Friday, May 26, 2017

Five Money Moves to Make By Your First Duty Station

In honor or Memorial Day, Better Business Serving Greater Cleveland would like to thank those who serve, who have served, and their families. BBB offers a Military Line that offers resources to help those who serve(d) our country. Through the help of MilitarySaves.Org we would like to share this post by quest author: Alecia D. Blair, Military Saves Communications & Outreach Manager, AFC® Candidate, FINRA Foundation Fellow

Line of Soldiers Walkin
As a new recruit after basic training, there's a lot to learn about your branch of the military, job or MOS (military occupation specialty), and first duty station. How well (and how quickly) you learn these skills can impact your military career.
Equally important is how well you learn to manage your financial fitness by creating healthy savings habits. Here are five money moves you should make by the time you get to your first duty station to set yourself up for success.
1. Understand your benefits and LES (Leave and Earning Statement)
When it comes to money and the military, ignorance is not bliss. From Tricare to your housing allowance, understand the full range of benefits available to you and use them wisely to save money.
Do you understand how to read your LES? If not, here are some guides to get your started. Be sure to address errors with your installation's Finance Office. After all, the first step to saving money is to make sure you're receiving your pay and benefits correctly.
2. Find your Personal Financial Counselor
Did you know that many installations offer FREE, confidential financial counseling to service members and families? It's true! This service is expensive in the civilian world. Seek out your financial counselor and the guidance he or she has to offer to help you get your financial house in order. Find your installation's contact information here to get started.
3. Come up with a savings plan and set some goals
Now's the perfect time to take a hard look at your income and expenses and create a realistic savings plan or budget. Check out SaveandInvest.org and USAAEF.org for great information on how to create a spending plan.
Once you've created a spending plan, add a new line item to it to pay yourself first (and save automatically), rather than treating your savings as an afterthought. What will you save for? Work with your Personal Financial Counselor to identify at least one savings goal and commit to it by taking the Military Saves Pledge. People who Pledge and create a savings plan are twice as likely to make good progress meeting their savings needs.
One possible savings goal is retirement, and a big change is coming to military retirement next year. Between Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2018, the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) goes into effect, and service members with fewer than 12 years of service (as of December 31, 2017) will be required to make an irrevocable decision--to opt into the BRS or stay in legacy retirement system. Educate yourself on the BRS, then, take informed, decisive action in 2018 to meet your retirement savings goals. Learn more here.
4. Steer clear of needless debt
It might be tempting to run out and buy a new car or new furniture at your first duty station, especially when you get paid twice a month. And yes, retailers will want to sell you their goods and services--your paycheck is as reliable as Uncle Sam! But proceed with caution. Spending without a plan can leave you with dangerous debt. Instead, save for your big purchases. if you find yourself in a financial jam, stay away from the trap of payday loans and look for help from an alternative, such as a military relief agency. Build and nurture your credit. Here's how.
5. Sync up your savings plan with your career and personal plans
Every promotion, deployment, temporary duty (or TDY) and Permanent Change of Station (or PCS) move is an opportunity to stop and assess your own financial fitness. Could you save 1 percent more now that you're a newly-pinned Specialist? Could you add $50 more per month to your emergency and transition funds and $50 more per month to pay off debt during your upcoming deployment? A change in your military career is often a great opportunity to bring positive change to your financial situation.
Are marriage and children in your future? If so, saving ahead of time will make these huge life changes a lot less stressful. Weddings, managing the expenses of a household and the needs of a baby offer big financial challenges for young military families. (Did you know that the average cost of a wedding is more than $30,000, according theknot.com?!) Save for life's special events ahead of time so that you're able to enjoy them more.
And before you jump into parenthood, consider the expenses of raising a baby and begin saving. Ask yourself if your household income and savings comfortably support a family. If not, set this as a savings goal and begin working towards it.
Military Saves has your back as you start your career in the military. Follow these five steps to set yourself up for financial fitness now and throughout your career.
For more information visit BBB Military Line or MilitarySaves.org

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On the Lookout for NBA Playoff Tickets? Here is What You Need to Know



Cleveland Caviler fans are gearing up for another round of NBA playoffs. If you are looking to get your hands on tickets, be on the lookout for scammers trying to “play” you. Though it might be enticing to scoop up ticket deals with low prices and unbelievable seats, think twice to avoid falling victim to a ticket scam.  

Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland offers these tips:


  • Be wary of advertisements. When you search the web for online tickets, advertisements for
cheap tickets will often appear. Use good judgment;
some of these ads are going to be scams, especially if
the prices are low.

  • Do your research before buying tickets online. Check out the seller/broker. Look them up on bbb.org to learn what other customers have experienced. Check to see if they are a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers. NATB members offer a 200% purchase guarantee on tickets. Look up the seller on VerifiedTicketSource.com to confirm you are buying from an NATB-member resale company.

  • Try to use a credit card to make the purchase.  If a problem arises, federal regulations may limit your liability – and your credit card company may have a buyer protection program. Before entering your credit card information online, be sure the site has “https://” at the beginning of the website address. This means the site is encrypted and safer for use. Avoid  payments via wire transfer, iTunes gift cards, or prepaid money card.

  • If you’re unsure, verify your tickets. Pay a visit to the arena where the event will be held. Present your ticket to “Will Call” (customer service) and they can verify if your ticket is legitimate.

Find more tips at: https://www.bbb.org/tickets

Friday, May 19, 2017

BBB Issues Alert about Timeshare Reseller: Consumers Lose Thousands to Deceptive Businesses




If you feel trapped by a timeshare that you seldom use and are trying to get out from under annual maintenance fees, you are perfect bait for a timeshare resale scam.  


Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland (BBB) has received complaints concerning Prime Alliance Holdings (Prime).  Prime’s website (primeallianceholdings.com) lists its location as 600 Superior Ave. East Fifthy (sic) Third, Cleveland Ohio. The website is registered to Robert Seid with an address listed in Cabos, Mexico.  


Testimonials displayed on the website use pictures of other people lifted from the internet. The photo portrayed as being Carl Moore and Jessica Siegel is actually Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift, a Canadian couple who quit their jobs to permanently travel the world. Peter Steinman turns out to be James Ridley, a Family Trips Leader for another business.


BBB is beginning to receive complaints from consumers who were offered an arrangement by Amadeus Vacations (Amadeus) to sell their timeshares.  Prime is represented as being the marketing company that will handle the transaction with the buyer.  A Florida couple believed Amadeus had sold their Cancun timeshare for $31,750.  They paid $999 to Prime and were told their file was transferred to Columbus International Escrow (Columbus Escrow) to handle the rest of the sale.  They were asked to wire 10% of the sale price, $3,175,  to a bank in Mexico as a condition of the sale.  To date, they have not received any funds from the sale and not getting any answers from Prime, Amadeus, or Columbus Escrow.


An Arizona man paid over $17,000 to have Amadeus and Prime handle the sale of his timeshare. The sale never materialized and he has been unable to get his money back.


A California couple lost $16,400 when Prime failed to find a buyer for their Mayan Palace Resort timeshare.  White Mountain Holdings was supposed to handle the sale.  White Mountain Holdings lists an Oregon address but is not licensed to conduct escrow services and has an “F” rating with BBB.


As an incentive to have Amadeus handle your resale, you are promised a 200 week membership in Amadeus Vacations with access to over 98,000 resort properties, condos and residences for a special price.


To date, BBB has not received any responses from Prime to consumer complaints.  Prime, along with Amadeus Vacations and Columbus International Escrow, has an “F” rating with BBB due to unanswered complaints.


If you own a timeshare, BBB offers these tips:
  • Don’t be tempted by businesses who solicit you and claim they already have a buyer or can sell your timeshare for a large amount of money in a small amount of time.
  • Do not be pressured to sign a contract before you have reviewed it carefully and have taken time to research the business.
  • Check bbb.org for grade ratings, customer complaints, and customer reviews on the reseller and any affiliated businesses involved in the sale.
  • Google the name of the business as well as all email addresses and phone numbers used to see if others have filed negative reviews.
  • Do not pay substantial advance fees. If you are required to pay any fees, be certain the contract explains the company’s refund policy.
  • Ohio requires timeshare resellers to be licensed with the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate, regardless of where your timeshare is located. Go to /www.com.ohio.gov/real/ and use the “Lookup a License” tool.

What you can do to protect from Ransomware Attacks



Last week, a major ransomware attack quickly spread around the world. It infected at least 75,000 computers in 99 countries. The attack locked computers and networks using a file encryption software, and demanded payment by Bitcoin to release the data.
If you are worried that you or your business might be vulnerable to a ransomware attack, Better Business Bureau offers these tips to help protect you or your business.  

