BBB Twice a Month Tips You Can Trust for the Week August 23, 2010

August 23, 2010


Compiled by Zan Deery, Communications/Investigations

For the Week of 8/23/10 800-356-1007 or 509-455-4200

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

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We’ve heard of this type of scam targeting grandparents, where a grandparent is randomly called by a supposed grandchild pleading for funds to get freed from jail, only to find that the call is a fake one, and all the scammer wants is for them to part with their money by wiring it for “bail.” Here is a past regional BBB warning on this activity:

Well, the same scam activity is now being used to purport scams against military personnel and their families. Here is a latest story explaining how the scenario works from


BBB Partner Alert with Tulsa BBB:

INTERNATIONAL EVENT COORDINATORS of Tulsa, OK and RESORT ESCROW EXCHANGE of Liberty Lake, WA Working in Tandem on Timeshare Rental Scheme

International Event Coordinators
Wood Land Hills
7021 S. Memorial Drive
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 74133-2025

Resort Escrow Exchange
2310 N. Molter Road
Liberty Lake, WA 99019

BBB is receiving information from caller(s) claiming International Events Coordinators (IEC) of Tulsa, OK has contacted them about the rental or purchase of their timeshare. When one timeshare owner asked IEC how his contact information was obtained he was told it was given to IEC from the group that owns his timeshare condo.

According to callers, IEC offers to rent the consumer's timeshare for a "too good to be true" price. The company then requires timeshare owner to set up escrow with their escrow company only, Resort Escrow Exchange of Liberty Lake, WA, and to deposit money in escrow to secure the rental payments. This escrow group also requires you to authorize them to charge your credit card to wire funds. The agreement paperwork for this transfer is merely designated to a "To Whom It May Concern," a huge red flag.

Full story here:


FTC AND BBB WARN: What’s Badge Fraud?

What is badge fraud? Bogus fundraising purportedly on behalf of police, firefighters, and vets in your region – is an issue the FTC has tackled as recently as a few months ago. In particular, this New Jersey company -- wound up with an $18.8 million civil penalty for these types of activities.


Know how to be a wise donor, especially in these cases. BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance offers up the following tips on such solicitations:

If someone approaches you to donate, do research and ask what percentage of the funds you are donating are going to go to the charity’s program, itself.



If You Currently Have a House or Apartment Listed Online for Sale or Rent, Pay Attention!

BBB wishes to warn everyone about two types of Craigslist rental scams currently circulating. In both variations of this scam, the scammers have found or lifted information concerning real rentals for rent or houses for sale from legitimately posted opportunities, and are using that info to purport their own scams via fake Craigslist postings. One rental scam is where actual people show up:

The other version is one where the “victim” doesn’t know that their place (that is actually for sale via a legitimate realtor) is for sale on Craigslist! Scammers hijack the profile of legitimate houses for sale from legitimate real estate listings, and use it to purport their scam, falsely negotiating such things as personal info and deposits, etc. via wire transfer, where the scammers can’t be traced and the money wired can’t be returned and is lost forever.

Here is a recent scenario regarding a Spokane elderly woman, who has her house up for sale:

An elderly woman reported to local law enforcement that she has her house up for sale because she had to move into a retirement home. She was contacted by someone who said they had seen her house for rent on Craigslist. She thought her realtor was trying to dupe her, so she made a report to area detectives.

The detective taking her report found the fake “house for rent” ad on Craigslist and emailed the person (using a fake email address) about wanting to see the house in the next week.

In the response, the detective found that the suspect was from South Africa and was phishing for peoples’ info. The scammer obtained property info, the owner’s info, and property pictures from the legitimate Internet listing for the home in order to create a fake email address with the elderly woman’s name in it. The Craigslist post was complete with pictures.


This reminds us a bit of the obituary scams, where scammers look up those who have died in classified sections, and contact the people who are grieving to attempt various pitches to get them to part with their money in their time of sorrow.

