Home inventories ensure fair compensation for losses … and there’s an app for that

MADISON, Wisconsin (January 23, 2015) – While no one wants to dwell on the negative, disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes and other severe storms do occur in Wisconsin. Your best defense is to be well prepared.  A key step you can take toward being prepared is creating a home inventory, which will help you get reimbursement from your insurance company for any lost possessions.

“When you don’t have a home inventory and try to reconstruct what you owned, it can be quite a challenge,” says Ron Von Haden, CIC, Executive Vice President of the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (PIAW). “It’s very possible to overlook or forget things, so you may get less of a settlement than you would if you had an up-to-date inventory.”

Creating an inventory used to be a challenge, but now, there’s an app for that. These apps are easy to use and often backup to the cloud, so you can access them when needed. While most of the programs listed are free, some do have a cost and that is noted.

Here are a few options for your review:

  • ·         Know Your Stuff Home Inventory - This home inventory app from the Insurance Information Institute backs up your data to the cloud, for ensured access if disaster strikes. The program is available for desktop, but also has an app for iPhone® and Android phones. Using the app, you can modify or add to your online inventory—and easily add photos directly from your phone. The program and app are free: www.knowyourstuff.org.
  • ·         MyStuff2 Lite - Keep track of everything from your electronics and appliances to your jewelry and movie collections. Barcode scanning and Amazon integration is included. This is only available for iPhone® and the free version limits you to 15 items. For $8.99, you can upgrade to the Pro version, which has no item limit. It is available on iTunes®.
  • ·         NM Home Inventory – This software captures key information including photos, description and receipts. It can be used in conjunction with a desktop version, as well. This is for Android phones and it is free. Find it in the app store.
  • ·         Encircle - A home inventory tool that allows homeowners, landlords and property managers to efficiently inventory all of their properties. It is easy to update and manage inventory using a smartphone, tablet or the web. This application is free and can be found online: encircleapp.com and in the app stores.

“Another good tip is to check with your local, independent, professional insurance agent before you start your inventory. Your agent can tell you whether your insurance company has any specific reimbursement requirements and whether they offer an app that you can use,” noted Von Haden.

“Your agent can also advise you about expensive or rare items such as your grandmother’s diamond engagement ring, pricey electronics, a piece of artwork or collectible that may exceed the limits of standard homeowners or renters insurance. To ensure this property is protected, you may need extra insurance coverage, called a rider, that covers the true replacement value of these items,” he explained.

To locate a PIA member near you, look for the PIA logo or go to www.PIAW.org.

Better Business Bureau Tax Season Tips

BURNSVILLE, Minnesota – January 22, 2015 – The IRS is now processing tax returns, and the agency continues to emphasize the convenience and security of their online services for taxpayers. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota® (BBB) offers some helpful tips for the public as tax season kicks into gear.

 

“Most of us know the anxiety level only grows the longer we put off doing our personal taxes,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It’s better to be proactive. If you’re not comfortable preparing your own taxes, be sure to find a qualified professional to assist you.”

 

BBB offers the following tips on how to find a trustworthy tax preparer:

 

·         Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and research free BBB Business Reviews on tax preparers and tax preparation services at bbb.org.

 

·         Consider accessibility. Some tax preparation services wind down their operations shortly after the April 15 tax deadline. In case the IRS finds errors or in case of an audit, you need to be sure you know how to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.

 

·         Bigger isn’t always better. Be wary of tax preparation services that promise larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund.

 

·         Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider.

 

·         Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). A PTIN must be obtained by all tax return preparers who are compensated for preparing or assisting in the preparation of, all or substantially all of any U.S. federal tax return, claim for refund, or other tax form submitted to the IRS.

 

·         Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for CPA’s), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

 

·         Remember that a Paid Preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your tax return.

 

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

 

·         Don’t forget about Free File. If your adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less, Free File offers free Federal tax preparation and e-filing. Visit irs.gov/freefile to learn more.

 

The IRS says taxpayers will receive their tax refunds quicker by using e-file or Free File, with the direct deposit option.

