Better Business Bureau warns of telemarketing scams

BUFFALO The Upstate NY chapter of the Better Business Bureau has issued an alert to consumers beware of scams involving businesses claiming to be from the village of Champlain. In the latest consumer advisory, the public is warned to avoid the common pitch given over the phone by people representing the bogus companies, which may initially seem harmless. First, the person calling will introduce himself or herself by saying, Hi, this is (insert a name) from (a company youve never heard of) in New York. However, the Better Business Bureau warns the person is not typically from New York, thought their mailing address is. The person will also verify the name, phone number and address of person they are calling. They are then thanked and told their business will be listed in the companys next business directory. At that point, the person who was called has just been scammed, the bureau warns. With a few simple questions presented by a trained telemarketer, a sale is made. Sometimes thats all it takes, Better Business Bureau president David Polino said in a recent statement. People discover theyve been scammed when a bill arrives, or their deposit check clears and they find out that the company theyve spoken to is actually located in Canada. Small businesses are particular targets along with consumers who fall prey almost daily. Millions of dollars land in the hands of these scammers each year. While the alert is new, Champlain village clerk Donna Barcomb said its been an ongoing issue for as long as shes been in office. We get calls all the time from people who have been scammed, said Barcomb, who has served the village as clerk for seven years. And, all we can really do is refer them to the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Protection Board or the state Attorney General. The names of the fraudulent companies change regularly making it difficult to maintain a registry of what companies to avoid, said Barcomb. People will send money or order products and never get them, said Barcomb. Then, theyll call the number theyve been given and the number will either ring and ring and ring or theyll get disconnected. Its pretty frustrating. Roughly a few weeks ago, Barcomb said she received a call at the village office from a woman wanting to know if a business was legitimate. It was some company that apparently said they could get her a grant if she sent $300 for them to do the paperwork, Barcomb said. Well, if you do, thats the end of your $300. And, its too bad. People are desperate. They think theres free money out there, but youve got to watch out. Businesses claiming to be within the small village which has a population of a little more than 1,200 people are the primary source of complaints totaling in the thousands each year. According to information from the Better Business Bureau, the complaint activity for Champlain stems from nearly 600 companies sited within the bureaus files, giving the region a designation of Scam Central, said Polino. Most of these businesses operate from a Champlain mail-box address and the majority of them are Canadian-run businesses operating scams. Nearly 20,000 complaints are filed with our BBB each year. Over 3,000 of those complaints involve companies with Champlain and nearby cross-border addresses, Polino said. The address presents very tricky business. We open new company files nearly every week for Champlain, he added. For an area this small, its absurd. These businesses open a mailbox and then close or move, ultimately ripping people off. The Better Business Bureau has established a special process to manage the volume of complaints received and consistently works with authorities in the U.S. and Canada to identify and expose the illegitimate businesses claiming to be located in areas like the village of Champlain. The Federal Trade Commission, the Canadian Competition Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in partnership with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre, all work with the Better Business Bureau to tackle illegitimate business operations in the Champlain region. Though the Better Business Bureau has identified that complaints from Champlain scam operations have dropped 10 percent in 2007, the scams still continue. U.S. consumers and businesses need information and tools to avoid fraud and prevent harmful situations, said C. Steven Baker, director of the Midwest Region Federal Trade Commission. The BBB offers consumers a Web site that creates access to a companys history. With more detail, consumers will be better suited to separate an unethical business from one that can be trusted. Baker also encourages consumers to file a complaint if they have been defrauded, though the Better Business Bureau warns prosecution is difficult. This kind of activity is hard to track due to its cross-border nature, different jurisdictions, and the fact some companies operate on the fringe of legality in some cases. The Better Business Bureau urges those who are considering giving information to a person claiming to represent a business to visit their Web site at www.bbb.org. Through the Web site, information regarding business histories and consumer experiences as well as other tips for avoiding scams may be found. Telephone fraud may also be reported online at www.FTC.gov or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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