Don’t click on unfamiliar links

Do not click links from someone you don’t know. Even if you think you know who the sender is, think twice before clicking on any email links. Some red flags to look for are messages requiring you to act quickly, messages asking for personal & sensitive information, or messages that are threatening you. Also, be on the lookout for messages with an extensive amount of typos and grammatical errors. These messages may not only appear in emails, some ransomware or phishing attacks use pop-up windows or advertisements.
Keep your devices up to date

Prevent infections by updating critical software as soon as patches or new operating system versions are available. Besides keeping your computer software up to date it is important to have an up-to-date antivirus software installed on your computer. This doesn’t only apply to your computer - make sure your cell phones, tablets, or other  internet-connected devices are being regularly being updated as well.  

Regularly backup your data
In the event that someone successfully hijacks your computer it’s important to get your device working as quickly as possible. Your system can be restored in most cases of ransomware. Having a current backup of all data speeds up the recovery process. For an extra layer of protection pack up your data on an external hard drive and keep it away from your computer.
Create a security plan for your business

How would you or your business handle a cybersecurity attack? If one person's machine in your network is infected, it can spread to other machines. Having an action plan already prepared to combat cybersecurity risks may save you money and decrease downtime. BBB has created many tools and tips to create a plan that will help manage your cybersecurity risks. To learn more click here to learn more about BBB’s Cybersecurity.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Steer Clear of Summer Sadness by Avoiding Festival Cons




With summer just around the corner, it is time to start planning your summer vacations, concerts, and BBQ’s.  But before you start booking your weekends with fun runs and food festivals, BBB Cleveland warns to be aware of festival scams. Scammers tempt attendees into buying tickets for events, promising them all-you-can-eat buffets, live music and fun, but the reality may be different.

Social media and online ads take you to eye-catching websites with great pictures and promotions promising would-be attendees affordable food and fun. All you have to do is enter your credit card information to buy tickets.

In reality, some ticket holders show up for events and find  a crowd of frustrated ticket holders to a festival that either never existed or fell far short of organizers’ promises.

Before you purchase tickets for your next big summer festival, there are a few things you should know:
  • Research before purchasing. Search online for the name of the festival and make sure the name advertised matches the website. Scammers often use names that sound similar to real festivals. Check BBB.org and BBB Scam Tracker to see if reports have been filed about the event.

  • Check for (working) contact information: Be sure the festival website has a phone number, physical address, and email address. Be wary of sites that make it hard to reach someone, such as those that rely on a contact form instead of offering a customer service phone number.

  • Prices too good to be true: There is no way a festival can offer tickets at extremely low prices without losing money. If the prices are much lower than elsewhere, it's likely a scam

  • Claims too good to be true: Do a little online research to see if claims add up. If a music festival offers top entertainment, check out those bands’ actual touring schedule. See what other users or news outlets have said about the festival in the past.

  • Pay with a credit card: You can dispute the charges if the business doesn't come through. Be careful of online sellers that don't accept credit cards.


For more information visit bbb.org/festivalfraud

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

BBB on National Consumer Protection Week, March 5 through March 11, 2017



Your Better Business Bureau is joining with government agencies to promote consumer education during National Consumer Protection Week, March 5 through March 11, 2017.
In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, BBB offers these tips to become a smarter and savvier consumer:
  1. Shred Documents. Take the time to shred documents you no longer need in order to protect yourself from identity theft. A Records Retention Schedule can be found here. Join BBB in April for our FREE Shredding Event. Learn more.
  2. Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Scammers know it’s extremely difficult to track money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union. Even if you’ve been given a check to cover the amount you’re wiring, never send money to someone you don’t know. The check could be fraudulent, leaving you liable for the money and bank fees.
  3. Connect to Wi-Fi with caution. If you are out and need to connect to Wi-Fi, your phone may alert you with options available for you to connect. Turn off the Wi-Fi auto connect feature so that your phone doesn’t automatically connect to these local hotspots leaving you vulnerable for someone to access your information.`
  1. Think before your click. Shop online through secure sites by looking for the “s” in “https”. Always confirm that the business is trustworthy before entering your credit or debit card number. Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software and be extremely selective when opening attachments or clicking on links in emails.

  1. Avoid Scams. Always check out a business with BBB first. Go to bbb.org/cleveland to find a company’s BBB Business Profile. BBB also offers Scam Tracker, an interactive online tool that is used to find and report scams near you.

Throughout the week follow the hashtag #NCPW2017 for more news and tips.