DATCP offers tips for buying propane

With summer in full swing, winter heating options are the last thing on the mind of most consumers. But energy experts are advising consumers to plan ahead for their propane needs this winter by looking at options now and buying early. To assist Wisconsin consumers, DATCP is offering a new fact sheet explaining propane options, including questions to ask when comparing offers.

“Propane suppliers offer a wide variety of pricing agreements and delivery options, and consumers are more likely to get a better price when they buy early,” said Sandy Chalmers, Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “Research options, ask questions, and get everything in writing.”

The new DATCP fact sheet includes background on common delivery options and pricing structures to help consumers weigh their options when buying propane. It also includes key questions for the consumer to ask, aimed at allowing the consumer to compare contracts. Download the fact sheet from the DATCP website (http://datcp.wi.gov/Consumer/Factsheets/index.aspx) or request a copy by mail by calling 1-800-422-7128.

“The propane contract sets the terms of the agreement between a propane marketer and a consumer, so make sure you read and understand the terms of the contract before you sign,” said Chalmers. “Pay special attention to provisions on added fees and surcharges and how credits and refunds will be applied.”

Other tips to consider include:

Pricing agreements. Budget plans, pre-pay plans, and fixed-price plans can offer consumers savings when compared to buying at market price. Knowing your tank size and your typical propane usage can help you get the best price and avoid over- or under-buying. If you use up your contracted amount before the end of the season, you may have to pay the market price for additional propane. If you overbuy, your retail marketer may credit your account for the following year, depending on the terms of your contract.

Delivery arrangements. Some retail marketers offer to deliver propane automatically to refill your tank. Others allow you to monitor your usage and call when you need a delivery. Make sure you know how much advance time your retail marketer needs to schedule a delivery.

Ask about fees and other charges. When you compare between retail marketers, don’t ask only about per-gallon cost. Retail marketers may charge a variety of add-on fees, including trip fees, after-hours delivery charges, weekend fees, partial fills and inspection fees. Those fees can have a major impact on your total out-of-pocket costs.

Get a signed and dated contract and keep copies of receipts for at least a year. No matter what kind of agreement you reach, a written contract sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the buyer and seller. Receipts are handy to have if there is a dispute between you and your propane supplier.

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

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Home Security Alarms – How to choose the right company

The installation of a home security system is much more common than in years past. In fact, many newer homes come already equipped with them. Not only can a security system provide a line of defense against intruders, it can, in some cases, help lower insurance premiums as well as help ensure personal safety and the safety of family members. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers some advice on things people should consider before signing an agreement with a home security company.

“Security systems can offer homeowners additional peace of mind, but people should always pay attention to warning signals when searching for the right company,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

A good place to start this process is to determine whether you are going to purchase the alarm or lease it. If you purchase the system, you’ll own the equipment outright. A leased system may cost less initially, but it won’t belong to you and could be removed from your home once you discontinue your service or switch companies.

Most alarm systems are linked to a central monitoring center. It’s a good idea to see if the company installing the alarm will be the one monitoring your system. If not, make sure you obtain the name, address and phone number of the company providing monitoring services. You’ll want to research them as well at bbb.org.

Another good question to ask a salesperson is, ‘What is the process?’ For instance, when an alarm is triggered, some security firms call the homeowner first and only alert the authorities if no one answers or if the property owner confirms there’s a problem. Ask for their procedures in writing as far as exactly what will happen when your alarm goes off, so you know what to expect. The monthly cost of monitoring can vary, so it’s also worthwhile to get an idea of the market rate. Systems that are not monitored rely solely on a siren as a form of deterrent.

Since alarm systems are available in a wide range of prices and technologies, customers have a number of options to choose from. The most economical systems usually include a control panel, keypad, door and window sensors, and a siren. More advanced systems may include advanced keypad options, glass break sensors, and heat and carbon monoxide sensors. Some households only need the basics while others want the deluxe package – which now includes video security systems so that homeowners can actually see what’s happening inside their house. Decide which options best suit your needs.
In recent years more and more households have switched from traditional landlines to cell phones and Internet-based lines. Making a switch midway through your contract may affect your alarm service. Ask the sales representative what your options are in the event you decide to discontinue the use of a landline.

