BBB offers tips to protect your money

Find a Roofer You Can Trust and Avoid Fraudulent Storm Chasers

Your home can take a serious beating in a big storm and finding a dependable roofing contractor after bad weather strikes can be a challenge. Storm chasers and other door-to-door salesmen often peddle dubious deals that can cost homeowners thousands of dollars and create serious headaches. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recommends doing your research to avoid getting ripped off by an untrustworthy roofer.

Every year, homeowners research the reliability of roofing contractors with the BBB more than 2 million times – more than any other industry group. Unfortunately, last year alone, the BBB received more than 7,600 complaints about roofers from unsatisfied customers.

“Hail and wind damage from violent storms has taken a toll on homes  throughout the country this summer and the cost of repairs can be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “When you’re spending that kind of money, it’s important to take your time and find a roofer you can count on.”

When looking for a roofer you can trust, the Better Business Bureau recommends that homeowners:

Start Your Search with BBB. In addition to having Reliability Reports on tens of thousands of contractors across the U.S. at www.bbb.org, you can also rely on the BBB’s eQuote service to find trustworthy roofers in your area.  BBB Accredited roofers have pledged to uphold BBB’s Standards for Trust and are contractually obligated to resolve all complaints filed with the BBB.

Vet the Contractor Carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and bonded. Also ask the business for references from recent jobs.  Confirm whether or not the roofer will be subcontracting the job or relying on his or her own employees.

Beware of Storm Chasers. In the wake of a storm, fly-by-night repair businesses will solicit work, often door-to-door, in unmarked trucks. They might require advance payment and make big promises that they won’t deliver on.

Get at least three bids. Beware of lowball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come.

Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor that uses high pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Also avoid contractors that require you to get the necessary permits.

Make sure everything is in writing. Make sure that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract including cleanup and disposal of waste. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor and any warranties or guarantees.

For more advice on hiring professionals you can trust, visit us online at http://www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-home/.

Five Steps to Take When a Collector Contacts You about a Debt You Don’t Owe

If a debt collector is contacting you about a debt you know you don’t owe, explaining your case can be an uphill battle. Whether it’s a matter of mistaken identity, an honest error or identity theft, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota recommends taking five steps to fight back against erroneous debt collectors.

According to a 2010 report, the FTC received 119,364 complaints about third-party and in-house debt collectors last year, up from 104,766 in 2008.  While complaints can be about any number of issues, trying to collect on a debt the consumer doesn’t owe is a common issue reported. In a recent example, the FTC reached a million-dollar settlement with Credit Bureau Collection Services over accusations that the collection agency violated federal law by inaccurately reporting credit information and pressing consumers to pay debts they often did not owe.

“It can be an exhausting process to set the record straight on a debt you don’t actually owe,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB. “Because debts are often sold and resold to different collection agencies over time, you may have to make the same case every few years when the debt trades hands again.”

If you’re receiving calls for a debt you don’t owe, it could be a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps you share the same name, or even inherited an old phone number of the person who actually owes the debt.

You could also be the victim of ‘zombie debt,’ a situation where a person paid the original debt off but it wasn’t recorded as paid, or where the statute of limitations on the debt has expired and the debt collector is trying to get you to pay for a debt you can no longer be taken to court over.

A final common cause of being hounded for a debt you don’t owe is fraud. It could be that you have become a victim of identity theft and someone is opening up new lines of credit or buying items using your good name. Additionally, the “debt collector” calling could actually be an identity thief who is trying to get you to divulge personal financial information such as Social Security, bank and credit card numbers.

If you’re being pursued for a debt you don’t think you owe, the BBB recommends taking the following five steps:

1. Request written proof of the debt. By law, a debt collection agency must provide you with a validation notice within five days of contacting you about the debt. If you would like to get verification of the debt, send a written request to the debt collector within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. This written proof can help you determine if the callers are actually identity thieves, or if you really do owe the debt. Once you have the name and contact information for the agency, confirm they are a legitimate debt collector with your BBB at www.bbb.org.  After you confirm that you don’t owe the debt, advise the debt collector you do not owe the debt and advise them to stop contacting you (see step 4).

2. Correct any errors. After confirming you do not owe the debt, you may want to correct any incorrect submission related to the debt captured on your credit report. Contact the company that has provided the information to the reporting bureau by writing a detailed letter and include copies of pertinent documents which back your case. The FTC provides additional information on how to report errors at www.ftc.gov.

3. Weed out fraud and errors. Check your credit report with the three major credit reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – every year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. If you’ve been the victim of fraud or identity theft, you may also be eligible to view your reports for free. By keeping a close eye on your credit reports, you’ll be able to more quickly identify fraudulent activity or mistakes and make corrections before the debt collector calls.

4. Tell them to stop contacting you. According to federal law, a debt collector cannot continue to contact you – at work or home –if you tell them to stop. After confirming you do not owe the debt in question, you may cease all contact from the debt collection company by sending a letter (via certified mail) to the debt collector advising them to cease contact.  Keep a copy of the letter and the return receipt for verification purposes.  Any further contact to you from the debt collector except to advise you there will be no further contact, or to inform you that the agency is filing legal action, is a violation of the FDCPA.

