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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana
BBB Twice a Month Tips You Can Trust for the Week January 3, 2011
January 19, 2011

TIP NUMBER ONE

POSTCARDS from HOMESTORE MERCHANT OFFERING MEMBERSHIP WITH INCENTIVE OF 2 FREE AIRLINE TICKETS DEEMED DECEPTIVE

Company also dba Direct Saver, Direct Savings and Global Savings Network

It was brought to BBB’s attention that the above-mentioned company is sending postcards claiming that recipients are entitled to receive 2 free airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States or a free hotel room for 3 nights in Las Vegas.

SCENARIO

Consumers report that when they contact the company after receiving the postcard, it requires the consumer to attend a 45 minute presentation at a local hotel about a “new company coming to town” called Homestore Merchant, which is a direct buying club. Membership to this buying club runs $2,500, and signing up entitles consumers to purchase “luxury type” merchandise or travel packages from the company’s web site only.

Consumers are generally required to purchase these memberships the day of the sales presentation. Membership agreements have a three-day cancellation clause only. It is the BBB's understanding that consumers are required to attend the sales presentation on the buying and travel club in order to receive a form, which then needs to be filled out and returned in order to receive the certificate for the free offers. (The company states that if the consumer attends, he or she gets 2 free vouchers they can redeem for 2 American Airline tickets. All they have to do pay a $29 fee to the booking agent as well as pay the taxes and other fees not initially clarified.)

BBB complaints reflect misrepresentation of the “free airline ticket” offer, with customer stating that there are severe flight limitations placed on the two “free” airline tickets (you get 10 days to choose 2 departure dates, 90 days apart, with an extensive list of blackout dates that do not apply. Customer complaints also reflect that the $2,500 membership fee is restrictive and items offered are overpriced when one begins to comparison shop with other offers for the same merchandise.

BBB ADVICE

This company has gone by a variety of dbas, (with Homestore Merchant being the most recent) and has various BBB business reviews. The 877# associated with this postcard mailing links to the following Direct Savers BBB business review:

http://www.trustlink.org/Reviews/Direct-Savers-LLC-206037305

Here is the Pompano Beach, FL BBB Business Review: http://www.bbb.org/south-east-florida/business-reviews/tour-operators-and-promoting-services/direct-savers-in-pompano-beach-fl-92014994

Here is another BBB business review on Direct Savers out of Houston, TX

http://www.bbb.org/houston/business-reviews/buying-clubs-and-group-purchasing-service/direct-savers-in-houston-tx-22013193/

As of January 3, 2011, the Houston BBB has designated their BBB as the one that can take complaints regarding this mailing.

TIPS ON DISCOUNT AIRFARE PITCHES

Know how the discount pitch works before agreeing to it. Don’t just go by what is verbalized to you. Usually, when discounted airline tickets are offered like this, there are additional fees as well as other additional limitations/restrictions that go with these types of pitches. If you are unable to check first with the ticket distributors prior to signing and agreeing, consider this a red flag. You have a right to know what you are getting into BEFORE you sign any agreement.

Plan ahead. Request information about discount fares & travel packages. Fares quoted are fares of the day, so pay for tickets within prescribed time to be assured of getting that price. You can request a refund if the price goes down after you purchase. Listen carefully to the restrictions of your reservation. Understand cancellation and refund policy - some plans have non-refundable fees. Ask about your rights regarding lost luggage, overbooking and delayed flights. Check references. Understand and keep a copy of your contract. Fill in all blanks before signing, and get all verbal promises in writing.

If you have an unresolved issue concerning this company or others like them, be pro-active and file formal complaints for resolve with the BBB at: www.bbb.org Make sure you keep all pertinent paperwork to begin a paper trail in case issues arise.

TIP NUMBER TWO

USA ENERGY GROUP Making Random Robocalls

Robocalls Illegal in the US, If they Don’t Stop, Report to the FTC (www.ftc.gov)

BBB wants you to know about these energy-saving pitches being made via robocalls. A company using a variety of dbas: USA Energy Group, US Power Associates, National Energy Coalition and Energy Awareness Group is making robocalls claiming people can get a free energy audit and free weatherization work in their homes.

