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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana
BBB Weekly Tips You Can Trust for Week of June 30, 2008
June 30, 2008

Compiled by Zan Deery, Communications/Investigations

06/30/08

zan@spokane.bbb.org
800-356-1007 or 509-455-4200

www.bbb.org

Readers of these tips should take into consideration the importance of the practice in question and the total performance of a company.

For complete information and BBB reports, please visit
 
www.bb.org 

TIP NUMBER ONE

TWO RESURFACING SCAMS ON BBB RADAR:
Jury Duty Scam Calls & Fake Checks from Secret Shopping Opportunities being Mailed

JURY DUTY SCAM CALLS Warning from FBI

Here’s how this scam works thanks to the FBI web site at www.fbi.gov :

The phone rings, you pick it up, and the caller identifies himself as an officer of the court. He says you failed to report for jury duty and that a warrant is out for your arrest. You say you never received a notice. To clear it up, the caller says he'll need some information for "verification purposes"-your birth date, social security number, maybe even a credit card number.

This is when you should hang up the phone. It's a scam.

The jury scam is a simple variation of the identity-theft ploys that have proliferated in recent years as personal information and good credit have become thieves' preferred prey, particularly on the Internet. Scammers might tap your information to make a purchase on your credit card, but could just as easily sell your information to the highest bidder on the Internet's black market.

Protecting yourself is the key: Never give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited phone call.

FAKE CHECKS SENT BY SECRET SHOPPING SCAMS

Since 2006, secret shopper scams took on a new twist, jumping on the bandwagon of “fake check scams” by boldly and aggressively placing fake checks in with random mailings (or responses to your inquiries if you risk inquiring with one of these groups).
 
Our BBB staff states that these scams continue to target people in our service area, and a week doesn’t go by when BBB doesn’t receive phone calls from unsusceptible consumers receiving what look like legitimate checks in the mail for anywhere up to $4,000 as an “incentive” to get out there and shop and make money by becoming a secret shopper. Well, don’t believe this type of offer. The checks are fake, and if you attempt to cash them, you are 100% liable for whatever you cash and spend, or wire out of country.

TIPS FROM SNOPES.COM and BBB on How to Avoid Falling Victim to 'Secret Shopper' Scams:

1. Remember that anyone can place a newspaper or online ad. Do not confuse the appearance of such solicitations in reputable forums with proof of the offers having been vetted by those publications or job search services.

2. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by official-sounding corporate names. Some scam artists operate under business names that can be confused with those of long-standing, reputable firms. Others choose impressive-sounding evocative names that roll satisfyingly off the tongue. In both instances, they count on their pigeons being mollified by the sound of the name rather than inspired to research the company on their own.

3. Don't pay a company to hire you, not even if such payment is presented as your buying necessary training materials, obtaining required certification, or registering with databases of available mystery shoppers. Remember, if the process involves your sending your "employers" money, it's probably a scam.

4. Be wary of companies that ask you to disburse money from your own pocket for the goods you buy as their secret shopper. While some legitimate mystery shopper companies do operate in this fashion (with their employees submitting receipts for what they bought along with their reports, then being reimbursed in full), the more prudent aspiring secret shoppers will tread carefully in this regard at least for the first few transactions, rather than plunge in wildly and make large purchases with their own cash.

5. Do not wire money to strangers or to firms that have supposedly hired you. Use entities such as Western Union and MoneyGram only when you know the person who will be receiving your cash very, very well. Remember, that while a charge made against a credit card can be disputed and a check can have a stop- payment order issued against it, once cash is out the door, it is gone forever. Since wiring money is sending cash, treat it that way.

6. If you have questions about the legitimacy of a job listing, contact BBB at: 455-4200 or 800-356-1007. And if you have fallen victim of this scam, file formal complaints with your BBB, regional FBI office, and the Federal Trade Commission.