It’s also important to know that most companies will require you to sign anywhere from a 24 to 60 month contract for monitoring. This is especially true if they installed the alarm system. Consumers who cancel before their contract expires are often subject to hefty cancellation fees. Before you sign up with anyone, be sure to ask how long your contract is for and what the cancellation policies are. In discussions with your sales representative, ask what would happen if the company were to be bought out. Also, don’t rely on oral promises; get everything in writing.

Furthermore, be aware that it is a common practice within this industry to use “evergreen contracts.” If proper notice has not been given, an evergreen contract automatically renews upon expiration. Companies often require consumers to provide notice of their intent to discontinue service at least 30 days in advance. It is the consumer’s responsibility to know when the contract expires and to give notice by the cut-off date stipulated in the contract. If you end up signing an evergreen contract, it’s a good idea to place a label in a visible area near the alarm to remind you when the contract expires and when the cancellation must be made.

Other things to consider:

  • Alarm companies frequently send sales teams to canvass neighborhoods in search of new customers. If you already have a home security system and the sales representative tells you that your service is about to expire, don’t take their word for it. Contact your alarm company and verify the expiration date on your contract. If the company claims they are acting on behalf of your current alarm company, verify that as well.
  • It’s a good idea to ask for identification. A reputable salesperson will provide you with all the information you request, including ID and a business card. It’s always a good idea to contact the company directly to ensure the person on your doorstep is an employee.
  • Does the sales person have a solicitor’s license from the city you’re in?
  • Ask about false alarms – will you be charged?
  • Avoid snap decisions. Tell the salesperson you will consider the offer and get back to him or her after doing your research. Watch out for high-pressure sales pitches.
  • Always research companies at bbb.org.

Out of State Tax Notices May Signal Identity Theft

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has recently received reports of what appears to be a new trend in identity theft: consumers are receiving notices from tax agencies in other states about filed tax returns.
The consumers didn’t earn income or file tax returns in those states, but the state tax agency letters say their return is under review.
“Don’t assume the letter is just a clerical error. If a tax return was filed using your personal information, you may be the victim of identity theft,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Take immediate steps to protect your identity.”
Identity thieves use personal information to file fraudulent tax returns in hopes of getting a refund. If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft, DATCP recommends these immediate first steps:
? Contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert
? Order your credit reports and review them for unexpected activities
? File a police report about the incident
? Review this DATCP fact sheet on identity theft: http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Consumer/pdf/IdentityTheftWhatToDo602.pdf
DATCP is working with the Internal Revenue Service, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and the states that sent the notifications. If you receive a similar letter in the mail, please file a complaint on the DATCP website (http://datcp.wi.gov) or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-422-7128 or by email at datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

Have You Been ‘Wowed’ by Great Customer Service?

The BBB wants to know! Nominate a deserving company or charity today!
Milwaukee, Wis. – The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau Center for Character Ethics is now accepting nominations and online applications through February 9, 2015 for the 2015 BBB Torch Awards for Ethics.The Torch Awards for Ethics were created to honor ethical Wisconsin companies and charities whose leaders demonstrate a high level of personal character and ensure that the organization’s practices meet the highest standards of ethics. These organizations build trust among their employees, customers and their communities by advertising honestly, remaining transparent, and honoring their promises.Anyone can nominate a business or a charitable organization. For more information or to nominate, go to http://www.bbb.org/wisconsin/torch-award/ or contact Carole Milos at cmilos@wisconsin.bbb.org or call 414-847-6064.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2013, people turned to BBB more than 132 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org/wisconsin. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 112 local, independent BBBs across North America, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation. BBB Serving Wisconsin was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.

Shipping/Reshipping Scheme Claiming Milwaukee Addresses

Milwaukee, Wis. – The BBB Serving Wisconsin is warning consumers nationwide of a shipping and reshipping scam believed to be using Milwaukee office building addresses.The BBB file opened on “Pick And Send” (which is also doing business under the name “Ship-It-Now”) on May 16, 2014. Since then, our office has been receiving roughly six inquiries per day, from consumers across the country who report being contacted by this company and offered a work-at-home “shipping and receiving operator” job.

