending and borrowing.

Additional resources are available from the Financial Literacy and Education Commission and Better Business Bureau.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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BBB Honored as a Top Workplace

Better Business Bureau Named 2014 “Top Place to Work” by Business Examiner

Anchorage, Alaska — March 27, 2014 — Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington has been named a Top Place to Work in the “non-profit” category by Business Examiner for 2014.

The award recognizes outstanding company cultures that embody five core categories: employee appreciation, equity, gratification, integrity and solidarity.

“We are humbled and grateful to be this year’s recipient,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “Our employees are the lifeblood of this organization; their passion and vision is evident in what we do every day.”

Winners of the “Top Places to Work” awards were determined by an independent panel of judges consisting of HR and business professionals from the local community. The awards were announced Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Tacoma, Wash., in front of more than 250 attendees. BBB was one of 26 finalists in the South Sound.

BBB would like to congratulate the other recipients and nominees; any organization that creates an outstanding company culture is a top place to work.

To see BBB’s entry for Top Places to Work click here for the full video.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Coin Company Accused of Cashing in Without Delivering

Anchorage, Alaska — March 13, 2014 — More than two dozen people have contacted Better Business Bureau to complain about Blue Moon Coins out of Vancouver, Wash., after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. The company, which sells wholesale precious metals and coins, has earned an “F” rating with Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington after failing to respond to six complaints.

Customers allege that after placing orders, the products do not arrive; the company has racked up 25 complaints nationwide within the last three years including 19 serious ones. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office says it has 16 complaints against the business from 2013 to 2014

One customer says he lost $168,000 after placing an order with Blue Moon Coins in September 2013. After months of attempted contact, the man tells BBB that he still has not been able to reach the company or receive a refund.

A Washington State customer tells BBB that he purchased $6,000 in merchandise from Blue Moon Coins in early January 2014, but when trying to cancel the order, he claims the company never responded. He now wants to warn other potential customers before they do business. “I want the public to know, so someone else doesn’t get caught in this trap,” he says. 

The BBB accreditation of Blue Moon Coins was revoked in December 2013 after the business failed to comply with the BBB Code of Business Practices.

BBB is concerned about the serious nature of these complaints and reminds consumers to properly research companies at bbb.org before making purchases.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Prepaid Debit Cards are Easy Money for Scammers

Anchorage, Alaska – March 3, 2014 – According to Better Business Bureau reports, consumers across Alaska are being scammed out of hundreds of dollars with prepaid money cards. These cards offer many conveniences, but create easy opportunities for scammers; consumers should be aware of the dangers associated with prepaid cards.

In February 2014, BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington received information from a woman who claims to have been ripped off by an elaborate Green Dot MoneyPak scheme. The woman reports that a person called her home stating that her son was eligible for a $7,500 education scholarship. The caller directed the woman to load a Green Dot MoneyPak card with $200—to pay the “processing fees”—and call back. After giving the caller the prepaid card number, she was instructed to wait for further instructions. However, the caller never followed up about the scholarship and the funds were drained from the card.

Green Dot MoneyPak cards can be advantageous when utilized for the right purposes, but crooks prefer these cards because of the anonymity and how easy it is to make transfers: Once they have the 14-digit card number, they’re as good as gone.

BBB offers advice on avoiding prepaid card scams:
·     Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment—for any reason.
·     Never give out personal or financial information to unsolicited callers or emailers.
·     Never wire money or provide debit, credit or prepaid card numbers to persons unknown.

Remember, anyone with the number from the back of a prepaid debit card has access to the funds on that card. Green Dot reminds people that it is not responsible for lost funds and offers additional resources at moneypak.com/ProtectYourMoney.

 Note: Utility companies and government agencies will never demand immediate payment by prepaid debit.

For more information or to report a scam, visit BBB’s Scam Source.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is one of 113 in North America and the largest BBB by geographical service area. BBB is a neutral not-for-profit public reporting agency committed to trust in the marketplace. For more information on ethical business standards and BBB Accreditation, or to access free BBB Business Reviews, Charity Reviews, scam alerts or find local event information, contact BBB or visit bbb.org.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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BBB’s High School Scholarship Deadline Approaches

Anchorage, Alaska – Feb. 12, 2014 – In 2014, Better Business Bureau will make it easier for six students to attend college. Through BBB Foundation, one $1,000 scholarship and one $1,500 scholarship will be awarded in each of the states the organization serves: Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.