If you run into a tip off that something posted online using your info is not legitimate, make a police report ASAP so you begin a paper trail, in case other matters come up. Alert the posting agency (such as Craigslist) to remove the fake ad ASAP. Also, alert your real estate group ASAP about such fakery. You can also file a formal complaint online with the FBI at:

TIP NUMBER FIVE Operating Online Scam Using Pullman, WA “Drop Location” Only

Online Purchases Require Use of GreenDot MoneyPaks
Inquiries: (888) 479-2666 ext 1
Payment & Shipping: (509) 592-4546

This above-mentioned group has been deemed a scam by BBB after it received a number of inquiries into its web site and did some research. We urge caution. The red flags BBB sees are:

*No known address for this company, only a “Pullman, WA location” stated on its web site.

*Web site is brand new, developed in July, 2010, and is privately registered.

*509# goes to voicemail only, and generically states, “The person you are trying to reach is not available…Leave a message after the beep…”

*BBB is unable to ascertain proper business registration in WA State for this group to be conducting business.

*BBB found a thread of comments online at regarding a similar scam that has been purported since April, 2010, which reveals that email communications coming from this Pullman, WA group matches scam emails sent by other scam groups upon inquiring with them about orders. That article is here:

*Company requires you to use GreenDot Money Paks to make payments. (Warning with more details about this method of payment below.)




Security Alarm Company has F rating with BBB

We heard last week from a caller in Post Falls who said this company is canvassing her neighborhood. She said she watched several reps get out of a big van this morning and start going door-to-door.

They’re an F-rated company out of Utah. Here is their report:

Just a heads-up to check 1st and do your research before agreeing to such a service.


BBB got a call from a Spokane woman who stated that she received a questionable call from a supposed “SAT Training” group called “Student Services,” pitching services. She stated to BBB that the caller was high pressure and didn’t want to take NO for an answer. She was unable to gain info about the group, that’s how bad the call was. This is the time when these groups will start targeting parents of young adults with this type of offer.


Here is a past warning your BBB posted about such calls:

New Credit Card Rules Limit Penalties, Rate Increases

New rules on credit card interest rate increases and penalty fees are mostly good news for consumers, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 mandated major changes for the credit card industry. Some changes occurred on Feb. 22. Another round took effect Aug. 22.

The new rules limit penalties for paying your bill late and eliminate fees for not using your card. They also prohibit credit card companies from charging you more than one fee for a single event or transaction that violates your cardholder agreement.

More information about the new credit card rules is available at the Federal Reserve Board’s website at

The BBB has a word to the wise: If you always pay your credit card on time, you won’t have to worry about penalty fees and your credit score will thank you.

For more advice on managing your credit, visit

As Business Loans Remain Out of Reach, Small Businesses in the U.S. Turn to Microloans

What’s a small business to do when a loan is sorely needed to diversify or purchase needed equipment, and conventional loans are in short supply? For many small businesses these days, the answer is to seek a microloan.

“Before the economic collapse, microfinance — the granting of very small loans, mostly to poor people — was a concept most closely associated with the developing world,” reports The New York Times. “But tight credit and the recession have increased the demand for smaller loans in the United States, giving microlending a higher profile and broadening its appeal.”

Microfinance programs in the U.S. generally lend $35,000 or less to small businesses with five or fewer employees, the article notes. Microlenders charge more than traditional banks, with interest rates ranging from 5 to 18 percent. In addition to the applicant’s credit score, microfinance programs consider “passion and commitment to the business”. Recipients may be required to take workshops on money management, marketing and business plans.

Read more:

Own Your Own Vending Machine Business with Planet Antares? Check Out the Business and the Claims

If you’re impressed by a personal invitation from Planet Antares to attend a conference in your community, understand that the company is offering opportunities to invest in vending machines. Planet Antares sells the machines and a location service to find a business where the machines can be placed.

Recently consumer reporter Dave Lieber received an invitation. But when he showed up at the meeting and took a photo of a vending machine, he was ID’d as a reporter and was escorted out.

Lieber searched for more information on the business and found, “The first site I checked, the Better Business Bureau, gives Planet Antares a B- rating with 40 complaints in the past three years. A summary said some distributors complained that the company misled them on the profit potential and the ability to place machines in profitable locations.”

Lieber learned a lot more online about Planet Antares, including a $1 million penalty in 1996 to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). He says the fine was for "misrepresenting, among other things, the potential earnings of prospective distributors and using shills as references." Lieber says “shills” are phony references who are paid to talk about the business.

