This year, why not resolve to be a smarter, safer consumer. Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) has several resolutions to suggest that will help you fight scammers, prevent identity theft and save money in 2014:
Look for the BBB Seal of Accreditation and always check out a business with the BBB prior to making a purchase. Over 2,600 businesses in North Alabama bear the BBB Seal of Accreditation and maintain our standards. You can find the Seal on websites and at business locations. BBB doesn’t just report on Accredited Businesses. You can locate trustworthy businesses by visiting northalabama.bbb.org to view free BBB Business Reviews for businesses across North Alabama and throughout North America.
Be skeptical of “job offers” that promise easy money. As unemployment in the nation remains fairly high, scammers are targeting the large pool of job hunters. Beware of any job offer, work-at-home scheme or business opportunity that promises big money for little work and no experience. Many job seekers have reported being approached with “too good to be true” sounding job offers after posting their resumes on well-known online sites. A big red flag: you’re asked for personal and private information, including bank account information, from a business who wants to hire you without even meeting you.
Always read the fine print—especially with “free” trial offers. Thousands of consumers have complained to BBBs after signing up for “free” trial offers online that resulted in repeated charges to their credit or debit cards, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars every month. Read the terms and conditions of any “free” offer before handing over credit or debit card numbers.
Keep your computer safe. If you haven’t already done so, install anti-virus software on your computer and check regularly for software and operating system updates and patches. Don’t open attachments or click on links in e-mails unless you can confirm the email came from someone you trust. Be aware of current scams where a caller claims to be from Microsoft or other well-known companies and tells you they’ve detected that you have a virus that needs to be cleaned up. This is a scam designed to gain access to your computer and possibly your bank accounts.
Never send money via wire or Green Dot MoneyPak to someone you don’t know. Many scammers send fake checks to victims, then require that the victim wire money back to the scammers. Other scams involve wiring money or loading cash onto a Green Dot MoneyPak to send “taxes” in order to get sweepstakes winnings. This scheme been widely used in 2013 by fraudsters who claim that you have won millions and a Mercedes.
Scammers know that it’s extremely difficult to track money sent via MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot MoneyPak. Once you’ve wired the money, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.
In addition, don’t return calls to someone who leaves a message claiming you’ve won money. Many consumers have reported receiving calls from the 876 area code, which belongs to Kingston, Jamaica. In addition to risking the chance you’ll fall prey to the scam artist’s fake claims that you’ve won, you’ll get charged international fees for the call.
Fight identity theft. Shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data using a cross-cut shredder. Dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely. Your BBB offers tips and checklists on what to shred and hosts annual “Shred Day” events each April and October to help you stay safe.
Ask BBB for help. If you run into any issues with a company, BBB encourages you to make a sincere effort to resolve the matter with someone in authority at the company. If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with your BBB to try to resolve a disagreement with a business and put your experience on record with BBB.
Fight fake check fraud. Because of advances in printing technology, scammers have the ability to create very real-looking but phony checks. Educate yourself on the common types of check fraud and be extremely wary of checks that come with claims that you’ve won the lottery, are eligible for a government grant or have landed a job as a secret shopper when you never applied. Be aware if it sounds too good to be true.
Don’t pay for an outstanding bill you don’t owe. Complaints regarding debt collection agencies have grown significantly in the past few years. If you get a call from someone claiming you owe a debt that you don’t feel you owe, it’s that you ask the caller to verify the alleged debt before taking action. Ask for documentation. By law, a debt collection agency must provide a validation notice within five days of contacting you about the debt. Do not provide personal sensitive information unless the validity of the debt and collector has been confirmed.
Get everything in writing. Don’t just take a company’s word for it. By getting any verbal agreement in writing, you can limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between what you expect from a business and what the business delivers. Read through contracts fully – many times the most important details can be hidden in the fine print. Be sure that you don’t sign a contract that has blanks that could be filled in after your signature has been captured.
Create a budget and stick to it. If you’re a cash-strapped consumer, setting a budget can help you stay afloat in 2014. The BBB has additional advice on how to create a budget to help you get out and stay out of debt at www.bbb.org.