How to avoid popular winter scams like online dating, home improvement: Better Business Bureau

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The winter season can be an optimal time for scammers.

Better Business Bureau joined ABC7 to discuss two popular scams for this time of year: Online Dating Scams and Home Improvement Scams

Online Dating Scams:

Success stories in ads for online dating services can make it sound like true love is just a click away. Better Business Bureau advises consumers to be aware of the limitations, costs and terms of the services as well as the potential for fraud if your match turns out to be a thief.

BBB received more than 1,100 complaints about dating services last year. Many concern billing and collection issues.

Often, customers complain that it is difficult to cancel the service because it is automatically renewed.

Common complaints about dating services include:

  • Failure to match clients with compatible singles. Complaints included non-smokers matched with people who smoke; well-educated people matched with less-educated ones; religious people matched with atheists; or matches that lived too far away or were married.

  • Use of intimidating or duplicitous sales tactics: Complainants reported being yelled at, being told to not be so picky or being completely ignored by the companies involved.

  • Failure to deliver: Complainants were told the service had a database of thousands of singles, but they didn't receive the promised number of dates or introductions. Others said a singles club sponsored events to bring singles together, but the events didn't live up to their billing.

  • Minimum enrollment period and inability to cancel: Online dating services normally require a minimum membership period and charge a monthly fee. Contracts often are renewed automatically. Either the customer didn't realize the steps needed to cancel the account, or the consumer took the necessary steps but billing continued anyway.

BBB offers the following advice on matchmaking and online dating services:

  • Don't fall in love with the advertising. Be skeptical of claims such as "an exclusive network of people," "for sincere daters only" or "beautiful singles just like you."

  • Don't give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell you that a low price is only good for that day and ask you to sign a contract immediately. You should read the contract carefully and make sure you understand it.

  • Know how to break up. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually you must call the company or send written instructions to avoid being billed again. Read cancellation policies before you sign up.

  • Beware of demands by a match to send money. Some scams that match men with foreign women typically include a request to send money to pay for a trip to the United States, using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. The woman never makes the trip, and the money can't be recovered.

Do your homework. Ask to speak to other members or customers of the service about their experiences.

Home Improvement Scams

While attending a local home show can provide a one-stop opportunity to gather ideas and meet with potential contractors to hire, your Better Business Bureau is reminding consumers of the importance of doing their homework before making a financial and contractual commitment.

When attending a home show and making plans to hire a home improvement contractor, BBB offers the following tips:

  • Up Front Payment. To avoid this scam, never pay more than one-third of the total cost of the project. It's also recommended that the most to be paid up front is 10% of the total. If you pay in increments, include the payment schedule in your contract and be sure not to pay the final amount until you're completely satisfied with the finished project.

  • Get Everything in Writing. If you sign a contract that is blank or lacking important details, you'll have no legal options in the event that the contractor doesn't complete the work satisfactory, or at all. Be sure to have a detailed description of the work to be done, as well as the materials to be used.

  • Building Permits. Any reputable contractor will get all required permits necessary to begin working on your house. If a contractor refuses to get a permit or pressures you into getting one yourself, this is a red flag. Is the contractor legitimate, is he licensed and insured?

  • Contract Changes. Before signing a contract, be sure that it includes the process of a change order. This is like a sub-contract that lists the new work description and fixed price for the job. Any work related to the problem cannot begin until the contract is signed by both parties.

  • Door-to-Door Contractors. Never hire a contractor on the spot, no matter what the job is. A reputable contractor will give you time to do your research and check your references. Be sure the contractor is legitimate, has a good reputation and does quality work on time.

For more information visit Better Business Bureau's website.
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