Consumers from Missouri and Kansas tell the BBB that, after they accepted the “job”, they were required to send a copy of their driver’s license, and were then sent boxes containing toys, iPhones, iPads, and other items that they were then instructed to reship to Moscow, Russia. Payments of up to $1700 per month were promised but never received.

The telephone numbers this company is using and listing on its websites have 414 and 262 area codes, but are in fact Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIp) numbers. A VoIP call may appear local or have a U.S. area code, but in fact, can be coming from outside the country.

Emails sent to the company by the BBB have gone unanswered. The BBB has not been able to get through to the company via its listed telephone numbers.

The addresses the company lists on its websites are downtown Milwaukee office buildings. However, after checking with building management for both buildings, the BBB has confirmed that neither building has ever had a tenant with these names.

Neither “Pick And Send” nor “Ship-It-Now” are incorporated nor registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (Secretary of State), according to its website, and neither can be found as listed businesses in the state.

According to the URL information, www.pick-and-send.com was created on 3/3/14 and has a private domain. Its registration address is Queensland, Australia. The website has been suspended as of 6/26/14.

According to the URL information, http://www.send-it-off.com/?p=index was created on 6/2/14 and also has a private domain. Its registration address is also Queensland, Australia.

Shipping/Reshipping scams typically have the following signs:

  1. Company initiates contact with you from a generic or free online web email address.
  2. Company website domain was recently registered.
  3. Company requires you to receive and ship packages (normally overseas) for a promised commission.
  4. Company claims to reimburse for shipping costs or provides a carrier account number (likely set up through stolen financial information or is stolen account information from a legitimate company).
  5. Company is not located in the United States or is conducting business only with clients overseas.
  6. Misspelled words and grammatical errors appear in the job offer and corresponding emails.
  7. Employment starts without a face to face interview. The employer requires personal information without providing a detailed job description.
  8. Company information cannot be verified.
  9. Job description promises high income for very little time and effort; no experience necessary.

The BBB urges extreme caution when responding to job ads via email and reminds consumers if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Consumers with cross-border complaints can report them to the Federal Trade Commission:  https://econsumer.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ and the FBI’s IC3 website: http://www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

BBB’s Top Five Summer Scams

Summer is a great time to take that long-overdue vacation or make much-needed home repairs, but as the weather heats up, so do scams. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) is warning consumers about these popular summer schemes.

Don’t let a scam ruin your vacation. Fake travel agents and websites are known for touting too-good-to-be-true deals in the hopes of getting your money in return. Whether it’s a fake timeshare rental or a falsely promised Disney vacation, don’t let a vacation scam take you for a ride. Make sure the offer is legitimate by checking bbb.org first. If there is no BBB Business Review on the company, dig deeper: Google the phone number or website to see if others have reported problems.

Keep your belongings safe during your move. Summer is the peak time of year for changing residencies, and unlicensed movers and dishonest scammers are waiting to take advantage of the busy season. Always research the company and check out the mover’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org. Not all price quotes online or over the phone are legitimate (or binding), and crooks are not likely to send an estimator to your home in advance. Also remember that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic, low-ball offer, which may cost you more in the end.

Beware of summer concert ticket scams. Before paying for concert tickets online, make sure the seller is reputable. Oftentimes, phony sellers will trick consumers into wiring money with no intention of sending real tickets. Most concert venues now allow ticket holders to print tickets from personal computers, which also gives scammers the opportunity to sell the same ticket over and over to unsuspecting consumers. Be wary of sellers who: offer a sad tale as to why they cannot use the tickets; only accept cash; want the money wired or transferred through a prepaid account; and/or pressure you to act quickly.