RED FLAGS?

*Company won’t stop making calls, even if you ask them to stop, or if you tell them you are on the Do Not Call List.

*Company won’t reveal exactly where it is located to callers.

*Robocall technique (auto-dialing) is being utilized. This form of calling for business is illegal in the USA.

*Company claims it is affiliated with your local energy and/or utility company.

Full Story with HOUSTON, TX NEWS STORY HERE

http://spokane.bbb.org/article/local-2-investigates-annoying-robocalls-24516

TIP NUMBER THREE

Online Penny Auction Site bidmacs.com aka The Shock Box of UT Generating Complaints to BBB

Complaints Reflect Pattern that Bidders’ Credit Cards are Charged Fee of $149.99 without Authorization

On December 17, 2010, it was brought to your regional BBB’s attention by a Montana consumer that he used the services of the above-mentioned company’s penny auction site, thinking that his activities were “free,” as stated on the site, only to be charged a fee to his credit card of $149.99 for “future bids.”

Full Story here

http://spokane.bbb.org/article/online-penny-auction-site-bidmacscom-aka-the-shock-box-of-ut-generating-complaints-to-bbb-24360

BBB Business Review

http://www.bbb.org/utah/business-reviews/auctioneers/the-shock-box-in-draper-ut-22291351

Blog Posts About bidmacs.com http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.bidmacs.com

BBB Tips for Online Penny Auction Sites

http://www.bbb.org/us/article/be-cautious-of-online-penny-auction-sites-22506

BUSINESSES: DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU

Fake Fire Inspector Scams Local Businesses

Confirm or Verify Officials Who Come Randomly to Visit Your Workplace, Ask for Proper ID and Protect Personal Info

This story ran in another area, but BBB wishes to share this piece to warn regional businesses to be on the lookout for such scams targeting your workplace. Your regional BBB has heard of scenarios in the past where individuals selling fire extinguisher equipment enter a place of business and falsely state that they have an account with you, only for the business to surrender their fire equipment over to another entity than the official one it normally uses.

BUSINESS ADVICE

This is a scenario that business owners and managers should share with their entire staff, in case this activity hits your workplace and no owners are around. Empower your staff and train them about scams affecting businesses.

http://www.760kfmb.com/Global/story.asp?S=13682356

TIP NUMBER FOUR

BBB Lists Top 10 Scams and Rip-Offs of 2010

Job hunters and financial-strapped families are scammer’s targets in tough economy

Following, in no particular order, is BBB’s list of top scams and rip-offs that took advantage of consumers and small business owners across the U.S. in 2010:

Job Hunter Scams – Scams targeting job hunters vary and include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers and requirements to pay a fee in order to even be considered for the job.

Debt Relief and Settlement Services – BBB warned consumers in 2010 to seriously consider third-party assistance for getting out of debt. These companies often require upfront fees and potentially leave the consumer drowning in even more debt. Complaints to BBB about debt relief and settlement services increased by approximately 30 percent in 2010, according to tentative year-end estimates.

Work from Home Schemes – Some work from home schemes promise to teach the secrets to making money online, others claim you can make money assembling items at home or get paid to be a mystery shopper. Some victims even found that their opportunity to work from home was a job to fence stolen goods. The end result is that instead of getting paid, you can end up losing hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars

Timeshare Resellers – Complaints to the BBB about the timeshare industry—including deceptive resellers—increased by over 40 percent according to 2010 estimates. Timeshare owners who are desperate to get rid of their costly vacation property are being targeted by companies that claim they have an eager buyer. The company tells the seller they just have to pay up to several thousand dollars to cover fees. After paying the fees, the seller never hears from the company again.

Not So “Free” Trial Offers – Misleading free trial offers online for diet supplements, penny auctions and money making schemes blanket the internet resulting in thousands of complaints ever year. The free trial offers seem no-risk but complainants state they were repeatedly billed every month and found it extremely difficult to cancel.

