Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shopping online? Know Your Knock-offs Cautions the Better Business Bureau

The online market for counterfeit luxury items is vast, bargain hunters can find everything from jewelry and perfume to handbags and sunglasses. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) offers advice on avoiding web-based rip-offs.

Online classified sites are hot spots for counterfeit luxury item fraud. Now unscrupulous vendors are setting up their own websites to fool frugal fashionistas, making it more difficult than ever to spot a scam.

“In a tight economy, consumers are always looking to save money,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. “Too often, what looks to be a ‘great deal’ is really a knock-off in disguise.”

The BBB recommends the following advice for safe shopping online, as well as tips on how to spot fake merchandise:

Always deal with reputable businesses. The number one way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal with reputable businesses. When in doubt, shoppers can contact the manufacturer and verify which vendors are authorized sellers. Consumers should also check out the business with the BBB at www.bbb.org before making a purchase decision.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. One of the biggest red flags for knock-off merchandise is an unrealistic price. Extremely low prices are tempting but not to be believed.

Read between the lines. Some websites or online classified ads will go overboard in their description of the item in order to coax the buyer’s trust. Overuse of “genuine,” “real” or “authentic” is a bad sign. Buyers also need to keep an eye out for phrases like “inspired by.”

Check the merchandise. Considering the name is a large part of the motivation for buying a luxury brand, many manufacturers spend considerable time and energy on crafting the physical label. Counterfeiters aren’t usually as meticulous. Shoppers should look for misspelled words and brand names, poorly sewn logos and labels, etc. Some luxury goods carry an “authenticity label” with a hologram or other security measure.

Know the brand. Different luxury brands, such as purses, have specific hardware consumers can rely on to identify a genuine piece. Zippers, screws, clasps and stitching are usually very specific for the brand and the manufacturer often has details on their website explaining what to look for and how to spot a knock-off. Craftsmanship is king for most luxury brands.

Consumers who have purchased counterfeit luxury goods should contact the BBB and can easily file complaints online at http://www.bbb.org/

For more consumer tips you can trust before making that purchase, visit www.bbb.org

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Better Business Bureau says: Better Safe Than Sorry - Know Your Tax Preparer

Every year the BBB receives thousands of inquiries about tax preparers, and unfortunately complaints from consumers. Many Americans will get assistance from a professional tax preparer or tax software when filing taxes this year. The Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) encourages taxpayers to use caution when selecting tax preparation help.

In the past twelve months, the BBB received 6,948 inquiries regarding Tax Return Preparation services; this is over twice as many inquiries as last year.

Commonly, complainants state that the tax preparer made errors in their return which resulted in fines and fees.

“Even though the tax preparer completes the return, it’s the taxpayer who is ultimately responsible for the return’s accuracy and whether or not it’s filed on time,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “The fines, fees and hassles can add up if you choose an unreliable tax preparer and that’s why it’s important to do your research.”

The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice to find a trustworthy tax preparer:

• Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check the BBB Reliability Report on tax preparation services at www.bbb.org

• Check on the preparer’s history. Check to see if the preparer has a questionable history with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org and check for any disciplinary actions and licensure status through the state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants; the state bar associations for attorneys; and the IRS Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents.

• Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in all matters, including an audit. Also, find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that holds its members to a code of ethics.

• Don’t fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid any tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.

• Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.

• Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.

• Read the contract and know what you’re paying for. Understand how much the service costs, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected, and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit and how much that will cost.

• Remember that it’s illegal for tax preparers to encourage you to falsify deductions, exemptions or income in order to pay less tax or obtain tax credits. If they ask you to sign a blank or incomplete form or guarantee that you won’t be audited, go elsewhere.

For more advice on finding professionals you can trust, visit http://www.bbb.org/

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Telephone Collection Scam Related to Delinquent Payday Loans

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICA), has reported an increase telephone collection scams related to delinquent payday loans.

The typical payday loan scam involves a caller claiming the victim is delinquent on a payday loan and must make payment to avoid legal consequences. Callers pose as representatives of the FBI, Federal Legislative Department, various law firms, or other legitimate-sounding agencies, and claim to be collecting for debt collection companies. The scammer relentlessly calls the victim, and refuses to provide information regarding the alleged loan, and often becomes abusive when questioned.

A new variation of this scam has been popular recently where the caller tells the victim there are outstanding warrants for their arrest for non-payment and hacking into a named business with the intent of obtaining customer information. During the perpetration of this crime, the caller demands payment via debit/credit card; in other cases, the caller further instructs victims to obtain a prepaid card to cover the payment.

