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Tag Archive | "Better Business Bureau"

Beware of people posing as DTE reps


 

From the Better Business Bureau

A Grand Rapids consumer reports to BBB that a person knocked on her door stating he was there on behalf of DTE Energy to discuss an incorrect charge that might be on her DTE Bill. He asked if her most recent DTE bill contained a “Gas Recovery Fee” and, if it did, that the fee was charged in error.   The representative asked to take a copy of the bill and stated he could have the charge removed from future bills and obtain a refund on any “Gas Recovery Fees” already paid to DTE.  BBB advises consumers to beware, and don’t be fooled! The company’s true intent is to switch your natural gas service to Direct Energy.

Direct Energy representatives are currently canvassing in West Michigan; however, they may be identifying themselves as “with DTE” or “on behalf of DTE” with no mention of the true company, Direct Energy.  Direct Energy is based in Houston, Texas, and is licensed with the Michigan Public Service Commission as an alternative gas supplier. Typically, alternative gas suppliers contact consumers and entice them to switch natural gas providers by offering a lower gas rate than the consumer’s current provider for a specified contract term. Often the rate increases dramatically after the contract term expires.

As for the Gas Recovery Fee, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission, this is a legitimate charge; this charge reflects the actual cost incurred by your natural gas company to purchase the gas you use.  The fee will vary depending on the actual amount of gas you use.

Direct Energy has a “C” grade with BBB, with more than 600 complaints on fileThe company uses a variety of business names: CPL Retail Energy, Energetix, Inc., First Choice Power, Gateway Energy, Gateway Power Services, Hess Energy Marketing, New Leaf Energy, NYSEG Solutions, Vectren Source, WTU, WTU Retail Energy. In Michigan, the company uses Direct Energy Services.

The BBB Business Review identifies a pattern of complaints alleging the following:

Door-to-door salesmen do not properly identify themselves as Direct Energy employees; instead they are stating that they work for various other energy companies in an attempt to switch consumers without their knowledge.

Increasingly aggressive sales people; consumers state the door-to-door salesman have repeatedly come to their homes, sometimes up to 3 times daily.  One recent complaint alleges that the sales person actually pushed the consumer’s door open.

Senior citizens may specifically be targeted.

Consumers are being asked for their bills but think they are actually talking with the utility since the salesmen are not identifying themselves as with Direct Energy.

BBB suggests the following when approached by a door-to-door solicitor:

Do not be pressured into providing personal information or sharing your bill

Request proof of employment with company/Employment ID card

If someone shows up at your house unexpectedly and claims to work for a utility company, call the company and confirm that it authorized the person to visit your home.

Check the company’s BBB Business Review.

If you suspect something is amiss, contact BBB.

Be sure to always research any organization you are considering doing business with by visiting www.bbb.org/western-michigan!

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Complaints Over Bad Auto Parts


 

Quality Used Transmissions

From the Better Business Bureau

Quality Used Transmissions, a company that claims to operate in a Grand Rapids, MI office building, appears to be part of a multistate auto parts business that has generated hundreds of Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaints nationwide.

BBB advises caution to consumers considering doing business with Quality Used Transmissions, which lists an address at 2525 East Paris Avenue, SE, Suite 100. The building management office told BBB that Quality Used Transmissions never had offices there.

Consumers report similar complaints against all of the businesses, alleging they shipped wrong or broken engines or transmissions, delayed or refused to give refunds, failed to honor warranties and seemed intentionally to frustrate and confuse customers who called with problems. Two weeks ago, BBB serving Western Michigan contacted the business asking it to respond to several questions about its operations and complaint activity. The BBB has not received a response.

The business, under Engine Shopper and its various names, has an «F» grade with BBB, the lowest possible. Customers have filed about 400 complaints against the companies.

Phil Catlett, BBB President and CEO, said Quality Used Transmissions and related businesses don’t deserve the trust of consumers. “People are telling us they are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for what turns out, in many cases, to be junk,” Catlett said. “These consumers depend on their cars to get them to work, school, the supermarket or doctor’s office. They deserve better.”

BBB has been unable to determine the owners or top managers of the company, but several consumers report dealing with a John Thompson. BBB believes that name is likely a pseudonym.