5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Familiarize yourself with the consumer protections provided under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Included are rules that debt collectors may not make false or deceptive claims and must investigate the validity of a dispute over a debt. If a debt collector violates the law, report them to the FTC—the federal government’s agency overseeing fair debt collection practices. You should also file a complaint with the BBB at www.bbb.org.

For more information on taking control of your debt and managing credit effectively, check out BBB’s Managing Credit – Made Simpler.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct; and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public.

Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

Mobile Marketing Helps New Customers Check Out Your Business by “Checking In”

Mobile marketing is an increasingly effective way for small business owners to tap into a younger customer base. While it might not be a perfect fit for every business, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recommends owners check out the marketing potential in geo-location apps like Foursquare, Facebook Places and Yelp.

As technology improves, cell phones continue to offer any number of functions beyond making calls. Many programs on mobile phones rely on geo-location and can tell you where you are and what’s nearby, including businesses. This technology creates a new way to market your business to customers when they are literally right around the corner.  According to a recent survey by JiWire, more than 50 percent of mobile users would like to receive location-specific advertising; another 39 percent would like to receive location-based coupons.

“Lacking the time, know-how and money to launch an effective online marketing strategy can make many small business owners neglect the whole endeavor,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “The good news about mobile marketing is that you don’t necessarily need to dedicate a lot of time or money into a campaign to reap some rewards.”

Below, we list just a few mobile tools that small business owners can take advantage of to market their business to customers on the go. Even if you aren’t ready to launch a mobile marketing campaign, it’s still a good idea to take ownership of your business’s profiles on these sites to make sure the information is accurate and up to date:

Foursquare

With nearly 3 million users, Foursquare has been getting a lot of attention in the media lately for its explosive popularity among young adults. Foursquare is a mobile app that allows you to “check in” at locations – usually businesses – which tells other Foursquare users where you are. If you check in at a given location a lot, you can become a “mayor” of that location—which can be a highly coveted achievement.

Some businesses have taken advantage of Foursquare by offering coupons to mayors or people who check in. Foursquare also provides a map to users so they can see what specials are being offered at nearby businesses, and lists which businesses are the most popular, so an owner can benefit by encouraging patrons to check in. Foursquare also provides details and stats on the people who check in at your business which can help you learn more about customers.

Facebook Places

Facebook – which now boasts over 500 million users worldwide – recently launched Facebook Places as a competitor to Foursquare. Facebook users can “check in” and their location is published on their Facebook page. They can then see which friends have also “checked in”.

Similar to Foursquare, a business owner can create a new place or claim a location that already has a profile in Facebook. You’ll be asked to verify that you can claim the location before you’ll be able to add photos and business details. After an initial launch in a few cities, Facebook Places will be made available to more locations over time and the features offered to users and business owners will be expanded as well.

Yelp

Yelp is a website that allows users to post reviews of businesses, services, locations and events. According to Yelp, 33 million people visited the site in June 2010. In addition to the website, Yelp also provides a mobile version with an interactive map and allows users to “check in” at locations. After “unlocking” your location, you can offer coupons through Yelp, update your business information and promote events.

For more advice on marketing your business on a tight budget, visit http://www.bbb.org/us/Business-Tips-Index/.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct; and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public.

Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

Be brainy and beautiful: Avoid modeling scams

Whether you’re interested in a modeling career, just want to make a few extra bucks or you think your child might have a future in acting or modeling, be on the lookout for scammers. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns that some modeling agencies are just trying to make a fast buck and don’t deliver on promises of fame and fortune.

In the last three years, would-be models have researched agencies with the BBB more than half a million times. Unfortunately, the BBB also received more than 2,000 complaints from people who feel they were misled by an agency into paying large upfront fees – often for headshots and portfolios –and received little or no modeling or acting work in return.

“Modeling can be a great way to supplement your income, but signing up with a deceptive talent agency can be a waste of time and money or, in the worst case scenario, put you in actual physical danger,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB. “Even if the agency tells you that you have ‘the look’, always take the time to do your research and don’t fall for empty promises.”

Common complaints to the BBB about talent and modeling agencies often come from would-be models or parents who think their kids have star potential. Typically, they are told they need to pay upfront fees – for things such as headshots – after which the agency will start finding them work. Complainants report that despite paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in various upfront fees, the agency found them few, if any, jobs.

Before signing up with a modeling or talent agency:

  • Be sure to do your research – Always check the company out at www.bbb.org. Some states may require a talent agency or modeling school to be licensed and bonded; confirm the company meets those requirements if applicable.
  • Beware of big promises and high pressure sales pitches – In the modeling world, income is never guaranteed and jobs can be sporadic. Consider it a red flag if the sales pitch promises a lot of jobs and big earnings or uses high pressure tactics to get you to sign up without thinking it through first.
  • Read the fine print and get everything in writing – Take your time and read the agreement or contract carefully, paying close attention to details regarding refunds and your recourse if you are dissatisfied. Make sure that all verbal promises are in the agreement.
  • Get references – Ask for references from other satisfied clients who have a similar background and qualifications.
  • Complain if you’ve been ripped off – If you feel you’ve been misled by a talent or modeling agency, file a complaint with your BBB at www.bbb.org. You can also file complaints with your State Attorney General’s Office and/or the FTC (www.ftc.gov).

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