The Students of Integrity Scholarship is designed to support students who recognize the importance of ethical and responsible marketplace practices. To download the application and determine eligibility requirements, please visit akorww.bbb.org/scholarship.

Deadline: Applications must be postmarked by March 1, 2014. Incomplete applications or those postmarked after this date will not be considered.

Celebrate: Winners will be announced in April 2014. Winners’ names and schools may be released to the public and/or news media for promotional purposes. Non-winners will be notified via email by BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington after the winners have been contacted.

For more information on the 2014 Students of Integrity Scholarships, please email bbbfoundation@thebbb.org.

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Tax Season Brings Out Identity Thieves

Anchorage, Alaska — Jan. 14, 2014 — Thousands of Alaskans are eligible to receive refunds from Uncle Sam in 2014, and it’s not just Certified Public Accountants that will be busy; tax season is primetime for identity thieves. With all of the personal information contained in tax documents, cons will try every trick in the book to obtain these documents in order to get Social Security numbers and intercept refunds.

To help consumers understand the risks of tax-related identity theft, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is teaming up with the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, Jan. 13 – 17, 2014.

According to the IRS, nearly 1,500 tax identity theft related criminal investigations were launched in 2013—an increase of 66 percent from 2012. To protect Americans, the IRS, FTC and BBB have expanded efforts to educate taxpayers and help victims.

Avoid becoming a victim of tax identity theft:

  • File tax returns early.
  • Don’t leave W-2s in unsecure locations like offices or cars; shred copies of leftover tax information, drafts, or calculation sheets that are no longer needed.
  • Use secure Internet connections when filing electronically, or mail tax returns directly from the post office.
  • Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
  • Never disclose Social Security numbers—SSNs—or other sensitive personal information over the phone to unsolicited callers.
  • Thoroughly research tax preparers at bbb.org to find ones that are local and accredited.

If personal information is compromised, take immediate proactive steps to recover:

Remember, the Internal Revenue Service will never initiate contact by email, text or social media; if information is needed, the organization will make contact and clearly verify the identities of contactors.

For more information on identity theft and additional tips on how to combat scams, check out the BBB News Center and the FTC’s Identity Theft Guide.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Get Tackled by Counterfeit Sellers

BBB Warns of Phony Merchandise Leading Up To the NFL Playoffs

Anchorage, Alaska — Jan. 8, 2014 — As the 12th Man prepares for the Seattle Seahawks’ first playoff game, cons are preparing to line their pockets with the sales of knockoff NFL memorabilia as well. Better Business Bureau reminds fans that counterfeit gear may be inexpensive, but the value and quality is often poor and purchases divert funds away from legitimate organizations.

“This is going to be one of the most highly-anticipated games in Seattle this year,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “But with every major sporting event there’s going to be scammers ready to capitalize on fans’ desires to snap up team jerseys and souvenirs.”

According to the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, counterfeiting is one of the fastest growing economic crimes and accounts for nearly six percent of global trade, worth an estimated $600 billion a year. With large fan bases and recognizable logos, American football franchises are prime targets; in fact, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Operation Red Zone seized $17.3 million in fake NFL merchandise in the months leading up to the Super Bowl in 2013.

Before kickoff, BBB encourages fans to stay on the defense:

  • Look for ripped tags or irregular markings on apparel.
  • Beware of large price discrepancies; if prices seem too good to be true, products are most likely fake. However, understand that many unscrupulous sellers will try to legitimize their merchandise with higher price points.
  • Avoid pop-up street vendors, flea markets, online auctions and other questionable sources.
  • Exercise caution when shopping online.
  • Buy merchandise from official team stores and authorized retailers when possible.

Keep in mind, team names and logos are copyrights of the National Football League. NFL Properties LLC issues merchandise licenses to persons or businesses wishing to make and sell products with NFL copyrights. To find out more, call the NFL Licensing Hotline at 212-450-2780 and always check out businesses at bbb.org.