The company was registered with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs as Quality Used Transmissions LLC, on June 4, 2012. The only organizer listed for the company was Robert J. deJong, an attorney in Milwaukee. The name of deJong is also on registration paperwork for several related companies. DeJong is listed as an organizer with Quality Used Engines in Kansas, Southwest Engines in Wisconsin and SW Transmissions in Missouri.

Quality Used Transmissions appears to be tied to a company in Cudahy, WI, called Engine Shopper or Engine and Transmission World. The Wisconsin location appears to be the hub of a group of companies claiming to operate in Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. In addition to the Wisconsin and Michigan businesses, related companies include SW Transmissions or Southwest Transmissions of Creve Coeur, MO; Quality Used Engines of Leawood, KS; and Southwest Engines or SW Engines of Tulsa, OK

In addition to the similarities in state registration information, much of the information on the companies’ websites is strikingly similar. All of the websites list virtually identical warranty information and very similar information on the sites’ Frequently Asked Questions page. Most of the sites include an identical contact email and phone number.

Wisconsin BBB issued an alert on Engine and Transmission World in 2011. At that time, BBB had received complaints from 40 states.

Wisconsin BBB’s business review on the company said the company “has failed to correct the underlying reason for complaints.”

Consumers say their dealings with the companies have left them angry and frustrated.

A woman from Delta, Pennsylvania states in her complaint against Quality Used Transmission, “I was sent a 4 cylinder transmission instead of a 6 cylinder transmission. They picked up wrong one and now won’t respond or refund me.”

“They sent me a bad engine and no one will answer the phone,” a Carrollton, Tex., consumer said in a complaint against Southwest Engines.

“They have taken $1,840 from me stating this was a complete and running engine which it is definitely not,” a consumer from Pembroke, N.C., said of Engine Shopper.

A man from Annandale, Va., said he paid Quality Used Engines more than $3,400 for a 2006 Dodge Magnum engine, but instead received a damaged engine for a Dodge 1500 Ram truck.

A couple from St. Clair, Missouri., paid $2,000 to Engine and Transmission World for what was advertised as a working engine. They said the company instead shipped an engine that was inoperable. The wife said company representatives ridiculed them when they phoned the business for help. “Everything was a big joke,” she said. They ultimately were able to recover most of their money, but only after contacting BBB, the Wisconsin attorney general’s office, the local police department in Cudahy and filing a lawsuit in federal court.

Despite numerous recent attempts to obtain answers to questions from the business, BBB has been unable to obtain a response.

BBB offers the following tips when buying merchandise online:

Research the business and owners carefully before signing a contract or paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 616-774-8236.

Ask for references and contact them.

Read all terms and conditions carefully before completing a purchase. Make sure to read and understand all warranty information. Know your options in the event you receive an item that was not as advertised.

Pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the payment.

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Beware of scam artists offering home or yard services


 

BUS-BBB-logo-blueFrom the Better Business Bureau

BBB is beginning to receive calls regarding individuals going door-to-door offering a variety of home or yard improvement services at a supposed discounted rate. The Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan wants to remind homeowners to beware of scam artists and untrustworthy contractors.

Your BBB heard from a West Michigan consumer today who informed our office that he received unsolicited visitors this morning. Two men pulled up to his home in a small, old model unmarked white pick-up. One man knocked on the door and provided his name, but no company name. He said he was working on a neighbor’s house and noticed that bricks had fallen off the chimney. He said he would be able to fix it, plus add a cap to the chimney. The resident stated he would first want to check out his business with the BBB. The man stated he would be able to do it right then. The consumer asked for a business card; however, the man did not provide one and left.

This is a typical scenario; itinerant workers often show up unannounced and offer to re-surface parking lots or driveways, perform roof repair, painting services, brick work, tree trimming or cutting, or other home improvement jobs. Typically, these fly by night companies offer to do the job with leftover materials from a previous job, use high pressure tactics and trick you into thinking they offer a discount price. They have no physical location in the area and use poor quality materials. They do not pay local taxes and take discretionary income that could be better spent on local businesses.

Often these companies claim their prices are lower than any local bid, but a little checking around may prove otherwise. If they do offer you the lowest price, don’t assume it to be the best deal. Keep in mind that there is a lot more to a purchase than the price. No matter how good the price, should you do business with a company that will not be here tomorrow to hear your concerns or honor a warranty?