If you are contacted by someone who is trying to collect a debt that you do not owe, you should:

• If you have received a legitimate loan and want to verify that you do not have any outstanding obligation, contact the loan company directly;

• Contact your local law enforcement agencies if you feel you are in immediate danger;

• Contact your bank(s) and credit card companies and request an alert be put on your file;

• Report any online fraud to the ICA and BBB

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Robocalls" bothering your cell phone?

Have you received a pesky automated call on your cell phone recently? Due to thousands of complaints filed from consumers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). This act imposes clearer requirements on how businesses may obtain consent before making a telemarketing call or sending a telemarketing text to your wireless phone.

Telemarketing calls on cell phones can be a large hassle because often calls can eat up the minutes in consumers' wireless plans. These autodialed and prerecorded calls are known as “robocalls.”

Under new rules U.S. communications regulators voted to adopt last Wednesday, telemarketers will have to get written consent before placing automated calls to consumers. Telemarketers also must provide an automated opt-out mechanism during each robocall so that consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling. These new rules eliminate the "established business relationship" exception, which had allowed robocalls to be placed to the land-line home phones of consumers with "prior or existing" associations with companies represented by telemarketers.

To register a number for the national Do-Not-Call list, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s official do not call registry at http://www.donotcall.gov/

For more information on this act, visit http://www.fcc.gov/guides/robocalls

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Better Business Bureau Joins Government Partners for Consumer Protection Event

Consumer protection information and brochures will be among the free items available from the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois (BBB) from 8:30AM to 3:00PM on March 8, 2012, in the lobby of the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. in Chicago, as the BBB joins federal, state, and local government agencies and national consumer advocacy organizations in the 14th annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), March 4-10, 2012.

National Consumer Protection Week focuses on giving consumers the tools they need to make smart financial decisions in today’s marketplace. This information can help people get the most for their money, whether they are trying to stretch their paychecks, find a quick fix for a spotty credit history, or distinguish the difference between a real deal and a potentially fraudulent product or service.

"The Better Business Bureau is proud to be part of this year’s National Consumer Protection Week campaign,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “In times like these, information is one commodity that retains its value. We invite everyone to visit www.bbb.org for tools they can use to make smart choices in the marketplace.”

The BBB offers the following tips on making smart financial decisions:
  • Check Them Out. Check out a business before you spend money on any product or service. Visit www.bbb.org to view the BBB’s free Business Review on the company
  • Three Bid Rule. Obtain bids from three companies and carefully compare before you begin construction or any other type of work on your home or business.
  • Signing Contracts. Never sign any contract that has blank spots or contains incomplete information about the work to be accomplished.
  • Don’t Pay to Work. Jobs that require you to make some type of payment upfront before work begins are typically scams.
  • Shred It. Protect yourself against identity theft. Shred all documents that contain any financial information. Including offers for new credit cards and loans.
The “For Consumers” section of the BBB Web site (www.bbb.org) provides consumers hundreds of specific, easy-to-understand tips including: how to get a free credit report, how to spot a telemarketing scam, dealing with debt, deterring and detecting identity theft, avoiding auto repair scams, and how to file a consumer complaint with the appropriate authorities.

For more information on consumer safe shopping or National Consumer Protection Week, visit http://www.bbb.org/

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day E-Cards

Sending an electronic card or e-card for Valentine’s Day, is not only cost-effective, but very popular and easy. However the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois (BBB) urges consumers to use caution when opening e-cards this Valentine’s Day.

People are expected to send millions of electronic Valentine’s Day cards this year. If you unexpectedly receive an e-card, be careful. Instead of carrying words of love, it might contain a computer virus.

The BBB asks to remember the following if you receive an e-card this Valentines:

• Unexpected e-cards are often the culprits that spread computer viruses.

• Suspicious emails often direct the recipient to click on a link to retrieve an e-card.

• Once the user clicks on the link, a virus is downloaded to the computer and it becomes infected.

• Those sending these types of malicious e-mails are using the names of some of the most popular electronic greeting card companies in their messages and Web links.

• Be cautious and not click on links you find in e-mails. Instead, go directly to a Web site by typing its address into a Web browser and go there on your own, bypassing links that could be malicious.

For more trustworthy information on shopping with companies you can trust go to www.bbb.org

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