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BBB New Year’s Resolutions for 2012


This week a security company’s computer was hacked and money stolen from many customer accounts.  It’s more important than ever to resolve to be a savvy internet user and wise consumer. Your Better Business Bureau offers the following New Year’s resolutions to become a safer and wiser consumer in 2012:

1.    Fight identity theft. Always shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely.  Don’t provide your social security number, credit card number, debit card pin, bank account information, or your driver’s license number to anyone on the phone unless you are certain they represent a legitimate business.  Don’t leave financial information in your mailbox that might be accessed by identity thieves.
2.    Keep criminals from stealing information on your computer and online.  Every password and every computer can be hacked with enough time and effort. Purchase virus software and keep it updated.  Don’t click through to links or websites you are unsure of.  The more difficult you make it for someone to get your password, the better.  Use at least 8 characters in your password, only do business online with reputable organizations on secure (https) websites.  Don’t use the same password on different important online accounts.
3.    Beware of job offers to make easy money. Scammers are targeting job hunters, so beware of offers, work-at-home schemes or business opportunities promising big money for little work and no experience.
4.    Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Many scammers request that you wire money back to them. Scammers know tracking money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union is extremely difficult. Even more troubling, it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.
5.    Fight fake check fraud. Educate yourself on the common types of check fraud and be wary of checks that come with claims you’ve won the lottery, are eligible for a government grant or have landed a job as a secret shopper.
6.    Get everything in writing. Don’t just take a business’ word for it. Get agreements in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between your expectations and what the business delivers.
7.    Look for the BBB seal and always check businesses out before buying. 400,000 businesses meet the BBB’s Standards for Trust and bear the BBB Accreditation Seal.   Your BBB doesn’t just report on Accredited Businesses, you can access BBB Business Reviews for nearly 4 million businesses by visiting www.bbb.org or calling (616)774-8230 or toll free (800)684-3222.
8.    Ask your BBB for help. File a complaint with your BBB if you have a disagreement with a business or been ripped off by a scammer.  The BBB will contact the business and ask for their explanation of the issue.  Often, the BBB can assist in reaching a resolution.

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Donor alert: Giving to tsunami and Japanese earthquake victims


Be sure disaster relief charities are legitimate and equipped to help

March 14, 2011 – Grand Rapids, Michigan – As we learn more about the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near the northeast coast of Japan on Friday, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns that—as occurred following the tsunami in 2004, Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in Haiti just last year—fraudulent charities will likely emerge to try and scam donations from well-meaning Americans. BBB WGA urges givers to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need.

“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB President.  “Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.”

BBB of Western Michigan offers the following seven tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.

Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be cautious when giving online.

Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact areas.

Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance.  See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.

Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations.  If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.

Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims that 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses.  They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.

In-kind drives for food and clothing—while well intentioned— may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Look for details when texting a donation.

Beginning with the earthquake in Haiti, it’s become common to send a text to make a donation. Make sure you understand the amount to be donated, and whether there will be any service fees charged to your account. Be sure the offer clearly identifies which charity will receive the donation, then check out the charity.

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Protect your debit card number from ATM skimming