The BBB’s best advice is to check out all solicitations at the Better Business Bureau before you do business with anyone. Never pay upfront and never sign a contract without reading and understanding it.

Before you deal with a company you don’t know, or are unsure of:

1. Call the BBB for a report on the company, BEFORE opening your wallet. Phones are open 24 hours at 616-774-8236 or 1-800-684-3222 and reports are available online at www.westernmichigan.bbb.org. Get some answers before you do something as personal as opening your wallet to a stranger!

2. Verify that any contractor you are considering doing business with is properly licensed, bonded and insured and registered at the BBB.

3. Obtain bids from several companies. Compare apples to apples. Review the bids and remember the lowest bid is not always the best price.

4. Call the BBB and comparison shop with local, well known, reputable companies. The BBB can provide a list of industry specific businesses that are accredited by the BBB.

5. Don’t fall prey to high pressure tactics such as “this is the only chance you’ll have” or “by tomorrow the extra materials will be gone,” or “I’m only in this area today.” A legitimate company will be here when you’re ready to buy and they will be more than willing to allow you time to check them out. If they don’t, let that be a warning sign.

Before you do business with a company you don’t know, or are unsure of, pay for anything, or sign a contract, call the Better Business Bureau; that’s what we’re here for.

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BBB Top ten scams of 2014


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Better Business Bureau hears from thousands of consumers and business owners every year about a variety of scams and frauds. Many are new twists on existing scams, but scammers get more sophisticated every year in how they spoof trusted names and how they fool consumers.

While BBB doesn’t have specific numbers about how many people were defrauded or for how much, here are the scams we think were most pervasive this past year:

#10 Sweepstakes Scam: You’ve won a contest! Or the lottery! Or the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! All you have to do to claim your prize is to pay some fees or taxes in advance so they can release your prize. This is not a new scam, but it is a perennial problem.

#9 Click Bait Scam: This one takes many forms, but the most notorious of the past year was when the Malaysian Airline plane went missing (“click here for video”). Other click bait schemes use celebrity images, fake news, and other enticing stories to get you to unintentionally download malware.

#8 Robocall Scam: The notorious “Rachel from Cardholder Services” made a resurgence in 2014. This scam claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates and takes personal information—including your credit card number—and then charges fees to your card.

#7 Government Grant Scam: You get a call saying you’ve been awarded a government grant for thousands of dollars. It may even mention a program you’ve heard about in the news. They say all you have to do to collect your grant is pay a couple hundred in fees by wire transfer or prepaid debit card.

#6 Emergency Scam: This one is sometimes called the “grandparent scam” because it often preys on older consumers. You get a call or email from your grandchild or other relative who was injured, robbed or arrested while traveling overseas and needs money ASAP.

#5 Medical Alert Scam: Another one that preys on older folks. You get a call or a visit from a company claiming a concerned family member ordered you a medical alert device in case you have an emergency. They take your credit card or banking information but you never receive anything.

#4 Copycat Website Scam: You get an email, text message or social media post about a terrific sale or exciting new product. You click through and it looks just like a popular retailer’s site. But when you order, you either get a cheap counterfeit or nothing at all… and now they have your credit card number!

#3 “Are You Calling Yourself?” Scam: Scammers can make a call look like it’s coming from anywhere. The latest trick puts your number in the Caller ID, which piques your curiosity and gets you to pick up the phone or return the call and then they’ve snagged you in whatever scam they are running.

#2 Tech Support Scam: You get a call or a pop-up on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton, or Apple) about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.

And the top Scam of the Year, because it’s just so terrifying, is:

#1 Arrest Scam: You receive an ominous phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer or government agent (often the IRS in the United States or the CRA in Canada). They are coming to arrest you for overdue taxes or for skipping out on jury duty but you can avoid it by sending them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Another variation on this is that you’ll be arrested for an overdue payday loan. Whatever the “violation,” it’s scary to be threatened with arrest, and many people pay out of fear.

Why Scams Work:

There is a science to scams, and it may surprise you to know that scammers use many of the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. The difference, of course, is that their “product” is illegal and could cost you a fortune. Here are the major techniques they use to draw you in:

Establishing a connection: The scammer builds rapport and a relationship with you. This is usually used face-to-face, as in home improvement scams and many investment scams, but also online romance scams.