 

BBB is also warning people about tax refund fraud, a form of identity theft where someone else fraudulently files a tax return in your name. This is a rapidly growing problem, one that is difficult to detect and can delay the tax refund you’re due. One of the best ways to avoid falling victim to this type of fraud is to file your tax return as soon as possible.

Watch Out for Phony IRS Calls in 2015

With the start of the New Year, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota® (BBB) looks ahead to try and predict which nasty scam will pack the most punch in the coming months. Though perennial “least-favorites” such as sweepstakes and utility schemes are sure to be well-represented, BBB feels phony IRS calls will likely continue to set the pace when it comes to defrauding the public.

“This is a scam that knows no season and no boundaries,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Fraudsters can call from anywhere and use technology and people’s fears to trick and coerce them into making hard to trace payments.”

Phony IRS calls have become common nationwide and can target anyone, but often seem to focus on certain groups, such as foreign-born citizens. Fraudsters claim an affiliation with the IRS and also use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. People contacted by these scammers say they are abusive and threaten arrest or even deportation if alleged tax debts are not paid immediately – usually via wire transfer or prepaid debit cards. Others have received voicemail messages stating they must contact the IRS immediately. Some messages have claimed to be from the U.S. Marshals, threatening arrest if alleged tax debts are not paid in full.

BBB is advising the public that the IRS does not make such calls and initiates contact with taxpayers through the mail. Scammers also utilize technology to alter the information that appears on caller ID, so it may appear as though a call is originating from the IRS, when in fact the call is fraudulent.

The IRS website states they will never:

  • ·         Call to demand immediate payment, nor will they call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • ·         Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • ·         Demand payment without giving people the opportunity to question or appeal the debt in question.
  • ·         Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • ·         Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

The IRS also states they don’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

If you receive one of these fraudulent IRS phone calls, BBB recommends you:

  • Hang up – Don’t provide any information over the phone. Call the IRS directly using the phone number found on their website or in the phone book.
  • Protect your personal information – Never give out any personal or financial information over the phone. This includes your Social Security number.
  • Contact the FCC – Let the Federal Communications Commission know about ID spoofing by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC or file a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints
  • Contact the FTC – File a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Looking to Back the Pack at Lambeau? Watch Out for Fake Tickets

MADISON – Forget the icy temperatures between now and Sunday’s Packers/Cowboys kickoff…fans seeking game day tickets need to worry less about the cold and more about getting burned. Word is going around about possible fake ticket scams, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks fans to use common sense when searching for tickets.

“Demand for playoff tickets is huge and scammers know that it is a great time to make an easy buck,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Buy tickets from businesses or people you know and trust.”

Fraudulent ticket offers often appear on websites like Craigslist and in other classified advertisements. Be leery of too-good-to-be-true offers and any requests for you to pay by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card.

DATCP offers these additional tips to avoid becoming a victim of ticket fraud:

? Try to deal with “official” sources for tickets such as the NFL Ticket Exchange at NFL.com or those that are members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers. These businesses carefully screen ticket offers and take other measures to protect consumers from fraud.

? Legitimate NFL tickets are typically printed on thick, heavy paper with barcodes, holograms and raised ink. Tickets may also include heat sensitive logos that disappear with the touch of a thumb.

? If you are buying from a third-party dealer, ask the seller to e-mail or fax you a copy of the actual tickets before making a payment. Fake tickets may include misspellings, have low-resolution graphics and be short on details about the event. Make sure the ticket information includes the correct date, time, location and seating details.

? Be leery of any tickets that appear to be photocopies. The barcode will only admit one entry, and the code could have been copied from a previous event ticket or could have been used on a number of other fake tickets.

? Use a credit card rather than cash, check or debit card to purchase tickets since it may provide some protection if you do not receive the tickets. However, do not give out your credit card number if you question the legitimacy of the seller.

? If you plan to buy tickets from an online classified ad, ask to meet the seller in person at a police station. If the seller refuses to meet you at a police station, it is likely a scam. Stop the transaction immediately.