Read more:


A new kind of scam is spreading involving health insurance fraud, and it's costing the unemployed thousands.

Fraudulent companies are trying to get consumers to buy discounted plans, promising cheap coverage which is comparable to reputable companies. They even go so far as to claim that any place that accepts Blue Cross or Blue Shield will accept these cards.

For an enrollment fee, consumers receive a realistic insurance card in the mail, usable at doctors, pharmacies, dentists, vision care centers. The fee can be up to $200, along with a monthly fee. Then when they need it most, they realize their coverage isn't what they thought. They might go to the doctor for an expensive procedure...only to find out, 'sorry, we don't carry this.

Consumers should be on the lookout for persistent robocalls with no option to ask questions and high pressure phone tactics. Also, scammers are targeting the unemployed and those with pre-existing conditions.

If you suspect a scammer is trying to get you, contact your BBB to report it.


Reader's Digest Sweepstakes: BBB Shows How to Check Legitimacy

"It's my lucky day!" may be the first response to a Reader's Digest Sweepstakes win notice. However, some consumers are realizing they are actually the "unlucky" recipients of a scam.

Better Business Bureau warns that fake Reader's Digest Sweepstakes have been circulating across the country for years. Consumers should be on the look out for one version that appears to have ties to Washington.

In a recent example BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington received, the letter has a fax number with a Washington area code and the envelope was postmarked in Seattle with no return address. However, the call-back number is from British Columbia, Canada.

To appear legitimate, fake letters sometimes use well known business logos or misuse BBB's Accredited Business logo to falsely imply BBB Accreditation.

The real Reader's Digest is a BBB Accredited Business and does have a real sweepstakes; however, scam artists frequently impersonate them.

How to check Reader's Digest Sweepstakes legitimacy:

  1. Visit the legitimate Reader's Digest Sweepstakes page at It currently states: "Winners receive an official notification letter in the mail from Ronald J. Leslie, Sweepstakes Director."
  2. Don't call the phone number on the notification; use a trusted Reader's Digest source. Their website shows the customer service number is 1-800-310-2181.
  3. Never forward money to receive sweepstakes winnings. Scams may ask for a credit card or bank account number, check, money order, wired money or other finances in order to pay for taxes, fees, shipping or other bogus reasons. In legitimate cases any fees would be taken out before winnings are received and taxes would be filed with tax returns to the IRS.

For more scam prevention tips, visit



30 BBB representatives from around the country (including two from your very own BBB!) took a train-the-trainer program on ethics at the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia last week. Those trained will return to their service area BBBs to implement what they’ve learned to offer similar ethics workshops to businesses, schools, associations and charities. The ethics training will also provide continuing-education credits for many accreditation programs requiring an ethics education component. More here about this dynamic training:

LATEST ADVANCE FEE LOAN SCAM: Benchmark Foundation of MI

The Better Business Bureau has received several complaints over the last few days from people across the country inquiring about a company identified as BENCHMARK FOUNDATION, allegedly located in Hartland, Michigan, and doing business online at Consumers are informing the BBB that they apply for a loan online then receive an approval notification for a secured loan anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $30,000.00. They are then asked to wire a down payment to Ontario, Canada in order to cover the first few monthly loan payments. Consumers complain that they are unable to contact BENCHMARK FOUNDATION after they have wired the money.

The Michigan Office of Financial & Insurance Services has informed the BBB that BENCHMARK FONDATION is not an active Michigan corporation and that it does not have a valid license to provide lending and financial services in Michigan. The address provided is reportedly non-existent and the BBB report is being revised to reflect the BBB’s current investigation.

Recent BBB investigations reveal an increase in bogus loan brokers who are impersonating legitimate lenders. They make illegal use of the names, logos and/or addresses of reputable financial institutions or organizations that have no affiliation or connection with the fraudulent operation.

Signs that the “Lender” is a Scammer

  • Pressures you to act immediately.
  • “Guaranteed” loans, even if you have bad credit, no credit or a bankruptcy.
  • Refuses to provide its street address location.
  • Demands that you wire or send money before you have a loan offer confirmed in writing.
  • Written communications contain typos and grammatical errors.
  • When you telephone, no one is ever “in”; your calls are not returned, or the voicemail box is always “full.”