Be wary of high pressure door-to-door sales tactics. Many legitimate companies use door-to-door sales, and various city ordinances regulate solicitors to protect residents from unscrupulous individuals. However, consumers need to watch for individuals who try to work their way around the system to line their pockets. Many door-to-door salesmen offer deals for everything from driveway paving to air conditioning repair to security systems. Before saying yes, get all promises in writing, including start and finish dates. Never sign a contract that has an open-ended completion date or blank spaces

Beware of job scams that can turn a hot summer cold. Finding summer employment is a top priority for most college and high school students. Don’t let the seasonal job hunt turn into a huge waste of time and money. Always be wary of employers who require fees for training and background checks, or who tout “no experience needed.” BBB considers these red flags for employment scams.

Find out more about scams and sign up for scam alerts at BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). For tips you can trust, visit bbb.org and for the latest, check out our blog, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

BBB Warns of Robocalls

Milwaukee, Wis. – The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is warning Wisconsinites about recent robocalls –prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls to consumers–being reported throughout the state.Telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages are generally illegal unless you have given the company or caller written permission to call you.

Consumers have reported receiving phone calls which appear to be from local phone numbers, some report the calls are, in fact, similar to their own home phone number. However, BBB believes the calls are likely not local, and probably coming from overseas perpetrators  who purchase lists of cell and home phone numbers, or use robocall capabilities to randomly dial. Using a technique called “spoofing”, criminals attempt to trick customers into thinking a call is coming from a legitimate home or business.

The BBB has received numerous calls within the last few days, and other BBB’s throughout the country recently report the same. The BBB is advising consumers to use caution when providing information over the phone.

Here’s how the scheme works: Your phone rings, the number may look familiar, local, or within the U.S. When the call is answered, a computerized voice claims to have methods to lower your credit card interest rates. They then may require you to provide a credit card number.

“Con artists use software and devices to dial over the internet, and can then make any business name and phone number appear on caller I.D.”, said Ran Hoth, CEO and President of the BBB Serving Wisconsin. “This hijacking scheme allows callers to attempt to gain your trust, as well as your important personal or financial information.”

On September 1, 2009, unwanted robocalls became prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), unless the telemarketer has obtained permission in writing from consumers who want to receive such calls. As part of the Telemarketing Sales Rule , sellers and telemarketers who transmit prerecorded messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing to accept such messages can face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.

Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, the BBB advises:

  • Never give out any financial information. If you did not initiate the call, do not provide bank account, credit card or social security numbers over the phone to unknown callers.
  • Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations.
  • Hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
  • Consider contacting your phone provider. Ask your provider to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.
  • Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call.
  • Report robocalls. File a complaint with the FTC on their website or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

Keep an Eye Out for Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

MADISON – Wisconsin consumers should regularly monitor their credit card statements for unauthorized charges. Recent widespread scams have involved small, unauthorized charges on credit cards that are easily overlooked by cardholders.
“Scammers hope that consumers will overlook the small charge on their monthly statements or not review the statements at all,” said Sandy Chalmers, Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “Report unauthorized charges immediately to minimize your liability.”
A consumer recently complained to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) about an unexpected charge of nearly $13 on his credit card from an unfamiliar company. This fraudulent charge included a foreign transaction fee of $0.37. This situation is similar to another recent scam where consumers worldwide found unauthorized charges of $9.84 on their monthly credit card statements.
Consumers should closely review their monthly credit card statements. If you find an unauthorized charge on your statement, immediately contact your financial provider (using the number on the back of the credit card) to report the fraud and to request a new card.
There are a number of steps you can take to protect your credit account and to lessen the potential for fraudulent activity in your accounts. Some tips to consider include:
? Do not give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you made the call to a company you know to be reputable.
? Carry your cards separately from your wallet to minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. Only carry the card you need for that outing.
? Keep your eye on your card during a transaction. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
? Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
? Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
? Open your bills promptly — or check them online often — and reconcile them with the purchases you have made.
? Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
? Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.
If you lose a credit card, call the card issuer as soon as you realize it is missing. Under federal law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no additional responsibility for charges you did not make and are only responsible for $50 in charges for unauthorized purchases made before you reported it missing. If you suspect that the card was used fraudulently, you may have to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchases in question.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.
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Fraudulent Postcards Take Aim at our Region

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ®  (BBB) is warning area consumers to watch out for a scam involving a postcard purportedly alerting recipients to ‘an unclaimed reward of $100 in gift savings good at Walmart or Target.’ The mail piece does not have a return address but directs people to call 844-633-9988 to claim their supposed prizes. BBB is advising the public to either shred these mailings or report them to the FTC (877-382-4357), your local post office or both.

