January 23, 2013 9:43:03 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
A Nigerian prince is dying and wants to leave his fortune to you, but he needs $3,000 to fund the transaction. You've won $1 million in a lottery you don't remember entering. There's a must-see video on Facebook, but first you must upgrade your software to view it. A company you've never heard of is offering a great deal on roofing, driveway resealing, tree-trimming or lawn service.
Most people recognize a scam when they see one -- or do they?
Not necessarily, says Mississippi Better Business Bureau president and CEO John O'Hara, the guest speaker at Tuesday's Rotary Club meeting at Lion Hills Golf Club.
Senior citizens are often targeted because they have more time and, particularly in the South, are too polite to hang up the phone, he said. But all consumers run the risk of falling for unscrupulous business practices. Payday loans, income tax advances, extended warranties, home repair -- all are areas ripe for exploitation, and O'Hara sees new scams every day.
Complaints have increased from approximately 200 a month to around 250 a month, he said, prompting the BBB to raise its visibility and take a more active stance to educate people before they become a con artist's next victim.
Web searches on the BBB site have doubled in the past year, O'Hara said, and he encouraged Rotarians to take advantage of the website, which offers up-to-date information on scams, a list of BBB accredited charities and businesses, a place to file complaints and other information.
When a complaint is filed, a business stands to lose its accreditation with the bureau if it fails to respond. If the complaint isn't resolved, it may escalate to small claims court.
Because of that, he said business owners are sometimes hesitant to file a free profile or seek accreditation from the BBB. They fear that by doing so, they are opening themselves up to complaints, but he said the opposite is true -- business owners have more leverage when a complaint is filed against them, and even if they don't fill out a profile, one is automatically created if a complaint is made.
But the BBB isn't only a place to lodge complaints, he said. Consumers can also make recommendations when they receive exemplary service from businesses or independent contractors.
Beth Jolly, director of contract compliance for EcoLab/Microtek, said O'Hara's advice was something most business owners know but don't necessarily follow.
One easy thing consumers can do to cut down on phone scams is to join the National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov), where they can register their home phone or mobile number. But that doesn't always stop determined scammers.
And some, O'Hara said, are even more brazen, targeting both the Do Not Call Registry and even the BBB.
If you receive a call offering an opportunity to sign up for the Do Not Call Registry, it is a scam. There are only two ways to sign up -- through the main website or by calling 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register.
As for the BBB, it made its own list as the top scam of 2011, with numerous small business owners receiving an email notification that a claim had been filed against their business. By clicking the link to clear up the complaint, victims opened themselves up to computer malware capable of obtaining bank information and making money transfers.
Other popular scams right now prey on people's goodwill, with fake charities claiming to be raising money for victims of Superstorm Sandy and victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting.
For more information, visit ms.bbb.org or call the Mississippi Better Business Bureau at 800-987-8280.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.