Make Your Halloween Costume Experience Delightful – Not Frightful

BBB Tips on Buying or Renting a Costume

Burnsville, Minn – October 16 – If you’re looking to buy or rent a fun or frightful Halloween costume this season, you’re not alone. The National Retail Federation expects a record number of consumers will buy costumes this year, spending roughly $7.4 billion on candy, pumpkins, decorations and costumes. It’s a holiday many love, and retailers respond to that with specialty “boo”-tiques which set up shop in October and are gone by the time the calendar flips over into November. When shopping for a costume this year, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises that you read the fine print to ensure your night is a treat.


“Halloween offers something for almost everyone, even if you just like candy,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “But for those buying or renting costumes, it’s important to be clear on all of the terms and conditions.”


Here are some BBB tips to make sure you won’t be haunted by impulse purchases this Halloween:


Look for a brick and mortar store. Though not extremely commonplace, some costume shops are open year-round. For more elaborate costumes or simply for peace of mind, you may want to consider transacting with a shop that has a permanent address. Even so, you’ll still want to be clear on their rental and return policies.


Do your research. Many seasonal stores are run by reputable retailers who take advantage of short-term leases on vacant space to set up temporary stores. However, other shops may be “here today and gone tomorrow.” While it’s always a good idea to research BBB Business Reviews at, it may also beneficial to read customer reviews to learn more about costume stores in your area.


Read the fine print. Even seasonal stores have the same responsibilities as a year-round operation. Make sure to note the store’s refund and return policies; familiarize yourself with all of the terms and conditions – they have to be made available. Keep in mind that some stores may not accept returns on Halloween costumes you’ve purchased.


Know what to expect before renting a costume. Many rental costumes tend to be sturdier than the average Halloween costume, but make sure you understand your responsibilities. What happens, for example, if the costume rips, or you get a stain on it or lose it altogether? Do you have to pay a penalty in addition to the price of the costume? Be sure everything is spelled out clearly in the rental agreement.


If you’re renting, return your costume on time. Most stores rent costumes on a daily/nightly basis, meaning you pick up your costume the day of your event and return it the following day. Failure to do so may mean you’ll be charged with additional fees.


When purchasing costumes online, do it securely. Check a site’s security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https.” You also may see a small picture of a closed lock in the lower right corner of the screen.


For more helpful consumer tips, visit

BBB Offers Wi-Fi Safety Tips

When you’re at your favorite coffee shop waiting for your drink to cool, the first thing you might do is open up your laptop and search for a Wi-Fi connection. Though it is a convenience, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) seeks to remind the public about the potential dangers of using public Wi-Fi networks.


Many businesses, particularly coffee shops, campus hangouts and even some retailers, have found that offering their patrons free Wi-Fi brings in more business and keeps customers coming back. However, it’s important for consumers to keep in mind that hackers sometimes target public Wi-Fi users to steal their personal information.


To avoid being hacked while using a public Wi-Fi connection, BBB recommends the following tips:


  • ·         Verify the network before use. To verify a Wi-Fi network, simply ask an employee at the coffee shop what network they provide for customers. Also, is it password-protected?
  • ·         Use common sense when you connect. If you’re signed in through an unsecured or unprotected network, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you share.
  • ·         Invest in your own personal hotspot

o   If you have a smartphone, you may also have a hotspot: a device that offers Internet access over a wireless local area network. All you have to do is contact your provider and set up a plan. Keep in mind, though, that while your own personal hotspot is convenient, it’s important to properly set up your security settings.

  • ·         Cover up your keyboard when typing in usernames or passwords, as some hackers obtain information simply by glancing over your shoulder.
  • ·         If you find a USB thumb drive on a coffee table, don’t use it. Some hackers leave USB thumb drives out in the open because they want you to use them. Once a compromised thumb drive is in your laptop, your personal information can be accessed.
  • ·         Keep in mind that a computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

In addition to the coffee shop crowd, hackers also target business travelers that spend much of their time in airports and hotels. Such travelers are often busy answering emails, returning phone calls and planning for their next meeting. When arriving at their hotel after a long day, they might check their email one last time before getting some rest. At such a time, though it may be tempting to simply shut the laptop and nod off, keep in mind that just because a computer is ‘closed,’ that doesn’t mean your information is safe. Always be sure to log out of your online accounts and close out all programs when you’re done using your laptop.


Business travelers and all public Wi-Fi users should also consider the following tips when accessing the Internet on the go:


  • ·         Watch out for fake networks

o   In order to avoid fake networks, ask an employee at the airport or hotel to verify the Wi-Fi network they provide for customers.

