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Monday, May 2, 2016

Better Business Bureau looking out for public

Friday, October 17, 2008

When people fall for scams, Linda Carmody, president/CEO of the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau, Inc., takes it personal.

She is concerned, and frankly, gets angry when Hoosiers get taken in by a variety of identity theft, bogus sweepstakes deals or other product scams that are currently being practiced by unscrupulous crooks.

"I do get frustrated. I want to expose them. There are companies that are hitting Indiana right now," she stressed.

One recent victim is Doris, who lives in Anderson.

She is one of the victims whom Carmody said didn't deserve to be taken advantage of.

Doris got a call from a sweepstakes company congratulating her on being a $2.5 million winner and was directed to wire the firm $150. She did it.

They called her back again and said they forgot about an international processing fee and asked her to wire $1,500.

The crooks were so brazen as to read passages from the Bible with this elderly lady on the telephone after she told the caller that she had been to church when she missed a call earlier in the day.

"They (the crooks) are good. She was persuaded eight different times to wire money. She wired them over $11,000. That's how persuasive, that's how slick they are," Carmody said.

Doris called the Better Business Bureau and told her sad story -- but it was too late.

"These crooks don't care. They get the money and that is all that matters," Carmody said.

Carmody pointed out that sweepstakes scams -- like the one that took Doris -- are very popular and too many people -- especially the elderly -- fall victim to them.

The Central Indiana Better Business Bureau, Inc. is a private not-for-profit organization that monitors business and charities, which conducts investigations, and also process hundreds of consumer complaints each year. The BBB also conducts mediations, arbitrations and reviews media advertisements.

The so-called consumer watchdog group covers 46 counties -- including Greene, Clay and Putnam counties.

Members of the BBB -- who pay an annual fee -- agree to follow a series of rules, stipulations and decisions handed down by the organization. The fee ranges from $395 to about $2,000 -- based on the number of employees.

Unfortunately, the BBB remains very busy processing complaints -- which amount to more than 10,000 filed last year.

"Our services are much more in demand than they have ever been. Our services are free for the customers because the ethical business community is paying for it," she said.

Carmody said she's been with the BBB for more than 30 years and while the scams are frustrating to her, the majority of Hoosier businesses are good and ethical.

"We like to think of ourselves as the standards people because the businesses who are accredited by us have to abide by 14 standards. We report on charities and whether they meet 20 standards. We have standards for advertising," she explained.

With scams like the one that afflicted Doris, many times a counterfeit check is enclosed with a notification letter to cover what the company calls "up-front fees." The victim is asked to deposit the "worthless," but authentic-looking check into their bank account. Then, they are asked to wire the same amount of money back to the sweepstakes company. They are told when the upfront fee is received, the remainder of the winnings will be forwarded.

Common amounts for this scam are $1,500 to $2,500.

"(The victim) deposits the check, the bank processes the check and it comes back as counterfeit and (the victim is) out the money (they) wired. It is virtually impossible to catch these crooks," she said.

Her advice on any kind of offers is, "If you have to pay upfront money don't do it."

"It's against the law for a company to say you have won and ask you to pay. If you have to pay upfront, whether it's for employment, a sweepstakes, lottery or anything else, it's a scam." Carmody said.

She added identity theft remains a growing problem.

"Identity theft is huge with the economy the way it is. The people who don't have good credit wants somebody else's credit that is good," she said, "One of the things we encourage people to do is to take advantage of getting that credit report every year."

A credit report may be obtained at no charge on line by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.

Carmody said the game the identity thief will play is pretty simple.

"They will steal you credit card, your checking account number or whatever they need. Then they will call the credit card company and say I just moved so will you send my bill to my new address. The person who really has the credit card really has no idea of what has happened."

Carmody pointed out that unraveling the financial damage done by one of these scams literally takes hours, weeks and months to straighten out.

"It's not one of those crimes that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. You are guilty until you are proven innocent," she stressed. "It can be a pain."

The BBB may be contacted online at www.bbb.org or they can call toll-free at 1-866-INDYBBB.

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