March 3, 2011, Saint Paul, Minnesota - National Consumer Protection Week, March 6-12, is an annual effort led by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to educate the public on how to protect their pocketbooks. In conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers five tips to become a more streetwise consumer.
"In a tough economy, it's more important than ever to protect the money you have from scammers and bad businesses," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. "These simple steps will go a long way towards warding off the common scams that steal millions from unsuspecting consumers every year."
The BBB recommends following these five steps to protect your wallet against scammers and unscrupulous businesses:
Get everything in writing and always read the fine print.
Contracts, customer agreements and fine print protect the business and explain the terms of the agreement with the customer. While it's natural to want to just skim over the fine print, it's important that customers understand everything about the legal agreement they're entering into. Whenever signing a contract, the BBB recommends reading the fine print carefully - even if it means taking it home and sleeping on it. Also, don't just take a sales associates' word for it; get all verbal promises in writing.
Protect your identity - and your pocketbook.
Fighting identity theft means staying vigilant online and off. Protect your identity by taking the following steps:
Never wire money to someone you don't know.
Many scams bilk victims by convincing them to wire money. The reasons for wiring the money can vary and include mystery shopping, paying fees to win a lottery, and - if the target is a small business owner - overpayment for goods or services. Scammers know it's extremely difficult to track money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union, and nearly impossible for victims to get their money back. Even if you've been given a check to supposedly cover the amount you're wiring, never send money to someone you don't know personally.
Know where to complain.
If you've had a bad experience with a business or been ripped off by a scammer, there are any number of organizations and government agencies that want to hear about it. You can file a complaint with:
If you've fallen victim to an online scam - such as a phishing e-mail or deceptive website - you can also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.
Always check businesses out with the BBB.
Nearly 400,000 businesses bear the BBB seal of accreditation and meet our standards; you can find the seal on websites and at business locations. However, the BBB doesn't just report on accredited businesses. You can check out BBB Business Reviews for nearly 4 million businesses across North America for free by visiting www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/. A BBB Business Review will tell you how many complaints the company has received, whether the company responds to complaints and much more.
For more advice on managing your money and avoiding scams, visit BBB's Consumer Tips page.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct; and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.