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

 

Jury Duty Scam Courts New Victims

Burnsville, Minnesota – January 6, 2015 – Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) is warning the public about a jury duty scam which, regrettably, never goes out of style. Though most adults are aware they may be called for jury duty, not everyone is familiar with the bureaucracy surrounding this process; the exact manner in which people are summoned for jury duty. People also know that jury duty is both a civic duty and mandatory. Scammers, meanwhile, look to profit off situations where uncertainty exists.

 

“The jury duty scam is just clever enough to pay dividends for fraudsters,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Our hope is that by spreading the word about this scheme it will reduce the pool of people who might get hooked by it.”

 

How the jury duty scam works:

 

Scammers contact you, claiming you’ve missed jury duty. The calls or messages threaten people with arrest or jail time if they don’t pay the fine for “missing” jury duty. Scammers will then seek personal information such as bank account or credit card numbers – even Social Security numbers. BBB advises the public that if you get a call from someone who claims to be a court official and asks for sensitive personal information or demands a payment, it’s a scam.

 

In Minnesota, jury duty notices/summonses are sent through the mail. Though Minnesota law requires people to serve on jury duty, if qualified, nobody will call you – or email or text – demanding payment for missing jury duty.

 

BBB Tips to avoid the jury duty scam:

 

Don’t let scammers pressure you. If you get a call from alleged court officials asking for financial information, end the phone call and report the scam to BBB and your county’s jury office.

 

Be aware that scammers can mask their identity. Scammers have the ability to use software to disguise how they appear on your caller ID. So while calls might appear to be from your local courthouse, it could be a fraudster on the other end of the line.

 

Guard your personal information. Giving out sensitive personal or financial information over the phone is always a bad idea – don’t do it.

 

Have questions about the process? If you did indeed miss jury duty, you will be sent a notification in the mail. However, if you have any doubt that a mailing is legitimate, contact your county courthouse.

 

For the latest consumer news, fraud alerts and free BBB Business Reviews, visit bbb.org.

Make These Resolutions for a Scam-Free New Year!

Milwaukee, Wis. – This New Year, you may resolve to eat healthier, get organized or find a new job. But add to your list of resolutions a promise to be savvier about scams. This year, follow the Better Business Bureau’s five resolutions and stay scam free in 2015.

Make These Resolutions and Give Scams a Miss in 2015:

Scammers are constantly devising new tricks and refining old ones. But no matter what cons emerge in 2015 and beyond, keeping these tried and true resolutions will go a long way towards keeping you safe.

  1. Keep your computer programs up-to-date: Those reminders to update your Internet browser, operating system and other software are annoying, but don’t ignore them. Keeping your programs current is a great defense against malware. Software manufactures continually update their programs to protect against the latest viruses.
  1. Set tough passwords. To create strong passwords, combine lowercase and capital letters with a mix of numbers and symbols. Go ahead and write your passwords down, but don’t store this cheat sheet on your computer.
  1. Keep your smartphone safe. Take the same precautions on your mobile device as you do on your computer. Protect your phone with a passcode, keep your software up-to-date and watch out for malware disguised as apps.
  1. Know the telltale signs. A little common sense goes a long way in spotting scams. Watch out for anything that’s too good (or sensational) to be true. This covers everything from “free” gift cards to instant job offers to scandalous celebrity videos. And be skeptical of any communications riddled with typos and poor grammar. If it looks like a scam, it probably is.
  1. Don’t act immediately… research first. Most scams urge you to act right now, before you’ve had a chance to consider your options. Always be sure to do your research. Depending on the occasion, this can be anything from getting three contractor quotes to performing a quick online search. Just don’t be pressured into a commitment before doing your homework.

 

For More Information
For more tips and advice for a scam-free 2015, check out Stopthinkconnect.org, a website created by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Anti-Phishing Working Group. Check out their tips for remaining scam free and protecting your mobile device.

To find out more about other scams and to report a scam, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

Check Business Reviews, find an Accredited Business, and file a complaint at bbb.org/Wisconsin. Do you know an ethical, outstanding organization? Nominate them for a BBB Torch Award for Ethics!

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.

