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BBB Warns of Holiday Scams

Here are the Better Business Bureau's tips for November.

BBB Warns of Holiday Scams

Tis’ the Season - for Scams!

 We all look forward to the holidays, and so do scammers. As people begin to make their holiday plans, unscrupulous scammers are dusting off their tried and true seasonal scams. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is advising shoppers and donors that by knowing the red flags to watch out for and by adhering to the following tips, they’ll hopefully be able to steer clear of Grinch-like scams: 

Always check a business’s BBB Business Review, at  www.bbb.org, before making a purchase in the store or online.  Make sure that the company has a physical address and telephone number. When shopping online, some websites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, the BBB hears from holiday shoppers who pounced on a "great deal" online, but received little or nothing in return.

If you shop craigslist or other bulletin board websites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend if you're uncomfortable meeting the seller alone, and meet in a public place during daylight hours. Never wire money as payment. If you're shopping on auctions like eBay, look at seller ratings and read their reviews. Don't buy if the deal sounds too good to be true.

Don't let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. While you're struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your PIN at the checkout. Make sure you put your cards back in your wallet after each purchase.

Before you make a donation, research charities with the BBB to ensure they meet our 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations in an attempt to line their own pockets. Resist demands for on-the-spot donations. Up-to-date reports on local and national charities are available at  www.give.org.

Don't click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or install malware on your computer. Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS or FedEx with links to package tracking information. 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 your computer.


Purchasing a Puppy over the Holidays? Check Your List Twice

 What could be more charming than surprising the kids with a puppy this holiday season? That’s a fun sentiment, but the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is advising consumers to think carefully before giving a puppy as a present this holiday season.

With emotions running high and everyone busy, giving a puppy as a present during the holidays can be stressful for both you and the new pet.  Puppies are an exciting new addition to any family, but many animal experts discourage introducing a new pet, especially a young one, into the family during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. If you have your heart set on surprising the family, give them a “gift voucher” for the dog and pick one out together after the holidays.

Regardless of when you buy or rescue your new dog, the BBB and the American Kennel Club offer the following advice:

Don’t fall victim to a puppy scammer.  Because of the emotional investment in buying a puppy, scammers are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Make sure to ask around for a breeder, rescue group, or shelter referral. Always check out the business’s BBB Business Review at  www.bbb.org.

Don't be fooled by a well-designed website. Many scammers create phony websites to defraud people looking to find a puppy. If you locate a puppy online, never send money without speaking to the breeder and checking references and credentials first. Ask if the breeder is a member of an American Kennel Club-affiliated club and contact the club to verify membership. Be aware that if you’re asked to wire money, you may very well be dealing with a scammer.

Don’t support puppy mills. Unless you can visit the breeding facility before the purchase and bring your puppy home personally, don’t purchase a puppy from a website. When you have a puppy shipped from another area, you don’t know how that puppy has been treated, how healthy or young it is, or whether or not there’s even a puppy for sale. Many hopeful pet buyers have been disappointed to learn money they thought was going towards a puppy actually wound up in the pocket of unscrupulous operators.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of scammers who offer to gift you their purebred puppy in exchange for transportation or vaccination fees. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it generally always is. In some cases like this, scammers will ask for more and more money for “unexpected” fees and taxes, bilking people for as long as they can until the victim realizes the offer is bogus.


BBB Tips for Hiring a Locksmith

 There are times when everyone needs a locksmith. Sometimes this involves having locks replaced, but usually when people are in need of a locksmith, it’s an emergency or time is of the essence – such as when keys are locked in cars or people are unable to get inside their homes. No matter how stressful the situation, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds people they need to take the time to look after their interests and ensure they won’t be hit with unexpected charges when hiring a locksmith.

“Though locksmiths aren’t near the top of our list in terms of volume of complaints, the resolution rate of complaints we do receive is eye-opening,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Just slightly over 25% of the complaints filed in the last three years against locksmiths in our area have been closed as resolved.” Overall, the BBB complaint resolution rate is just over 90%.