From the Better Business Bureau of West Michigan

Even if you’re choosy about which ATMs you use, you can still become a victim of identity thieves who place seamless devices on machines to steal debit card information. ATM skimming is a growing problem and the Better Business Bureau recommends consumers take a few steps to protect themselves from becoming the next victim.
According to Bankrate.com, ATM skimmers are close to reaping $1 billion annually from unsuspecting consumers. Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that one in five people have become victims.
Identity thieves tamper with ATMs in any number of different ways in order to steal debit card numbers and PINs. It only takes a few seconds to install cameras over the keypad or a device over the card reader. ATMs aren’t the only hot spots, credit card swipers at gas pumps and retailers can be tampered with as well.
“Skimming devices are becoming increasingly harder to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM,” said Ken Vander Meeden, President of the BBB Serving Western Michigan. “If you’re going to use an ATM, you could become a victim, and it’s important to monitor your accounts closely so you can quickly detect any fraudulent activity on your card and minimize your losses.”
Following are a few ways to fight identity thieves at the ATM:
Protect your PIN – When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to prevent any cameras from catching your digits. False keypads placed over the real keypad are also a way scammers get PIN numbers so if the keypad looks different, move on.
Give it a wiggle – Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM – such as where you put your card into the machine. If parts of the ATM look damaged or different, give it a wiggle. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don’t hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if it doesn’t feel right.
Be picky with your ATMS – Avoid using ATMs in poorly lighted or low trafficked areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over standalone ATMs in public places. Not only do identity thieves attach devices to legitimate ATMs to steal numbers, they will also place their own phony ATMS in public places.
Keep an eye on your statements – The most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, and it’s important to always keep a close eye on your accounts—particularly the itemized breakdown of charges and debits—so that you can quickly report any suspicious activity on your account.
Report Fraud Immediately – Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit cards vary but depend largely on when you report the fraudulent activity. If you wait too long to report the fraud, your bank account could be cleaned out and your bank might not reimburse you.
For more advice on fighting identity thieves and preventing fraud, visit us online at www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-scams/

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Free on-site document shredding and identity theft prevention tips


The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and its national partners, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the National Association for Information Destruction invite the west Michigan community to the BBB “Secure Your ID” Day Saturday, October 17, 2009 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Northview High School, 4451 Hunsberger Drive NE, Grand Rapids.

Residents and small businesses are encouraged to attend the event and take a key step in identity protection by shredding and properly disposing of their sensitive paper documents as well as CDs and floppy discs.  BBB staff will also be on-site to provide expert advice and tips for identity theft protection.

“Properly destroying documents that carry information you don’t want getting into the hands of crooks is an important first step to fighting identity theft, but it doesn’t end there,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB of Western Michigan CEO. “That’s why BBB staff will also be on hand offering important advice and simple steps everyone can take to prevent ID theft in their daily lives, both online and off.”

Last year alone, 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft, resulting in the loss of $45 billion, according to a 2008 report from Javelin Strategy and Research. The report notes that the majority (56 percent) of ID theft occurs when the thief has direct contact with the victim’s personal information, through a stolen or lost wallet, rifling through a personal mailbox or trashcan, or even lifting documents from inside a home or business.

Bring your documents to be shredded and take home the tips and resources you need to help protect yourself. Documents to be shredded should be removed from binders, but staples, paper clips, CDs and floppy discs are okay to be shredded.

As the result of two nationwide Secure Your ID Days in 2008 alone, the BBB helped individuals and small businesses at more than 83 sites across the country shred 1.2 million pounds of sensitive documents – all for free.  For more information on the BBB “Secure Your ID Day” and identity theft prevention measures for both consumers and businesses, visit:  www.westernmichigan.bbb.org.

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Hang up on this offer


The BBB of Western Michigan warns consumers that a Grant, Michigan based “call center” isn’t exactly getting right back to consumers who sign up for their services. The BBB has received a rash of unanswered complaints in 2009 from Georgia, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and Ohio stating that KLH Call Center never sent the “leads” as promised, nor refunded any monies.

The local company in question is:

KLH Call Center Services, 1585 W. 120th St., Grant, MI  49327-9706

Phone:  (866) 578-6304  Principal:  John Woods, Sales Manager

The promise of “leads” for $35 to $50 per lead is met with indifference after KLH gets the money.  The BBB has made numerous attempts to present the complaints and obtain refunds for customers contracting for leads and paying $500 to $1,500 in advance. To date, no response has been received from KLH to the complaints presented by the BBB.  BBB review revealed only one customer was able to obtain a refund, and then only by having a local Sheriff’s Officer repeatedly attempt to have KLH pay up.

“KLH has had an ‘F’ rating at the BBB but apparently enough consumers are not checking our report at www.bbb.org before they send money,” stated Ken Vander Meeden, local BBB President. “We know good prospects are hard to find these days, however, sending money to an unknown company, in an unknown area of Michigan, without doing any research, just isn’t a smart thing to do.  Thus far, they have really earned that ‘F’ rating.”

Always check www.bbb.org for over four million reports on U.S. companies.

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