 

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

 

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Intercept Fakes Before It’s Too Late

BBB Warns of Bogus Seahawks Tickets

Anchorage, Alaska – Jan 6, 2014 – The road to Super Bowl XLVII will wind through Seattle in 2014, and fall right into Better Business Bureau’s backyard. Ticket resellers are already busy swinging deals—like $14,000 tickets—with anyone willing to buy seats for the big game. But before making massive purchases, BBB warns fans to guard against blitzing scammers.

“CenturyLink will be sold out, so anyone wanting tickets can expect to pay a fortune,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “Be extremely careful when purchasing tickets from third-party sellers and remember that great last-minute deals could turn out too-good-to-be-true.”

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, ticket seekers will be “rushing” online classifieds in hopes of finding private dealers willing to sell off valuable tickets. However, BBB reminds consumers to stick with their playbooks:

Spot the fakes. Learn how real tickets look and feel; watch for flimsy paper, smeared ink and uneven margins. When in doubt, walk away.

Go with star players. Use reliable and verifiable ticket sellers and resellers that hold vendors responsible for ticket authenticity.

Avoid the sack. Never wire funds to make purchases. Use credit cards online and dispute the charges if tickets don’t arrive or turn out to be fakes.

Call a timeout. Avoid sellers that fail to provide contact information or prefer to conduct transactions privately. When buying tickets from local sellers, meet them in well-lit public places and bring a friend.

Check bbb.org and don’t be left cheering alone this postseason.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Prepaid Presents Present Problems

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec. 22, 2013 – Gift cards are practical for the people who “have everything,” allowing them to make their own purchases and avoid trips to stores to return ugly sweaters. The convenience of a universal gift is appealing and Better Business Bureau reminds consumers to develop safe gift card giving habits.

Shoppers will spend nearly $118 billion on gift cards in 2013 and six in ten Americans indicate that they would like to receive these items as holiday gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. As gift card giving increases, so does the prevalence of gift card scams:

  • Digital Gift Card Theft: Cybercriminals pose as retailers to phish for virtual gift card information and clean out balances.
  • Physical Gift Card Theft: Thieves visit stores, collect gift card information and continue to check card numbers until they are purchased and activated, immediately using all of the funds.
  • Fake Secondhand Gift Cards: Scammers post gift cards to online auctions or classified sites and offer discounted prices on counterfeit or already-used cards.

When shopping for gift cards, BBB offers practical advice:

  • Avoid buying gift cards online. Only purchase cards directly from the issuing stores, no matter how much cheaper they may be elsewhere.
  • Examine cards carefully. Thoroughly inspect cards and do not buy them if they look like they may have been altered.
  • Bypass public display racks. Don’t buy gift cards off publicly-displayed racks in retail stores; but, do not assume that because gift cards are inaccessible to the public, they are safe.
  • Ask cashiers to scan and verify cards. Have gift cards scanned and activated at checkout and have cashiers verify balances before leaving stores.
  • Keep receipts. Many retailers can track where cards are purchased, activated and used and may be able to replace stolen cards with the proper proof of purchase.

It is estimated that more than $1 billion in gift cards go unredeemed annually. Remember, legislation passed in 2010 states that money on prepaid cards cannot expire for at least five years—even if expiration periods are shorter; make sure to read the fine print on all cards before making purchases. Learn more about consumer gift card rights from the Federal Trade Commission and BBB.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Data Breach of National Retail Store Exposes 40 Million Accounts

Anchorage,  Alaska – Dec.  19, 2013 – On Dec. 19, 2013, Target Corporation announced that it experienced a massive data breach, exposing approximately 40 million customer accounts. Better Business Bureau advises consumers to not panic and take proactive steps in protecting personal information.

The national retail chain—which operates more than 1,600 stores in 48 states—confirmed that the unauthorized access may impact guests who made credit or debit card purchases in U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. Read the official statement here.

Shoppers that may be affected should understand that they are not liable for fraudulent charges.

  • Continue to monitor credit and bank statements; go online to verify account information and do not wait for paper statements. Target is in the process of notifying banks and credit providers.
  • Immediately report unauthorized charges and place a credit freeze on any compromised accounts.
  • Keep all receipts handy in case charges need to be substantiated.