The majority of complaints filed against locksmiths involve situations where consumers allege they were quoted one price and then the final bill proved higher than expected. To help avoid situations like this, the BBB recommends the following:

  • Check with the BBB for a free Business Review on a company before you do business with them.  Our Business Reviews have been optimized for smartphones and are available at  bbb.org or by telephone at or (800) 646-6222. Find BBB Accredited locksmiths via our Online Directory ( http://www.bbb.org/minnesota/accredited-business-directory).
  • If there’s time, shop around.  There are times it may not be feasible to get multiple quotes. Still, it’s always a good idea to do some investigating. When possible, seek estimates from at least three companies. Ask what the price quoted includes: is it just the service call or does it also factor in labor and parts? Make sure there are no hidden fees. Also, get names from company representatives you speak with on the phone.
  • Ask for a worst-case scenario.  A knowledgeable locksmith will know of any potential circumstances that may arise which would incur extra charges, so always ask for a worst- case scenario estimate. Provide the locksmith with as much information as possible.
  • Does the locksmith have a shop?  Find out if the locksmith has a shop rather than just a website or an ad in the phone book. Make sure the company has a location listed.  Ask how long he/she has been in business.
  • Ask about training and experiences.  Experienced locksmiths have the tools and training to provide quality service.  Knowing the “tricks of the trade” can save time and money on labor.  Professional locksmiths know the right hardware for your application; inexperience can cost more when the job is not done right the first time.
  • Be aware of companies who use an 800 number.  If you are dialing an 800 number, chances are good the company is based in another state.
  • Ask if the company is insured.  Anyone can make a mistake; if work performed leads to property damage, insurance should cover your losses.
  • Ask for customer references and follow up on them.
  • Be cautious if a locksmith immediately tells you he has to drill and replace the lock.Make sure you’re comfortable with work the locksmith recommends. If you get an uneasy feeling about their approach, it’s probably best not to proceed. Be aware, though, you may still be charged a service fee, even if you call off the work.
  • Ask for ID and business card.  When the locksmith arrives, ask for ID and a business card. Make sure you are comfortable with the person you’re entrusting your security with.
  • Get an itemized estimate.  Never sign a blank form authorizing work.
  • Beware of ad claims.  Beware of claims such as “We’re locally owned and operated”; “45 years in business”; or “We’re # 1.” Companies may also list certain certifications that are incorrect or old. Ask for details about any such claims.
  • Be leery of exaggerated claims.  Claims like “Service in 15 minutes” or “We’ll beat any price.” These claims are easy to make but tough to deliver on.
  • Treat this as a security issue.  Locksmiths have access to your house/car: you are entrusting your security to them.
  • Pick a company from the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA).  ALOA is an organization of locksmiths who abide by a code of ethics, have professional trainings, are aware of industry news in their area, are able to obtain professional certification levels through standardized testing, agree to analyze security problems and provide best solutions for their clients, and agree to abstain from using improper or questionable methods of soliciting patronage.  For more information about your local chapter of Associated Locksmiths of America visit  www.mnaloa.org.


Baby Boom Your Branding Strategy & Engage the Nation’s Aging Population

When looking to create or update the branding strategy for your business, it’s important to take every demographic into consideration. According to the International Council of Active Aging (ICAA), the majority of adults over the age of 55 feel that advertising does not reflect their current lifestyle, and they are turned off by many of the marketing messages targeted at them. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is reminding business owners to be sure to include our nation’s aging population in their branding and marketing efforts.

While many boomers are much more apt to rely on referrals than the younger generation, 90% of adults 50 and older also rely on and use email, according to ICAA. Forrester Research found that 49% of consumers who are 66 or older rely on personal emails to direct them to sites, compared to 28% of non-seniors.

One of the problems in today’s marketing world is the fact that many businesses don’t even have a viable strategy for targeting the nation’s 77 million baby boomers, ICAA notes. When creating or sprucing up your branding strategy, the best way to make sure that it doesn’t neglect the aging population is to get input from them directly. 

The BBB and ICAA recommend the following steps to businesses looking to make their branding strategy one that’s friendlier to baby boomers:

Create ads that work. Don’t assume that you’ll reach the aging population by default. Actively design ads to portray baby boomers in a positive, uplifting light. Never use negative stereotypes of older adults to amuse younger audiences.

Deliver the message effectively. Tell a story instead of lecturing. Let your ad arouse emotions. Help your audience process complex information by breaking up lengthy facts into short snippets.

Use terms that work. Every word counts. Business owners should focus their advertising using language that implies health, well-being, and productivity. 

Focus your ad photos using realistic images. According to a recent study by AARP, researchers discovered that images showing exercise that looks like too much work turns off older adults. Grimacing, sweaty, straining models won’t entice many 50-plus adults to become engaged. Make sure your business branding strategy uses images that are both realistic and fun. Baby boomers are more likely to engage with your brand if they feel accurately represented.

For more business tips you can trust, visit  www.bbb.org, and for more information on engaging the aging population, visit International Council of Active Aging,  www.icaa.cc.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at  bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Visit our Centennial website at  bbbis100.org.

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