  • ·         Avoid certain websites, such as social networking or shopping sites, or any website that requires you to use a debit or credit card.
  • ·         Keep in mind that banking online via a public Wi-Fi connection carries inherent risks. If you must access your bank information online and in a public place, be sure to check your statement frequently to verify that your account hasn’t been compromised.

o   Change your Wi-Fi settings so your computer doesn’t automatically connect to networks. Keep Wi-Fi off when you’re not using it.

  • ·         Change your usernames and passwords as frequently as possible.

o   Make your passwords complex so hackers can’t easily break into your computer.

Despite the dangers that hackers pose, you can certainly do things to reduce your risk of problems when taking advantage of a public Wi-Fi connection.


For the latest fraud alerts, marketplace news and free BBB Business Reviews, visit

Be Cyber Savvy

(MADISON) – Are you, your family and your business safe and secure online? Chances are you or someone you know has been a target by cyber criminals. Governor Walker has declared October as Cyber Security Awareness Month. Throughout the month, the ReadyWisconsin website will feature easy to follow tips that can stop cyber criminals before they strike your computer or mobile devices. In 2013, people throughout Wisconsin lost $6.4 million through cyber crimes. The average loss was more than $1900 per victim. Nationwide, more than 260,000 consumer complaints added up to almost $782 million in losses, a 48% increase over 2012. Despite the warnings, thousands of people each year fall victim to cyber scams. Wisconsin is one of several states encouraging organizations and individuals to practice good “Cyber Hygiene” including: Count: Know what’s connected to and running on your network. Configure: Implement key security settings to help protect your system. Control: Limit and manage those who have administrative privileges to change, bypass or override your security settings. Patch: Regularly update all applications, software and operating systems. Repeat: Set these top priorities to form a solid foundation of cyber security for your organization. “Just as your mom told you to practice good hygiene by washing your hands before dinner, we all need to practice good cyber hygiene,” said Major General Donald Dunbar, Adjutant General of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Homeland Security chairman. “Taking just a few, simple security steps can protect all of us from many cyber dangers.” As part of Cyber Awareness Month in October, Wisconsin will host the second annual Cyber Security Summit intended to link business leaders, state and federal partners, and industry experts together to discuss the state’s role in cyber security. The event will be held Wednesday, October 8, 2014 in Milwaukee at the Marquette University Alumni Memorial Union. You can find information about the Cyber Security Summit at:

BBB Alert: Phony Invoice Scam Targeting Schools

Milwaukee, Wis. – The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is warning all schools to be on the lookout for phony invoices coming from “Scholastic School Supply” with a Nevada address.

Perfectly timed for the back to school frenzy, The Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Nevada received its first complaint against Scholastic School Supply on August 20th. Soon after, it noticed a severe influx in complaints regarding the business.

To date, 51 complaints have been received from schools in 22 states throughout the country, as well as 2,303 inquiries regarding this scam operation.

Complaints allege that the company is sending false invoices to schools and school districts throughout the country in the amount of $647.50 for a bulk purchase of text books that were never requested or received.

According to the BBB Serving Southern Nevada, the tactics employed by Scholastic School Supply are similar to the well-known “Yellow Pages Scam”; a business to business operation that surfaced in 2013 and bilked more than $14 million from small businesses and churches before being halted at the request of the Federal Trade Commission.

The only contact information available on the invoices is an email address which consumers report does not respond to messages, a phone number which routes to a series of voice mail boxes, and mail drop addresses in either Sewell, New Jersey or Las Vegas, Nevada.

Although the entity lists addresses in New Jersey and Nevada on its invoicing, the BBB has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or otherwise required business entity documentation for it in either state to substantiate a physical location.

With complaint numbers continuing to rise in increments of as many as 15 complaints a day, schools are urged to not pay the invoice, but instead to contact the FTC at (877), local Postal Inspectors, or Nevada State Bureau of Consumer Protection at(702) 486-3132

When Gym Memberships Don’t Work Out

MADISON – The recent unannounced closure of a Madison fitness center has left its customers empty-handed and scrambling to find another gym to call home. Members had paid as much as $2,000 for a “lifetime membership,” only to be locked out with no direction or contact from the company. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks consumers to research a gym before signing a contract and to file a complaint with the agency if a center closes with no notice or proposed remedy for members.

Common complaints about fitness centers include broken cancellation policies, misrepresentations about facilities and services, or lost membership fees when centers go out of business. Wisconsin law protects consumers who join fitness centers:

  • “Lifetime” contracts are prohibited by state law. File a complaint with DATCP if you are offered a similar membership option.
  • Club memberships cannot be longer than two years’ duration and must have an expiration date.
  • If a facility or service becomes unavailable during the contract, the consumer is entitled to choose an adjusted refund or a transfer of the unused portion of the membership to another affiliated center.
  • Fitness center contracts must contain a three-day cancellation right for new members.
  • Membership contracts must disclose the full membership price and the cost of individual payments.
  • All contracts must specify every major facility and service available in the membership and include any conditions or restrictions on their use. This includes a list of the locations members may use.
  • When a center has not been built, contracts must guarantee that the facility, service or location will be available for use within six months.
  • Any gym that collects more than $100 in advance of providing services is required to have security on file with DATCP. Before signing a membership contract for a fitness center, check with DATCP to inquire about consumer complaints against the business and to verify that the company has filed a $25,000 proof of financial responsibility with the agency.

