Spring is Here, BBB Warns of Spring Scams
As of 5:45pm on Friday it is now spring in the stateline. Just as your flowers pop up, so do the scammers. If you are like many people, you are probably thinking of spring vacation! Of course, that means you are in the process of preparing your vacation plans.
The Better Business Bureau serving Wisconsin (BBB) is advising consumers to do their research before booking their next vacation.
Planning your trip may require making reservations with multiple businesses whether online or over the phone. A travel agency can make the process of booking your spring vacation quick and easy, but using the wrong one could turn your vacation into a nightmare.
In 2014, BBB received nearly 8,000 complaints nationally against travel agencies and bureaus. Most complaints alleged consumers felt misled by travel offers that failed to deliver on promises. In some cases, consumers paid money for travel arrangements that were never made.
"Many people are planning to escape the brutal winter and head to warmer climates and spring break is the perfect opportunity,” said Ran Hoth, CEO and president. "When you begin planning your vacation, it could be tempting to accept that too-good-to-be-true offer. BBB recommends doing your research and finding a business you can trust.”
To ensure your trip will be worry free, follow these tips from the BBB:
- Be alert for travel scams. Unsolicited mail, email and websites offering deeply discounted travel packages could leave you out of a vacation and your money if you’re not careful. Watch out for scams saying that you’ve “won a trip” or too good to be true prices. Generally if you’ve truly won something, it will be given to you as a gift. Be especially leery if an offer is unsolicited.
- Do your homework. Ask family and friends to recommend a business they’ve used and check with bbb.org to see free Business Reviews. You can also utilize BBB’s Accredited Business directory to find an accredited business.
- Get everything in writing. Get all the details of your vacation in writing, including travel itineraries, booking confirmations and vouchers. Also review and keep a copy of the business’s cancellation and refund policies.
- Verify reservations. Get the contact information for the airline, rental car company and hotel. Call prior to departure to confirm all arrangements.
- Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance is designed to cover such things as trip cancellations or medical emergencies. Certain businesses and policies have different levels of coverage based on what plan you purchase. Ask a lot of questions, and always read the fine print to see what's covered.
- Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card gives you additional protection if something should go wrong with the travel reservation.
The BBB warns of some common SCAM that occurs most often in Spring:
The “grandparent scam” This happen is spring when scammers see the popularity of spring break trips to carry out their scheme. Relatives of travelers, especially seniors, should be skeptical of calls claiming to be from students stranded in distant locations. These scams usually begin with a call from someone claiming to be a person you know (often a child or grandchild) who preys upon the relative by stating they need money to get out of jail or pay for a medical emergency.
If you receive such a call, remember that a request for you to send money by wire transfer or prepaid MoneyPak cards to someone you have not verified is often not legitimate and nearly impossible to reverse. One easy way to confirm a family member’s identity is to ask a simple question such as the name of the family pet or where they attend school.
Alarm System Scams No one wants to have their home burglarized and many homeowners pay substantial sums to have their homes protected by security systems. Knowing this scam artist, who are often alarm company sales people, comb neighborhoods looking for signs posted in yards warning that the home has a security system. They knock on the door and tell you the system needs to be upgraded. Once inside they give you the bad news that they system cannot protect you against today’s modern theft techniques and offer to “upgrade” your system. In reality they are disconnecting your service provider and installing a system from their company. If you agree to the “upgrade” and sign their agreement you could be locked into a multi-year contract that can end with a costly penalty if you try to break it.
The BBB advises on how to protect yourself:
1. Never allow anyone into your home who claims to be from your alarm company without contacting the company first.
2. Ask questions if they are reluctant to provide answers – that’s a red flag
3. Don’t be frightened by reports from them of a rash of burglaries in your area.
4. Never sign any agreement where you feel pressured to do so.
5. Do not sign anything that you have not read thoroughly.
Magazine Sales Scams
You open your door to find someone selling subscriptions to magazines. They say it’s a great deal but often the prices are as much as three times the regular price. You pay with a check or credit card and then you receive nothing in return.
What to do to avoid being scammed:
1. Many municipalities require door-to-door solicitors to have a permit. Ask to see it.
2. Before paying check out the businesses at bbb.org.
3. If the cost of the subscriptions is $25 or more you must be informed of your 3-day right to cancel. If they do not assume it is a scam.
Spring can bring severe weather leaving behind hail-damaged roofs. And following the storms are fraudsters known as “storm chasers”. These scam artists sell themselves as roofing contractors. They go town-to-town, door-to door, taking money for work, under performing or not performing at all, and then moving on to the next town before the homeowners can get their money back.
Home owners can lose thousands of dollars in these scams. The BBB offers these tips before choosing a roofing contractor:
1. When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding.
2. Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
3. Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment up front.
4. Do not hire people who show up at your door offering services such as tree or debris removal and roof repair.
5. Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
6. Check out the company first with the BBB at www.bbb.org and deal only with reputable local contractors.
7. Get a written contract that specifies the price and the work to be done and a time frame. In Illinois state law requires a written contract with all costs enumerated for home repair or remodeling work over $1,000.
8. Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Buy only the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable.
9. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
10. Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
11. Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name and phone number.
12. Be sure that all promises made are put in writing.