Source credibility: The scammer uses techniques to make themselves look legitimate, such as fake websites or hacked emails that come from a friend’s account. Most email phishing scams spoof real companies, and many scammers pretend to be someone they are not in order to add credibility.

Playing on emotions: Scammers rely on emotion to get you to make a quick decision before you have time to think about it. An emergency situation or a limited time offer is usually their methodology. They count on emotional rather than rational decision-making.

What You Can Do:

Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.

Take time to research the organization. Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.

Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.

Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.

If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.

Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.

Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.

For more information:

For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). Sign up for our weekly Scam Alerts to learn about new scams when we do. You can report scams here, too.

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Home Depot payment system breached


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From the Better Business Bureau

 

A perfect storm is hitting consumers who use debit cards. Data theft from major U.S. retailers and new bank policies are changing the security landscape. Banks have been getting crunched by expenses related to covering credit and debit card fraud; and recently, Chase Bank announced that very soon if you don’t exercise ordinary care you will be responsible for all authorized and unauthorized debit transactions. Examples of not exercising ordinary care include keeping your PIN with your card or using your birthday as your PIN.

Home Depot has now confirmed its payment data system was breached. If you used a debit or credit card at a Home Depot store from April forward, crooks have your card numbers. The Home Depot official press release indicates that debit card PIN numbers were not compromised. However, financial institutions contacted by KrebsOnSecurity are reporting a steep increase over the past few days in fraudulent ATM withdrawals on customer accounts. Krebs reports that card data for sale on criminal websites was stolen from Home Depot, allowing thieves to create counterfeit copies of debit and credit cards. If criminals change the PIN on those accounts, the fabricated debit cards can then be used to withdraw cash from ATMs. Krebs reports that a large bank on the West Coast lost more than $300,000 in two hours to PIN fraud on multiple debit cards that had all been used recently at Home Depot. The bank manager said the criminals called customer service at the bank and provided the last four of each cardholder’s Social Security number, date of birth, and the expiration date on the card.

Home Depot is offering free identity protection services, including credit monitoring, to any customer who has shopped at a Home Depot store in 2014, from April on. Customers who wish to take advantage of these services can learn more at www.homedepot.com or by calling 1-800-HOMEDEPOT (800-466-3337). Responding to the increasing threat of cyber-attacks on the retail industry, Home Depot will roll out EMV “Chip and PIN” to all U.S. stores by the end of this year. October 2015 is the deadline established by the payments industry.

If you have shopped in a Home Depot store, BBB recommends you take advantage of this free identity protection service. Other steps you should take include:

* Do not use the same password or PIN for your financial accounts as you do for any other account. If your password/PIN information is stolen from one site, the risk is greatly reduced if that is the only place you are using it.

* Take caution in the PIN number you use, how it is stored, and who you share it with.

* Regularly check all your accounts to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals or expenditures.

* Use annualcreditreport.com to check your credit on a regular basis through the three major credit reporting agencies.

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Beware of storm chasers


From the Better Business Bureau

The recent damage done by the flooding and heavy rains through West Michigan brings out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized.

As a follow up, your Better Business Bureau is warning local residents affected by the recent flooding to beware of out-of-town and under-qualified repair companies soliciting business.

“It is not uncommon for out-of-town storm chasers to solicit business after storms like the ones we had last week,” said Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau. “Storm chasers may not have proper licensure and may offer quick fixes or make big promises which they won’t deliver.”

Your BBB offers the following tips for storm victims:

Know your rights and responsibilities http://www.michigan.gov/mshda/.

Contractors must be registered with the State of Michigan. Call (517) 241-9288 or check them online at https://www2.dleg.state.mi.us/ to determine if a contractor is registered.

Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.

Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront.

Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.

Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.

Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and license plates for your state.

Many cities and townships require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Verify that they need to have a permit by contacting your local Township or Municipality. BBB suggests consumers be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches.

While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof or basement. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.

Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.

BBB is also warning area contractors to beware of storm chasers who are willing to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use a local business’s established name, reputation and phone so they can masquerade as a local business

We have seen this happen in other areas of the country. After doing repairs paid by insurance companies, the out-of-state contractors left the area. Many contractors who agreed to let these storm chasers use their name regret their decision once they were left holding the bag of unsatisfied customers due to bad workmanship and/or unfulfilled warranties.