TIP NUMBER TWO
PEST CONTROL SEASON IS ON: Hiring a Reputable Agent

The Better Business Bureau recommends consumers consider the following tips when choosing a pest management company:

• Obtain at least three estimates from reputable professionals.
• Check with a state pesticide agency or Better Business Bureau and make certain that the company meets state and local regulations.
•  Learn the qualifications of your technicians, and find out if the company belongs to a professional pest control industry association.
• Ask for a written inspection report, with an itemization of charges if a pest treatment is recommended. Also get a written guarantee for the service.
•  Check references from local customers, when possible.
• Ask the salesperson to show proof on paper that the company carries general liability insurance, including insurance for property damage. You may also want to ask if it carries workmen’s compensation insurance.
• Make sure each company thoroughly inspects your home prior to submitting a proposal for treatment and a cost estimate.

TIP NUMBER THREE

NATIONAL GRANT WRITING AUTHORITY of NV:
Targeting Small Businesses with Questionable Grant Pitches

National Grant Writing Authority, LLC
6094 S. Sandhill Road, Suite #400
Las Vegas, NV  89120
866-629-4371
Fax: 866-595-6917

A small business owner contacted the BBB to inquire about the above mentioned firm that cold called him offering their “grant writing” services. The small business said that the paperwork they sent him did not really match the pitch they verbally made to him over the phone. The biggest concern the potential business had was how the representative told him verbally that he “qualified” for a grant for a certain amount, yet when the paperwork was sent, it reflects that the group is merely a “grant writing” service, and they require an upfront, non-refundable fee of $7,900 to “attempt” to secure you a grant.

While there are such things as grant writing services out there, no one can guarantee you a grant, yet charge you an upfront fee for services without first proving that they have secured the grant for you.

Red flags of this offer are:

1) The company rep stated to the local business on the phone that they are “with the BBB” when they are not. Looking at their paperwork, they are telling customers to “look at the BBB report on us.” BBB maintains reports on thousands of accredited AND non-accredited businesses in our service areas. This does not mean to show that a business is “with” the BBB. If a business is accredited, it will say so in the BBB report. We find both these selling tactics to be deceptive.

2) The company charges an upfront non-refundable retainer fee of $7,900 for 12 months of “service”---aka working to secure a grant for you. Half this amount is required at beginning of services, and the other half down once they’ve retained $100,000 of the grant.

3) Their paperwork does state that they do NOT guarantee a grant. However, they have language in their promotional materials as well as their verbal pitches that states that you “qualify” for a grant for a certain amount of money…making it seem as though they can possibly secure you a grant…and that there is grant money available for you. The business said that the company tells you they have money for you…in one way or another.

4) The business stated that this “grant writing” LLC stated that he could pay employee wages with a grant they secure for him. Most “small business” grants restrict their use, and don’t allow you to pay employee wages with grant funds.

5) They state that they are NOT federally affiliated—BUT state here and there that they can try to get you a federal grant…

6)  The BBB left a message for the company’s manager to get back to it regarding these concerns, and we did hear from the manager’s assistant, who said someone would get back to BBB. He stated that he didn’t have any answers to our questions about the company he represented.

BBB Advises: Small business owners should be extremely cautious when providing bank account numbers and insist on reviewing all details of any offer before making a buying decision and signing a contract. Prior to entering into an agreement, small owners can always check out a potential creditor, partner or vendor’s reliability report with BBB. BBB Reliability Reports are free and available online at www.bbb.org.

Business owners can research free information on government grant programs at the U.S. government Web site, www.grants.gov. If a company does qualify for a grant of some type, the U.S. government does not request payment as part of the application review or grant award process.

TIP NUMBER FOUR

National Healthcare Association aka Healthcare Solutions of NE has Unsatisfactory BBB Report: Sending Faxes to MT Businesses, Offering Healthcare

National Healthcare Association aka Healthcare Solutions
3122 South Minnesota Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
(888) 229-8054

This company is faxing offers of healthcare coverage to Montana businesses. Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the BBB due to two or more unresolved complaints. The Better Business Bureau urges caution regarding doing business with National Healthcare Association.

According to complaints received by the BBB, consumers were solicited by fax advertising healthcare rate plans with no annual deductibles, nationwide PPO network of doctors and $25 doctor visits.

Consumers allege that after providing personal identity information such as social security number and bank account or credit card information, this company charges between $324 and $424 by automatic withdrawal. Consumers claim to never receive any documentation regarding their 'healthcare coverage,' and to be treated rudely by National Healthcare representatives when this has been brought to their attention.