Itinerant Home Repair/Roofers – BBBs across the country received complaints from consumers who answered a knock from a door to door salesman or itinerant worker who eventually failed to deliver on promises to fix their roof or conduct other work to the home. Complaints to BBB about roofing companies increased by roughly 40 percent in 2010, according to tentative estimates, due in part to one company that solicited door to door, American Shingle, which received nearly 1,000 complaints nationwide after going bankrupt and not providing new roofs to angry customers.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams – The victim—often a senior citizen--receives a letter in the mail or phone call from someone pretending to be with Reader’s Digest, Publisher’s Clearing House or a phony foreign lottery. The scammer claims that the victim has won millions but must first wire hundreds or even thousands of dollars back to the scammers to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.

Identity Theft – There are any number of ways a person can become a victim of identity theft. Through low-tech theft, phishing emails, vishing phone calls, smishing text messages, or even through no fault of your own as the result of a corporate data breach, millions fall victim to identity theft every year.

Advance Fee Loan Scams – A perennial problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must pay upfront fees—often more than a thousand dollars. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.

Over-Payment Scams - Over-payment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or sites like Craigslist. The scammers overpay the amount for the services or products and then ask the victim to wire the extra amount back to them or to another fraudulent entity. Ultimately though, the check is forged and the victim is out the money wired back to the scammers.

Consumers or small business owners victimized by a scam can contact their local BBB or file a complaint at www.bbb.org Always research a business with BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.

TIP NUMBER FIVE

Seasonal Tip: Ten Questions to Ask Before Joining a Gym

Did you exhaust yourself counting your calories this season, or did you just give up, knowing that one of your resolutions in 2011 was to get BACK on track, or into the gym to make life more healthy? If any of this sounds like you, then before you sign up to make a commitment to a gym in your area, follow these suggestions from BBB, and GOOD LUCK!

In 2009 alone, BBB received 7,787 complaints about gyms and health clubs, putting the industry in the top 20 for most complained about businesses. Not only does BBB receive a lot of complaints about gyms, but complaints increased by 21 percent in 2009 over the previous year.

BBB recommends asking the gym and yourself the following 10 questions before signing up for a membership:

Questions to ask the gym:

  1. What are the terms of any introductory offers?
    Gyms often use special introductory offers to lure in new members. Just make sure you understand the terms and what the price will be once the introductory period is over.
  2. Will my membership renew automatically?
    Every year, BBB receives a large number of complaints from people who joined a gym and didn’t realize that their contract would renew automatically and that they would have to take specific steps to cancel their contract.
  3. How can I get out of my contract? Getting out of a gym contract isn’t always as easy as getting into one so make
    sure you understand what steps you would need to take to cancel your membership
  4. What happens if I move?
    Gyms have any number of different policies when it comes to how moving will affect your membership. It might depend on how far away you’re moving and if they have other locations nearby.
  5. What happens if you go out of business?
    BBB often receives complaints from people after their gym suddenly closed up shop and took their money with them. Ask the gym to explain what will happen to your money if they suddenly go out of business.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are my fitness goals?
    Determining your fitness goals in advance will help you select a facility that is most appropriate for you. If you have a serious health condition, consult with a medical professional when setting your fitness goals.
  2. Is this location convenient? If the gym is across town, you’ll be less likely to workout. Choose a fitness club that is convenient to work or home so the location is not a deterrent to getting exercise.
  3. Can I really afford this every month? Monthly gym fees add up and, after any introductory periods are over, the price could jump higher than your budget can handle. Do the math before you join and make sure you can afford a gym membership.
  4. Am I feeling pressured to join? Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics to join right away. A reputable gym will give you enough time to read the contract thoroughly, tour the facilities and make an informed decision.
  5. Did I get everything in writing? Read the contract carefully and make sure that all verbal promises made by the salesperson are in writing. What matters is the document you sign, so don’t just take a salesperson’s word for it.

For more advice from BBB on how to be a savvy consumer all year long, visit www.bbb.org/us/Consumer-Tips/.