Duluth police issue scam alerts

The hackers are working hard to get some extra credit before 2014 is over.  Below are three
scams you should be aware of both at work and at home.
There are phishing emails and Facebook messages that claim the missing Air Asia Flight
QZ8501 has been found. The message includes a teaser image of a crashed Air Asia jet
and invites users to click a ’Play’ button to view ’breaking news’ footage.  SCAM! Don’t
click it . . . unless you want your device to CRASH!
Watch out for Apple Watch scams from today on forward. This new device is incredibly
popular and will be used for a variety of scams that try to infect workstations with
malware. There will be lotteries, giveaways, ”Free Apple Watch” contests, and promises
that if you buy something, you will get an Apple Watch thrown in the deal at no cost. Be
careful with all these emails, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Think Before
You Click!”
Bad guys have now created a mobile app that researchers identified started in South
Korea in the last few days, attempting to exploit the media frenzy related to ”The
Interview” movie. There is a torrent download, and it poses as an Android App to
download the movie to mobile devices. But no, it’s a banking Trojan.  Do not to
download anything related to ”The Interview” unless you are 100% sure it comes from a
legit source. If you want to see the movie, go to that website yourself, do not click on a
link in an email promising to play the movie.

Take Charge America Helps Parents Protect Kids from Fraud, Identity Theft

Nonprofit credit counseling agency shares five tips for safeguarding children’s sensitive information

PHOENIX – (Dec. 17, 2014) – Parents go to great lengths to shield their children from life’s bumps and bruises, but even the best bicycle helmets and baby gates can’t ward off a hazard that has surfaced in recent years. Identity theft is a threat many moms and dads don’t know how to protect against.

“Identity theft is at an all-time high, and criminals are targeting children more aggressively than ever,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “Their credit history is clean, and most parents don’t even think to check their kids’ credit reports, so it’s easy for criminals to do serious damage over a long period of time.”

Sullivan offers five tips for parents to safeguard their kids from identity theft:

  • Protect kids’ Social Security numbers: Parents should store kids’ cards in a safe and hidden place, and think twice before giving out their child’s number. Health care providers may need this information, but is it necessary for Little League or a library card, or are there other options for identification?
  • Pay attention to their online activity: Kids surfing the web or checking email or social accounts may unwittingly click on links or download content from unknown sources, putting sensitive information at risk. Parents can teach their kids appropriate online conduct and utilize an array of tools that help protect them online.
  • Protect financial accounts: Many parents open savings accounts for their children, but they must be careful to keep financial statements private, ensure accounts can’t be accessed without their approval, and opt out of any marketing to avoid credit card offers in their children’s names. To opt out of credit card offers for five years, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (567-8688) or visit optoutprescreen.com.
  • Understand warning signs: Parents who receive credit card offers in their kid’s name should be wary, as this may mean their identity has been compromised. Other signs include denial of a bank account or driver’s license, or collection calls or bills addressed to a child.
  • Check your child’s credit: Parents who believe their child is at risk for identity theft should request a credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The process for requesting a report on behalf of a child is different for each credit bureau. The steps and required documentation can be found on their respective websites.

If a child’s identity has been stolen, parents immediately should file a police report, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) and place a fraud alert on the child’s file with all three credit reporting companies.

For more financial tips, visit Take Charge America Financial Education Library.

With Holidays Upon Us, BBB Offers Travel Insurance Tips

The Better Business Bureau is trying to help travelers avoid headaches when purchasing travel insurance this holiday season.

Before you finalize your travel plans, be sure you have given careful thought to whether you need to purchase travel insurance. There are circumstances that could cause you to cancel your trip, return home early, or force you to seek emergency medical treatment while traveling. Travel insurance may provide the extra protection you need.

Before you purchase coverage, check your homeowner’s or medical insurance policies to avoid any overlapping. For instance, expensive items such as your camcorder, laptop, computer or jewelry may be covered by your homeowner’s insurance should they be stolen while you are traveling. If the airline loses your checked luggage, they are required to reimburse you for your bags (up to a certain dollar amount). Or, if you become sick or injured while traveling, your personal medical insurance firms differ in what they cover, so be sure to ask.