“We’ve all heard the saying about never looking a gift horse in the mouth,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “However, we believe this ‘offer’ has more to do with the other end of the horse in question.”

This bogus offer was brought to BBB’s attention by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Variations of this particular scam have popped up sporadically nationwide for the last few years. Some notifications have been delivered via text message and others through email. People may also receive phone calls claiming they’re the recipient of such prizes. In every case like this to date, Target and Walmart headquarters have stated these postcards/communiqués were not issued by them.

A Better Business Bureau employee called the number on the postcard and tried to claim a prize. The representative – who claimed to represent a company called Care Express – had a heavy foreign accent and stated that a ‘one-time shipping/activation fee of $3.95’ would need to be paid via credit card to receive the alleged gift savings. At that point, the BBB employee disconnected the call. During the call, the company representative also refused to provide his location.

“So you have an unknown entity asking people to provide their credit card information for a nebulous offer which may not exist – or likely has little or no value, if it does,” added Badgerow. “It would be an understatement to say we’ve heard better offers.”

Better Business Bureau reminds consumers to:

·         Never give out personal or financial information to unknown parties over the phone, through the mail or via the Internet.

·         Always research offers before making any decisions. Visit bbb.org or call 1-800-646-6222.

·         Be wary of deals that sound too good to be true.

If you’ve already provided your credit card number to the individuals behind this offer, contact your card issuer or financial institution immediately – as well as your local authorities – and monitor your statements closely.

The mission of 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. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

Ways to Save on Your Summer Vacation

Vacations can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. Rather than just planning on overspending, it’s always a good idea to be proactive and plan ahead. This summer, do your best to enjoy a vacation without depleting your funds or adding additional debt. Before scheduling your trip, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) urges people to start by making sure that the deals they’ve found are legitimate.

 

Here are some additional ways you can manage your budget when preparing for your next getaway:

 

Don’t rely on credit cards! Avoid the debt trap by saving up ahead of time for your vacations, and pay as you go whenever possible. For larger purchases, such as airfare and hotel rooms, using a credit card provides added protections if problems arise, but make it a goal to pay off those expenses when your next statement arrives.

 

Prepare a budget – Planning is important. Make a little room in your budget by allowing for unexpected occurrences and emergencies.

 

Be resourceful – Check the State Tourism Board or local Chamber of Commerce website where you will be vacationing for suggestions and links to recreational ideas. See if there are any money-saving discount (such as Groupon) offers in the city you’re visiting. Or consider a “staycation,” a vacation where you visit local or regional attractions but sleep in your own bed at night.

 

Timing is everything – If you do plan on traveling outside of your immediate area, aim for the off-season. Prices are usually substantially lower, and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Off-season depends on where you are: summer can be a terrific time to visit a ski resort, where you can get nice rooms and all the non-skiing amenities for a fraction of the cost of a winter trip.

 

Short and sweet – You don’t have to go on a two-week trip in order to feel refreshed after a vacation. Take a long weekend or two, and maximize your itinerary by planning activities well ahead of time.

 

Avoid unnecessary costs – Don’t find yourself trapped by additional charges or fees. For example, avoid hotel room phones, which often carry hefty surcharges. Pack as lightly as possible to avoid extra baggage charges.

 

Pack your own meals to-go – When you’re on the road, travel with a cooler and purchase snacks ahead of time.

 

Use Public Transportation – Choose a destination with lots to see and do, and simply walk from place to place. Also, consider using local bus or transit service rather than driving and parking.

 

To help ensure a successful and enjoyable summer vacation, it’s always a good idea to first research the businesses behind the travel offers you’re considering at bbb.org.