Victims of bogus loan brokers are encouraged to file a complaint with the BBB ( While the chance of recovering the payment fee is minimal, victims can provide information to help BBBs warn consumers and assist government investigations.



Court Orders Internet Marketers of Acai Berry Weight-Loss Pills and 'Colon Cleansers' to Stop Deceptive Advertising and Unfair Billing Practices

Court Orders Internet Marketers of Acai Berry Weight-Loss Pills and 'Colon Cleansers' to Stop Deceptive Advertising ...


The Federal Trade Commission has permanently halted the operations of Canadian con artists who allegedly posed as domain name registrars and convinced thousands of U.S. consumers, small businesses and non-profit organizations to pay bogus bills by leading them to believe they would lose their Web site addresses unless they paid. Settlement and default judgment orders signed by the court will bar the deceptive practices in the future.


Patrick Reagan; John C. Shriner; The World Bikini Sports League, LLC (now known as The World Women’s Sports Association) S-09-464-10-SC01 – Statement of Charges

On July 20, 2010, the Securities Division entered a Statement of Charges and Notice of Intent to Enter Order to Cease and Desist, Impose Fines, and Recover Costs (“Statement of Charges”) against Patrick Reagan (“Reagan”); John C. Shriner (“Shriner”); and The World Bikini Sports League, LLC (“TWBSL”) (now known as The World Women’s Sports Association). TWBSL was a football league featuring women playing football in bikinis. The Statement of Charges alleges that Respondents offered and sold investments, in the form of membership units in TWBSL, to approximately fifteen Washington investors, raising approximately $228,500. The Statement of Charges further alleges that Respondents offered unregistered securities, acted as unregistered broker-dealers or securities salespersons, and violated the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of Washington. The Securities Division intends to order the Respondents to cease and desist from violating the Securities Act of Washington, and gave notice of its intent to impose a fine and charge costs. The Respondents have the right to request a hearing on the Statement of Charges.

Mike Watson Investments, LLC; Mike Watson Capital, LLC; Michael Watson; Joshua Escobedo –

S-09-426-10-FO01 – Final Order

On July 7, 2010, the Securities Division entered a Final Order against Mike Watson Investments, LLC; Mike Watson Capital, LLC; Michael Watson; and Joshua Escobedo (collectively, “Respondents”). The Securities Division previously entered a Statement of Charges and Notice of Intent to Enter Order to Cease and Desist, Impose Fines, and Charge Costs (“Statement of Charges”) against Respondents on May 10, 2010. The Statement of Charges alleged that Respondents offered and sold promissory notes issued by Mike Watson Capital, LLC to at least eight Washington investors, totaling at least $1,000,000 as part of an offering that raised $25 million from investors nationwide. The Statement of Charges further alleged violations of the Securities Act of Washington. Those violations included that Respondents offered unregistered securities, that Respondent Mike Watson Investments, LLC acted as an unregistered broker-dealer and that Respondents Michael Watson and Joshua Escobedo acted as unregistered securities salespersons, and that Respondents made misleading statements in connection with the sale of the securities. The Securities Division orders Respondents to cease and desist from violating the Securities Act of Washington and pay investigative costs in the amount of $2,000. The Securities Division further orders Respondents Mike Watson Investments, LLC; Mike Watson Capital, LLC; and Michael Watson to pay a fine of $30,000, and orders Respondent Joshua Escobedo to pay a fine of $10,000. Respondents have a right to request judicial review of the Final Order.

Suhrco Real Estate Advisors Inc.

S-10-213-10-SC01 – Statement of Charges

On August 9, 2010, the Securities Division entered Order No. S -10-213-10-SC01, Statement of Charges and Notice of Intent to Suspend Investment Adviser Registration and Impose Fines against Suhrco Real Estate Advisors, Inc. ("Suhrco"). The Statement of Charges alleges that Suhrco violated the Securities Act of Washington by, among other charges, failing to make required annual filings of its Form ADV Part 1 and fiscal year end balance sheet with the Securities Division. The Statement of Charges gives notice that the Securities Division intends to enter an order suspending Suhrco's investment adviser registration and imposing fines until Suhrco complies with WAC 460-24A-060 and WAC 460-24A-205. Suhrco has the right to request a hearing on the Statement of Charges.