Scammers will likely take advantage of this high-profile public data breach to phish for personal information. Over the next few weeks, be extremely wary of unsolicited emails or phone calls from purported financial institutions. Do not click on links, download attachments or provide information—like Social Security numbers—to contactors.

Business Owners:  Make sure that customer information is being protected. Check out BBB’s Data Security – Made Simpler free guide for businesses at bbb.org/data-security.

All Americans are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus; the only official source for these reports is at annualcreditreport.com. Visit akorww.bbb.org for the latest consumer alerts.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Sweeten the Pot by Giving Wisely

BBB Offers Holiday Donating Advice

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec 16, 2013 –Thousands of generous Alaskans will open hearts and wallets this holiday season, opening themselves up to scammers in the process.  Cons are employing all sorts of tactics to weasel money away from unsuspecting consumers and Better Business Bureau reminds donors to give wisely.

“This is the time of year when people feel compelled with holiday spirit to reach out and help those less fortunate,” says Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. “But donations can easily end up in the wrong hands if donors aren’t careful.”

  • Find a fit. Locate charities that meet specific needs and research how donations will be used; don’t settle for just any charity.
  • Know the organizations. Check out charities at bbb.org/charity before cutting checks; beware of fly-by-night operations with names that are similar to legitimate charities.
  • Donate directly. Confirm the legitimacy of charities by calling and donating using verified channels; avoid clicking on email links or giving in to phone solicitors.
  • Maintain paper trails. Avoid wiring money out of the country; make donations payable to organizations—never individuals—and always request receipts.
  • Secure identities. Never share banking or credit card information with unknown or unexpected solicitors.

The Mobile Giving Foundation gives wireless users safe opportunities to find trustworthy charities where they can make contributions using cellular phones.

Many charities count on end-of-year giving to sustain core programs, making an effort to reduce charity fraud increases donor confidence and directly impacts local communities. Visit the BBB Scam Stopper and give.org for more holiday tips.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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Don’t Toy With Safety

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec. 12, 2013 – The holidays are quickly approaching and shoppers will be rushing to purchase and ship last minute gifts. At the top of many lists are the latest toys and electronics for kids. According to the National Retail Federation, 44 percent of shoppers plan to buy toys and 33 percent plan to buy electronics to give as holiday gifts in 2013. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington urges consumers to purchase with care when considering gifts for children.

181,000 children under the age of 12 were taken to emergency rooms across the country in 2012 with toy-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many of these injuries could have been prevented with a few simple proactive steps:

1)    Check the most current list of recalled products at cpsc.gov/en/Recalls.

2)    Make sure that toys are age-appropriate.

3)    Read and adhere to packaging labels.

For the first time ever, a recent NRF survey found that tablets and game consoles are among the most-requested gifts by both girls and boys.

1)    Check the Electronic Software Rating Board’s rating of video games, software and apps at esrb.org/ratings before making purchases.

2)    Avoid extended warranties, which are expensive and rarely worth the cost.

3)    Adults should register devices for children and explain the dangers of giving out personal information to strangers.

With hundreds of millions of packages expected to be sent between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s important to remember the appropriate shipping deadlines for getting gifts under trees on time:

Issues with toys and electronics are not new, read the Toys and Tech: Shopping Advice article in BBB’s News Center for more information.

Happy holidays from BBB; may the desired gifts be in stock and on sale.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

 

 

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Avoid “Whining” and Dining This Holiday Season

BBB Offers Tips for Hiring Holiday Caterers

Anchorage, Alaska — Dec. 10, 2013 — Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the cooking, but there are a few things to keep in mind before hiring holiday party caterers. Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington wants hosts to throw memorable gatherings without any hassles.

Decide what is needed. Some caterers provide full-service options—where decorations, table settings and lighting is provided—and others only provide food. Determine the desired services and budget accordingly.

Start with Trust. Begin the hiring process by browsing BBB Accredited catering services at bbb.org and using the Request a Quote feature to collect estimates.  Make sure to check BBB Business Reviews for complaint details.