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses visit www.bbb.org or call (616) 774-8236.

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New president at West Michigan BBB


The Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan is pleased to welcome new President/CEO Phil Catlett.
Catlett served as Vice-President and General Manager of area radio stations for more than 20 years, and recently has worked with public media development projects.  Phil is excited to be joining the BBB and said, “I am honored to be working with the BBB team, and continuing to grow the vital role of business-consumer trust in west Michigan.”
Nick Hrnyak, BBB Board Chairman, said the search process involved regional and national candidates for the new CEO position.  Search committee members received positive feedback about the impact of the BBB in Western Michigan.  “We interviewed many highly qualified candidates, and we were impressed by the respect and impact the BBB has earned in Western Michigan.”  The non-profit BBB was started locally in 1937 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2012 when the national BBB organization celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Ken Vander Meeden, retiring as the President/CEO of the organization he has led since 1992, stated, “It has been my distinct pleasure for 19 years to serve within the BBB system. Having spoken in every one of our 38 counties has reinforced the idea that west Michigan businesses and charities care about right and wrong, fair play, and integrity issues. The organization is in transition and Phil Catlett will be a great addition to our experienced staff and to the future program developments needed to continue our growth in all areas of the region.”
The BBB of Western Michigan serves a population area of nearly 3.5 million people in 38 counties, advancing marketplace standards where buyers and sellers can trust each other.  In addition to dispute resolution, reviewing truth-in-advertising problems, and charity evaluations, the BBB encourages and promotes ethical business practices as a neutral third party.

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Citizens concerned about lengthy Census Form


American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau is safe and response is required by law

The Better Business Bureau has received calls from concerned people across the country who received a Census form in the mail that asked personal questions involving their income range and employment situation. The BBB advises consumers that, while most will receive a short 10-question 2010 Census survey form, they should not be alarmed if they are chosen to respond to the 69-question American Community Survey (ACS) as well.

The 2010 Census form has 10 questions covering basic information while the ACS has 69 questions on topics such as income, household expenses, employment, education, and work commutes. Some individuals who received the ACS in addition to the 10-question form contacted their BBB over concerns that the form was actually the work of scammers.

“Everyone in the country has been prepped to expect the simple 10-question survey in their mailbox and red flags automatically go up when they receive the longer and more personal American Community Survey,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB of Western Michigan CEO.  “While the questions in the ACS might seem invasive, especially when compared to the 10-question form, responding to the survey is safe, important and required by law.”

The BBB reminds consumers that the American Community Survey and the 2010 Census will never ask for donations or bank account, Social Security or credit card numbers. The Census Bureau may contact you by mail or phone, but will not send you unsolicited e-mails requesting sensitive personal information.

The following are a few answers to frequently asked questions to the BBB about the American Community Survey:

How many addresses receive the ACS? The ACS is sent to a random sample of approximately 3 million addresses per year, or approximately 250,000 each month of the year. This means that approximately 2.5 percent of the population will receive the ACS in any given year.

If I received both the 10-question survey and ACS do I need to respond to both? If you receive both the 10-question form and the ACS, you are required by law to respond to both.

The questions seem to get personal, are my answers safe? Responding to the ACS is safe and your personal information will not be shared with anyone, including other government agencies.

Why does the federal government need to ask me so many questions? In addition to needing population counts, communities need data about the well being of children, families, and the elderly to provide services to them. The information you provide on the ACS not only helps your community get its fair share of federal funds, but also to establish goals, identify problems and solutions, and measure the performance of programs.

I received a survey from the federal government, but it isn’t the ACS or the 2010 survey. Is it legit? At any point in time the US Census Bureau distributes a number of different surveys to the American public and the topics and length vary. Before responding to a survey you received in the mail that claims to be with the Census Bureau, do your research on the Census Bureau’s Web site (“Are you in a survey?” Link) at www.census.gov/survey_participants/.

Who do I contact if I have questions or could use help filling out the ACS?  If you need help completing your American Community Survey questionnaire or have other questions about the American Community Survey, please call 1-800-354-7271 for an English-speaking operator. If you prefer a Spanish-speaking operator, call 1-877-833-5625.

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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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