Consumers who are members of a fitness center that closes without notice should file a complaint with DATCP. The agency can look into the situation to determine if state laws were violated and if the consumer is due a refund or other adjustment from the business.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at, send an e-mail to or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

IRS Identifies Five Easy Ways to Spot Suspicious Calls

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert today providing taxpayers with additional tips to protect themselves from telephone scam artists calling and pretending to be with the IRS.


These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.


“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”


The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:


1. Call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice.

2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.


If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:


  • ·        If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.


  • ·        If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at


  • ·        If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.


Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go and type “scam” in the search box.


Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

Police warn Superior Fire Department used in scam

Superior police are warning residents about a phone scam related to the Superior Fire Department.

Callers claim they are collecting donations for fire education in schools, and claims they are from the fire department.

The caller is convincing, according to police.

The Superior Fire Department does not authorize phone solicitations on its behalf.

According to police: The Superior Fire Department does maintain an agreement with the National Safety Council Inc. to supply fire education materials, which are distributed primarily during Fire Prevention Month in October. The NSC only directly contacts businesses within the community and 100 percent of the funds collected go toward educational materials distributed to Superior fire for its educational programs.

ack Your Shredder! Identity Theft Advice for College-Bound Students

According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five identity theft victims is in their 20s. For college students focused on class schedules, socializing and navigating a new and exciting environment, taking steps to protect private information while on campus may be the farthest thing from their minds. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) encourages families to discuss identity theft risks and prevention before a student heads off to campus.

“College students live in close quarters, share personal information online and are less likely to monitor their financial statements and credit reports,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “That adds up to opportunity for an identity thief.”

For many college students, freshman year is their first time away from home and they may be unaware of the need to actively protect their personal information. There are a number of common sense steps that college students can take to keep their personal information from falling into the wrong hands, including:

  • Shred any out-of-date documents that include your personal information. These documents could include school registration forms, bank or credit card statements or health insurance documents.
  • Never carry a Social Security card with you. Keep your number private.
  • Secure the information in your dorm room. Never leave personal documents lying out in the open and consider purchasing a simple lockbox for credit cards, passports or other sensitive documents you may need on campus.
  • Shred credit card offers. If these offers are stolen, a scammer could open lines of credit in your name.
  • Monitor statements monthly. Review your bank and credit card statements and phone bills for unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Get a free copy of your credit reports at and review them for any unauthorized lines of credit.

To further reduce the risk of identity theft, DATCP provides the following online safety tips for college students:

  • Privacy and security settings exist for a reason. Information on social media like birthdates, pet names and travel plans can be used by criminals to hack your accounts or target you in scams.
  • Contact the school’s information technology department. The school may have guidance for incoming students on how to protect web-enabled devices before connecting to the campus network. This department may also provide anti-virus software or hands-on device support for free or at a reduced rate to students.
  • Passwords. Mix letters, numbers and special characters to create passwords that are at least 10 characters long, especially on your email account. Many websites send password update and account access emails to customers, so getting hold of these emails could potentially give a hacker access to all of these online accounts.
  • Protect your devices. Update the operating system and anti-virus software on your devices to target recent viruses and patch any holes that hackers can use to access your system.
  • Lock down your smartphones and tablets. To protect your data and make your devices useless for most thieves, use passcodes on the main screen of your device and set the lock time for only a couple of minutes.
  • Watch out for “free” apps and unsolicited email and text messages. All of these are tools scammers use to spread malicious software. Download programs for your device from an official app store and never click a link in an unsolicited email or text.
  • Surf securely. When shopping or banking online, look for https: or shttp: in the web address. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, limit the type of business you conduct.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at, send an e-mail or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

Shop smart for back to school

The end of August means picnics, swimming pools and last minute fishing trips for many Wisconsin families. For those with children in kindergarten through grade 12, late August also signals the “back to school” shopping season. To make sure you get your money’s worth, take these tips from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) along with your shopping list.

“A recent national survey found that the average family will spend nearly $690 this year on back to school shopping,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “With that much money on the line, it is important for shoppers to plan ahead for their needs and to keep a close eye on their receipts to ensure that they are getting the advertised prices for their purchases.”

