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Better Business Bureau: Layaways are back

Nov. 3, 2012 at 6:03 a.m.


By Alan BlighFirst, some good news for all of us. Consumers struggling with debt will soon have a new place to turn for help. The recently formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it will begin supervising debt collection agencies Jan. 2.

Debt collection agencies that have annual receipts of more than $10 million will be required to properly identify themselves to the consumers they contact, properly disclose the amount of the debt and create a dispute resolution process for consumers with grievances. Companies with annual receipts of more than $10 million account for approximately 63 percent of the 4,500 debt collection agencies in the United States, according to The New York Times.

Nationally, BBB has received almost 20,000 complaints this year against collection agencies. Consumer complaints allege debt collectors used threats to force consumers into paying their alleged debt, did not provide adequate proof of the debt when requested and continuously harassed consumers after they were asked not to or told the debt was incorrect.



Phishing emails

We are warning Victoria businesses again to beware of a new wave of those malicious emails claiming to be from the BBB about a complaint filed against a company. The phishing email is sent from multiple email addresses and has in its subject line a nine-digit complaint number.

The body of the email states the company has received a complaint and asks the company to respond by email or click on a link. The email address or URL provided is not affiliated with the Better Business Bureau.

If you receive one of these, BBB advises: Do not click on any links or reply to the message, completely delete the message from your inbox and run a full virus scan immediately on your computer if you did click on any links. Please note that consumers have also reported receiving these emails.



Season for layaway

Many of our retailers have rolled out their layaway plans for the holidays a month earlier than last year. The layaway concept dates to the Great Depression, when cash-strapped families found the idea of paying for items on a monthly or weekly basis attractive. The concept lost its luster in the days of easy credit, but it has been revived and proved popular in the last couple of years.

Note: There are no Texas laws specifically governing layaways. For any consumer considering a layaway plan, BBB advises:

Plan ahead. Before signing a layaway contract, make sure you can actually come up with the money to pay for the products.

Obtain a written contract. Ask the company for a written contract and read it carefully. Contracts should include when payments must be made and what happens if a payment is late.

Confirm how long the item can be kept on layaway. Some stores only hold items for a specific number of months and then redistribute them for resale.

Read the company's refund policy. What happens if you change your mind and decide not to purchase the item? Be sure to check if refunds are available.



Research charities

Now that Hurricane Sandy has moved out of the East Coast, people from across the country will want to help by donating money to charities. BBB wants to remind you that although these types of disasters bring out the best in people, they can also bring out the worst. Remember: Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. The public can go to bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they meet the 20 standards for charity accountability. Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist victims. Be cautious when giving online. Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in impacted areas. And find out if the charity provides direct aid or raises money for other groups. Best advice - give locally to a charity that has been around awhile.

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

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