Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Better Business Bureau Advises: Weigh the Pros and Cons of Tech Buy-Back Offers

Today’s technology is constantly being updated with models showcasing newer, faster features. To keep up with the latest tech-trend, many consumers are tempted by retailer buy-back programs. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to weigh the pros and cons of these programs before parting with their money.

Typical buy-back programs come in the form of a one-time fee required at the time of the original purchase. To avoid falling behind the latest technology, consumers opt-in to these programs to ensure their gadget doesn’t go stale. As long as it’s in good condition, many buy-back programs allow you to trade-up items such as your cell phone, laptop, tablet, and television for a percentage of its current value. Usually this credit will come in the form of a gift card that may be used toward the purchase of a newer model.

“If you are an individual that likes to say on top of the latest technology, a buy-back program may be for you,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “However, as with anything else, you will need to do your research to find out if the program is worth the cost.”

The BBB provides the following information to consumers considering a retailer’s buy-back program:

Buy-back programs can provide a sense of insurance on your product. Buy-back programs essentially guarantee a resale value, meaning they act as insurance against loss of value. But like any insurance policy, its true value can become nominal and hard to define. Before becoming a member of a buy-back program, make sure to read the fine print. Many buy-back options have conditions and constraints that could ultimately keep you from being able to sell back your used gadget.

Remember that the interest of the retailer is usually at heart. In exchange for your old gadget, your return will come back in the form of a gift card more times than not. This plan and gift card means you are locked into the issuing retailer for your next technology purchase. Not to mention, you may end up paying triple the sales tax when all exchanges are said and done. While sales tax rules vary from state to state and buy-back programs vary from program to program, you are the one responsible for paying the tax. By paying the tax once when you buy the item and again when you return it, and then again when you use the gift card, you may end up paying triple the tax in the end.

Gadget-buy backs are not ideal for the forgetful or the disorganized. If you haven’t saved your original receipts, power cords and manuals, you could be at a loss or your payout could be less than expected. Many buy-back programs insist that the original items be brought back to the store at the time of the exchange.

Mobile phone contracts are not covered. When you purchase a new phone and add the retailer’s buy-back program, you can resell your phone back to the retailer for the agreed upon dollar amount. Keep in mind that even when you sell your phone back to the retailer, your cell phone provider will keep billing you for the duration of your contract.

You can compromise your identity. Before selling your electronics back to the retailer be sure to take care of your personal data. Many electronic items such as your smartphone or laptop can hold a great deal of personal information. If this information gets into the wrong hands, your identity could be compromised. Be sure to fully wipe out all personal data before reselling to a retailer.

You could get more for your electronic gadgets elsewhere. Reselling electronics is not new. Many consumers use sites like eBay and Craigslist to sell their gadgets. In most instances you could get more for your electronics by using these sites than opting for a retailer’s buy-back program.

For more consumer tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org

Monday, June 20, 2011

BBB Advice on Giving to Storm and Flood Relief Charities

Americans watching the mounting Mississippi floodwaters and the devastation wreaked by recent tornadoes are responding with generous gifts of time and money, as they’ve traditionally responded to disasters throughout the world. But even when needs are close to home, givers should take steps to assure themselves that their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help victims, cautions the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB offers the following five tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:

Take time to check out the charity. The best way to avoid being disappointed in helping Flood Relief Charities is to find out more about the charity before making the donation. Unfortunately, most people don’t. Donors should review the charity’s website and go to third party sites such as the http://www.bbb.org/ to learn more about the charity.

Identify what stage of relief the charity intends to provide. There are three general stages to flood relief efforts. Find out which stage the charity is intending to address. The Emergency Response stage involves immediate rescue needs and takes place within the first week of the storm or flood. Next, Disaster Relief occurs in the first month and provides clothing and temporary shelter for displaced families. Finally, the Recovery Stage can last over a year and involves clean up, repair and/or rebuilding homes, and other long-term recovery 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 flood 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.

Verify if the charity is registered to solicit donations in your state. Most states require charities to register with a state agency (usually the Attorney General’s office or the Secretary of State’s office) in order to solicit charitable contributions. Contact your appropriate state agency to determine if the soliciting flood relief charity is properly registered. Watch out for newly created entities that do not have a track record and/or experience in providing disaster relief.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Preparing for a Disaster

Planning what to do in case of a disaster is an important part of being prepared. The BBB and the IRS offer the following tips to help consumers and businesses help safeguard their records:

• Take Advantage of Paperless Recordkeeping for Financial and Tax Records and backup your electronic files regularly. Store your records in a location in your home where you may be able to quickly retrieve your records.

• Document Valuables and Business Equipment. Taking photos or videotaping the contents of your home and/or business can be very beneficial.

• Check on Fiduciary Bonds. Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if they have a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

• Continuity of Operations Planning for Businesses. How quickly your company can get back to business after a disaster often depends on emergency planning done today. Start planning now to improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover. Review your emergency plans annually. Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs. When you hire new employees or when there are changes in how your company functions, you should update your plans and inform your people.

The following preparedness strategies are common to all disasters.

• Get informed about hazards and emergencies and learn what to do for specific hazards.

• Develop an emergency plan.

• Learn where to seek shelter from all types of hazards.

• Back up your computer data systems regularly.

• Decide how you will communicate with employees, customers and others.

• Use cell phones, walkie-talkies, or other devices that do not rely on electricity as a backup to your telecommunications system.

• Collect and assemble a disaster supplies kit. Include a portable generator.

• Identify the community warning systems and evacuation routes.

• Include required information from community and school plans.

• Practice and maintain your plan.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Your Package has Arrived

Have you ever received an email stating your package has arrived, yet you never ordered anything, and you weren’t expecting anything? Typically these types of emails find themselves into inboxes around the holidays, offering tracking information on packages; however the bottom line is the same: it’s a phishing email.

Phishing is a term used when someone is attempting to steal personal information such as credit card details, passwords, or social security numbers through an electronic communication.

Your BBB advises consumer to never click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.

For more tips on being a savvy consumer visit http://www.bbb.org/.

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