Gather names. Arrange meetings with organizers during the planning stages to ensure good working relationships; also, find out who will be in charge during events in case there are problems.

Get everything in writing. Written contracts should include total prices of service, the costs per guest and lists of specific menu items—including beverages and any alternatives, if applicable. Contracts should clearly outline dates and times of delivery and set up or teardown fees.

Talk about conditions and agreements. Make sure that terms and conditions of deposits and refunds are understood and how they will change if original plans are altered. Agreements should itemize the number of staff involved, charges for overtime and the start and end time of events.

While caterers tend to receive fewer BBB complaints, it’s important to research food service providers to confirm they’re properly licensed and free from serious complaints.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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The Benefits and Dangers of Digital Receipts

Retailers Seek to Entice Customers with Convenient Payment Options

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec. 6, 2013 – With the probable demise of physical cash in the near future, many retailers—large and small—are adopting point-of-sale solutions to accommodate the increasing use of debit and credit. The ease of implementation, gentle learning curve and competitive fees are making smartphone and tablet-based POS options extremely popular. However, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is reminding shoppers to understand the benefits and dangers of mobile payments.

The Benefits

  • Only one card needs to be taken along on shopping sprees; carrying large amounts of cash for purchases is impractical and poses theft risks.
  • Charges made with debit or credit cards offer built-in protections like zero or limited liability.
  • Significant amounts of paper are saved with the use of digital receipts.
  • Small vendors can now accept small non-cash payments anywhere, without the costs previously associated with this convenience.

The Dangers

  • Since payments are typically processed on mobile devices which are not connected to printers, digital receipts are often emailed to customers; but, if email addresses are incorrect or spam filters are overly-aggressive, records of transactions may be lost, making it difficult to return or exchange merchandise.
  • Phishing emails with fake receipts can get mixed in with legitimate digital receipts and pose identity theft risks.
  • Once companies have email addresses and other personal information, they may be sold to third parties or used to blast “promotional” offers.

Always ask how personal information will be used and consider creating a second email address that will only be used for digital receipts. Also, it is always a good idea to make sure that digital receipts have arrived to inboxes before leaving stores; ask for handwritten copies if necessary.

Visit the BBB News Center for more smart shopping advice.

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BBB’s 12 Scams of Christmas

Anchorage, Alaska – Dec. 4, 2013 – Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns about common holiday scams and frauds:

1)      Malware E-cards: Viruses and malware often travel in fraudulent holiday email cards. Don’t click on links or download attachments in unsolicited emails.

2)      Stranded Grandkids: It’s the classic grandparent scam—verify identities before wiring money out of the country.

3)      Counterfeit Gifts: Low prices on luxury goods almost always mean cheap counterfeits; purchase products from legitimate retailers and avoid too-good-to-be-true prices.

4)      Pickpockets: Keep purses and wallets secure when shopping and avoid setting down bags while waiting in lines.

5)      Stolen Gift Cards: Only purchase gift cards from reputable dealers, not online or from individuals to avoid common gift card frauds.

6)      Fake Coupons: Be cautious when downloading digital coupons and be wary of sites that require personal information.

7)      Santa Scammers: What could be more jolly than a letter from Santa addressed directly to your child? Make sure sites are real and not gathering data for identity theft purposes.

8)      Fake Charities: Charities count on end-of-the-year giving, but be careful of scammers that set up fake charities with similar sounding names.

9)      Bogus Websites: It’s easy to mimic real websites. Navigate to legitimate retailers through verified channels.

10)   Travel Scams: With busy holiday travel, bargains may be tempting. Be cautious when booking through online ads and never wire money to persons unknown.

11)   Romance Scams: Everyone wants a special someone under the mistletoe, so holidays are a prime time for scams. Be careful with online sweethearts who get cozy too fast or ask for money.

12)   Puppy Scams: Be very careful buying pets online, especially at the holidays.

It’s not just Santa that’s watching this time of year, scammers and thieves are too. Check with BBB for tips and advice on all kinds of holiday shopping.

Don’t be a Scrooge; visit BBB’s News Center year-round for updates on local scams.

Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager: 907-644-5208 | pr@thebbb.org
David Quinlan, Senior Director of Public Relations: 206-676-4119

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