First Line Finance, LLC; Carl Cravens, Thomas Rudland; S-06-204-10-CO01-Consent Order

On August 5, 2010, the Securities Division entered into a Consent Order with First Line Finance, LLC (First Line) and Thomas Rudland, in settlement of the Division’s allegations of securities law violations by the company. First Line offered and sold promissory notes secured by deeds of trust to Washington residents. The Division alleged in the Consent Order that the company and its principal Thomas Rudland had failed to comply with the registration and anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act. First Line’s managing member Carl Cravens and Thomas Rudland agreed, without admitting or denying the findings of fact, to cease offering or selling securities in violation of those provisions. First Line agreed to reimburse the Securities Division $1,000 for its costs of investigation. First Line Finance, LLC also waived its right to a hearing or other further proceedings in the matter.


recent MT Commissioner of Securities and Insurance ACTIONS

Montana CSI Joins FTC, State Attorneys General, Insurance Commissioners in Crack Down on Bogus "Medical Discount Plans" Peddled to Uninsured, Uninsurable, Unemployed Consumers

August 11, 2010 Helena, MT- Operators who scammed people who did not have health insurance - the uninsured, the unemployed and the uninsurable - have been targeted by the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (CSI) and a federal/state coalition of law enforcement agents for fraudulently marketing "medical discount plans" as health insurance plans. In addition to CSI, the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcers in 23 other states have filed 50 lawsuits and regulatory actions to stop the scammers' deceptive practices.

In Montana, CSI has brought actions against fraudulent medical discount plans, including the American Trade Association and the National Alliance of Associations.

In addition to this case, the FTC filed 3 lawsuits targeting bogus medical discount scams, and Attorneys General and Insurance Commissioners have brought numerous enforcement actions to stop the scammers. They include lawsuits or regulatory actions addressing sham insurance, as well as illegal robo-calls and fax blasting, and licensing violations.


For more information about medical discount plans or for any MT insurance question, call CSI at 800-332-6148. To gain a report on any medical discount plan, check 1st with BBB at: before going with them or saying YES.


August 23, 2010, Helena, MT---Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance and KMS Financial Services, Inc., a Seattle-based securities firm, have entered into a settlement agreement that provides restitution to the victims identified in the Commissioner's action against Arthur Heffelfinger, a former KMS stock broker. In an effort to be responsive to the victims affected by Heffelfinger's illegal activities and to the communities in which KMS Financial Services does business, the firm has agreed to pay the victims just over $975,000 in restitution. The firm was also agreed to pay a total of $50,000 in fines and investigative costs to the State of Montana.

In January 2010, this office charged Heffelfinger with three felonies in Lewis & Clark County District Court: operating a Ponzi scheme, theft, and exploitation of an older person. In July, Heffelfinger pled guilty to operating a Ponzi scheme and Theft, and a trial is currently set for September 20, 2010, on the charge of exploitation of an older person.

For more information about this order, call CSI at 800-332-6148.



Boise, Idaho--An Ada County judge has ordered more than $1 million in penalties and restitution against Access Mortgage Company, Inc. (Access Mortgage), a Seattle-based mortgage broker, for violating Idaho laws relating to mortgage and financial fraud.

Department of Finance press releases and copies of the Memorandum Decision and Order, and Judgment and Permanent Injunction can be found on the Internet at and may be obtained by contacting the Department at (208) 332-8002 or in Idaho toll-free at 1-888-346-3378.


Intelius banked on consumer confusion, says Washington Attorney General

Online provider of background searches to pay $1.3 million to settle claims its post-transaction marketing practices were illegal

SEATTLE – Hundreds of thousands of consumers may have unknowingly enrolled in membership programs while using Web sites owned by Bellevue, Wash.-based Intelius. A two-year investigation by the Washington Attorney General’s Office alleges that Intelius received thousands of consumer complaints regarding unauthorized enrollment in the programs and that company management including CEO Naveen Jain knew about the complaints but chose to continue the deceptive and tremendously profitable marketing tactics.