“Be sure to read the insurance plan. Make sure you understand what it covers, and more importantly, what it doesn’t cover”, says Ran Hoth, BBB of Wisconsin CEO & President. “Check to see if your homeowners or renters insurance covers travel. Some credit cards also offer trip protection. BBB encourages doing some homework before purchasing.”

Some of the different types of insurance available include:

Trip Cancellation/Interruption (TCI) – If your plans suddenly change and you have to cancel or end your trip early, TCI will cover you for this. But, it will only reimburse you for reasons on the insurer’s acceptable list, such as, injury, sickness, death of yourself, a family member, a traveling companion or business partner. Some policies will cover only medical reasons and some will not cover pre-existing medical conditions. It is very important to read the fine print.

Emergency Medical Evacuation – If you are going on an adventure vacation or to an area that is far from modern medical facilities, it may be a good idea to buy this coverage. If adequate treatment is not available at a local hospital, you would be transferred to the nearest adequate medical facility.

Baggage Loss – This coverage reimburses you for lost, stolen or damaged bags. Before packing, be sure to make a list of everything; if your bag is lost, you may be reimbursed for some contents, but not all.

Before purchasing travel insurance, the BBB advises:

  • Read the fine print. Know exactly what coverage you’re getting and what it includes.
  • Comparison shop. What is the difference between buying your travel insurance from an independent travel insurance firm, rather than from your travel agent, the tour operator, cruise line etc.
  • Costs vary. It’s wise to compare costs before making a final purchase decision.
  • Protect yourself further by paying for travel insurance with a charge card.
  • Baggage-loss protection is only necessary if you are carrying more than $2,500 worth of items in your bags. Be sure to check your homeowner’s policy.

Before doing business, check a Business Review for free with BBB.org. Look for the BBB Seal. Find Accredited Businesses in any type of business category through BBB’s Accredited Business Directory.

For an online version of the story click here

Do you know an ethical, outstanding organization? Nominate them for a BBB Torch Award for Ethics!

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.

Help Us Help You Avoid Tax Prep Fraud

MADISON – Prepping for tax season is enough of a challenge…you shouldn’t have to fear
getting ripped off when you go to file. But among the many legitimate tax preparation
businesses in the state, there are a handful of shady companies that collect personal financial information under false pretenses or that file a customer’s tax return without consent and keep all or part of any refund. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks for help from the public to be on the lookout for questionable tax and loan practices and to report any suspicious activity to the agency.
“If you see any questionable tax preparation practices, contact our agency immediately,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Your formal complaint can help us take quick action against fraudulent tax preparation businesses.”
One type of tax and loan scam that has repeatedly surfaced over the past couple of years
involves tax preparation businesses filing returns on behalf of consumers without their consent.
These businesses initially solicit the consumers’ business with a promise of providing short-term loans. In November, the Wisconsin Department of Justice took legal action against Instant Tax Service, Inc., a Milwaukee-based business, for providing loans to consumers and then filing their taxes without permission and taking exorbitant fees from the tax refunds.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming the victim of tax preparation fraud:
? Be alert to promotions such as “holiday loans” or other short-term loans that can be
used to gain the personal financial information needed to file an individual’s tax return.
? Be careful providing personal financial information to a business unless you want the
preparer to file your taxes. Make sure you provide clear direction and that the company
specifically advises you on whether they intend to file your tax return.
? Never sign an authorization permitting a company to file your taxes if you do not want
the company to do so.
? Never sign a document without first reading and understanding what it says.
? Always insist upon receiving copies of all documents that you are required to sign or
that identify the terms of a transaction and the charges you will be required to pay.
Confirm, before signing, that you will receive copies. If a business does not agree to
provide copies, don’t sign.
DATCP works with the Wisconsin Departments of Justice and Revenue to detect tax
preparation fraud. Anyone suspecting fraudulent activity is encouraged to file a complaint
with DATCP. Complaints can be filed online through the DATCP website
(http://datcp.wi.gov) or a complaint form can be requested by calling the state’s Consumer
Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128.