The majority of a family’s back to school spending is expected to go toward clothing, followed by electronics and school supplies. Retailers will likely offer a number of seasonal discounts and promotions over the next weeks to entice consumers. Before visiting a store, make sure to closely review the company’s advertisements for restrictions involving quantities, returns or rain checks.

Follow these simple tips to ensure that you are charged the right price for your purchases:

  • Bring a copy of the store ads with you. Having the ability to “cross shop” using multiple fliers will be beneficial.
  • Write down prices or special sales while you shop to have a better sense of the final total before you hit the register. Most pricing errors occur on sale items.
  • Keep an eye on the display screen while your items are being scanned. Speak up if you think you have been overcharged for an item.
  • Stores are required to charge the lowest advertised price.
  • If there is a pricing error, Wisconsin law requires that a store refund any overcharge amount. Work with customer service to receive a refund while you are in the store. Double check your receipt before you leave to ensure that the totals are correct.
  • Ask about a store’s pricing error policy. In addition to refunding the overcharge, some stores give bonuses as a customer service gesture.
  • Report pricing errors to state or local inspectors. To file a weights and measures complaint with DATCP’s Weights and Measures Bureau, send an e-mail to or call 608-224-4942.

Every year, DATCP’s Weights and Measures team visits stores statewide to test for price accuracy, and the results show that consumers pay correct prices at Wisconsin stores an overwhelming majority of the time. In 2013, DATCP inspectors tested more than 42,000 items for price accuracy, and found that nearly 99% of the time prices were accurate or registered in the consumers’ favor. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to keep these back-to-school shopping tips in mind during this busy shopping season.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to

Timeshare reselling scams still prevalent

Twin Cities region continues to be claimed as home for foreign fraudsters


Timeshare reselling schemes continue to plague the marketplace and just two recent cases have defrauded victims out of more than $40,000 and $20,000, respectively. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) regularly receives inquiries about, and helps uncover, bogus timeshare reselling firms claiming addresses in the Twin Cities. Though these entities look legitimate at first glance, a closer review of their operations reveals they are not actually located here and exist solely to defraud consumers.


“Timeshare reselling scams have really ramped up in recent years,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “People who own timeshares should understand they’re dealing with professionals. Recently, a consumer’s attorney reviewed an agreement sent by one of these fraudulent entities. Even the attorney stated the documents looked legitimate.”


In most cases of this type of fraud, timeshare owners receive calls from individuals claiming to represent companies which had secured buyers or renters for their timeshares. The callers are told there will be no upfront fees. However, after receiving official-looking contracts, consumers are eventually informed they have to wire escrow funds to Mexico – or money to cover transfer fees, closing costs and/or taxes and liens – in order to close the deal. Upon wiring the funds as requested, customers are then usually told that still more unexpected costs have arisen and they will need to wire yet more money to complete the transaction. This process often continues until consumers realize something is amiss.


Just some of the fraudulent entities – claiming addresses in our area – which BBB has uncovered in recent months are: Business Events International, Century Title Escrow Inc., Corporate Services International Group and Financial Planning 2Go. More recently, BBB has learned Minne Realty Services and NSR Services, Inc. are not legitimate timeshare resellers.


BBB advises people looking to sell their timeshare properties to always:


  • Be wary. If you currently own a timeshare and are approached by a company saying they have buyers or renters lined up, exercise caution.
  • Investigate. Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website or one that has photos of exotic locales. Creating websites is fairly easy. Use a business you can trust by accessing free BBB Business Reviews at
  • Look for an established track record. Does the company have a history or did they just “pop up on radar”?
  • Watch out for upfront fees and requests to wire funds. Remember, unless it’s negotiated into the purchase agreement, only buyers pay closing costs. Many complaints to the BBB regarding supposed timeshare reselling entities involve situations where people were told they needed to wire “escrow funds,” or that they just had to pay taxes or closing costs and their timeshare would be rented or sold. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
  • Confirm licensing requirements - Verify where the company is located and in what states it does business. Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, confirm that with the state licensing board.
  • Get the facts on the figures - Find out if the business charges a commission. Do they handle the entire closing and provide escrow services? Do they charge an upfront listing or advertising fee? What does it cover and is it refundable?
  •  Don’t fall for an offer that sounds too good to be true - Don’t agree to anything over the phone but instead ask the salesperson to send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured. Remember, scammers have gotten very good at creating official-looking contracts.
  • Watch out for third-party companies. Fraudulent timeshare reselling entities often associate with alleged third-party title or escrow services in an effort to appear more legitimate. Be sure to research those companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
  • Be realistic. In regard to timeshares, it’s generally a buyer’s – not a seller’s – market. Unscrupulous timeshare resellers may claim that your property is in demand and they can sell it immediately; unfortunately, these promises often prove to be false.