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Better Business Bureau: Warning! Prison phone call scam

Dec. 10, 2011 at 6:10 a.m.


By Alan Bligh

We are starting our column with an alert to consumers to be cautious when dealing with Prison Call Solutions. The company promises on its website to lower consumers' costs on calls from prisons by 80 percent. The service works by setting up a relay system that allows incarcerated persons to call their loved ones using a local telephone number, supposedly saving on long-distance charges. Consumers have told us that they paid Prison Call Solutions upfront fees to activate a service they were never able to use, either because it did not work or the prison facility would not contract with the company. When the consumers tried to get a refund, they were disconnected. The Austin-based company has earned itself an "F" rating with BBB for failing to answer any of the consumer complaints.

I hate to repeat a story, BUT we are issuing a second urgent SCAM alert cautioning businesses and consumers about an email that looks like it is from the BBB, with the subject line "Complaint from your customers." This email is fraudulent; ignore its contents and delete it immediately. If you have already clicked on a link in the email, run a full virus scan of your computer. The emails have return addresses that the BBB does not use and are signed with the address of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the national office of the BBB system. The email contains a link to a non-BBB website. Again, DO NOT click on the link. BBB is working with law enforcement to determine its source and stop the fraudulent campaign. We experienced a dramatic surge of calls from businesses across our area this past week. It is so bad that the Texas Attorney General sent out a news release. Even the FBI is involved in the tracking down of these schemers.

And, now, I have some good news. The Federal Trade Commission has approved changes to its Business Opportunity Rule that will ensure consumers have the information they need when considering buying a work-at-home program. The new regulation will be effective on March 1, 2012. Work at Home promoters will then have to disclose five key items of information in a simple, one-page document:

the seller's identifying information

whether the seller makes a claim about the purchaser's likely earnings

whether the seller, its affiliates or key personnel have been involved in certain legal actions

whether the seller has a cancellation or refund policy

a list of persons who bought the business opportunity within the previous three years

It will be interesting to see how those less than honorable work-at-home promoters handle this.

Have you as a business manager or owner ever been approached to buy advertising or merchandise to support a local school? Of course you have. Businesses often wish to support their local schools - a good thing. BBB urges businesses to be careful when contacted by someone, especially by phone or email concerning a donation. We had a call this week from a local business that was contacted by someone in Fort Worth wanting to sell advertising on behalf of a local high school. The business owner contacted the school and no one knew anything about the promotion. We ran the company's name and phone number through our database and found nothing. The lesson here is to verify such school related solicitations with the school.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by email at abligh@corpuschristi.bbb.org.

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