The BBB has found that the address confirmed by this company as their correct address is not recognized by the U.S. Postal Service.

Per BBB communication with Beech Street Corporation (including Best Care) is in no way contracted, affiliated or associated with National Healthcare Association. Beech Street advises that if you should receive or have received any materials by fax, mail or email from this entity purporting to represent or otherwise doing business with Beech Street Corporation, please contact your state Insurance Department and Beech Street Corporation at 800-233.2478.

BBB TIPS

As always, if you did not initiate a call regarding your business’ healthcare insurance, no matter what type of coverage it is, do not give out or confirm any of your personal information. If you are looking at switching or improving your business’ healthcare coverage, go with a legitimate healthcare insurance agency, and do your own research. Start With Trust by searching at: www.bbb.org for reputable professionals in this industry who are accredited with the BBB.

TIP NUMBER FIVE

LATEST SWEEPSTAKES AND CONTEST WARNINGS:
Uniqa Finance and Trust Services of Chambly, QC and
Gold Card Registry (GCR) of Miami, FL
 
Uniqa Finance and Trust Services
204-3343 Fallowfield Rd., Chambly, QC  J5T 2J8
514-659-2315

This cross-border sweepstakes scam is sending fake checks in the mail. Don’t believe this mailing. Don’t respond to any out of country sweepstakes offer. It is illegal to play any foreign lotteries if you are a US citizen. Protect your personal information from such scams and don’t try to cash the check they send, or you are 100% liable for any of it you spend, including what you may be required to wire!

Gold Card Registry (GCR) of Miami, FL
PO Box 521750, Miami, FL  33152-1750

This company is sending prize promotion mailings nationwide that say boldly up top: NOTICE OF PENDING CASH AWARD. FINAL: Respond NOW or Delivery Will be Cancelled. The mailing further states: “Your Status has Been Computer-Verified for Official Delivery Regarding Confirmed $3,495,000 Cash Award Payout.”

What is most outrageous about this mailing is that they request a “SECURE THUMBPRINT AUTHORIZATION,” and go so far as to provide a black ink strip for you to secure your thumbprint at the bottom of this mailing before sending it back to them.

BBB ADVICE: This company has an “F” rating with the Miami BBB. We STRONGLY urge you to think twice about responding to this mailing. Don’t ever send anybody you don’t know and haven’t confirmed copies of your fingerprints, thumb or otherwise!

EXTRA TIP FOR THE WEEK: “Dear Beloved” SPAM Email

Have you received this or letters like this in your INBOX?

Dear Beloved

I am Maria Foreman, suffering from cancer ailment.I am married to Engineer Alex Foreman an English man who is dead. My husband was into private practice all his life before his death. Our life together as man and wife lasted for three decades without a child.My husband died after a protracted illness. My husband and I made a vow to uplift the down-trodden and the less-privileged individuals as he had passion for persons who can not help themselves due to physical disability or financial predicament.

I can adduce this to the fact that he needed a Child from this relationship, which never came.When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of 4.8 Million Great Britain Pounds Sterling which were derived from his vast estates and investment in capital market with his bank here in UK.Presently, this money is still with the Bank.I have decided to donate this fund to you and want you to use this gift which comes from my husbands effort to fund the upkeep of widows, widowers, orphans,destitute, the down- trodden,physically challenged children, barren-women and persons who prove to be genuinely handicapped financially.It is often said that blessed is the hand that gives.

I got your information during a discreet search in the internet for someone to help me.I took this decision because I do not have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy persons and I  do not want my husbands hard earned money to be misused or invested into ill perceived ventures.Please assure me that you will act just as I have stated herein.If you can give me this assistance,you can then contact my lawyer who will assist you by providing all relevant information of the Bank.He will give you more  details. His name is Terry Smith and his email address is:(terrysmith_esq@yahoo.com.hk <http://us.mc572.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=terrysmith_esq@yahoo.com.hk> ) He would put you through receiving the funds.

Regards
Mrs. Maria Foreman

BBB ADVICE: Don’t believe it. People ask BBB, why do scammers continue to send such nonsense? The answer is sad, but true, because people continue to fall for such letters. Don’t be a victim! Delete them and forget about them, and protect your personal and sensitive information.