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Learn the warning signs of seminars, BBB cautions

Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 12:01 am

This is a consumer advice column written by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. It appears Thursdays in Business.

Consumers who attend “free” educational seminars in hope of becoming millionaires may have another thing coming: “the upsell.” After listening to pitches, attendees are often persuaded to pay upfront for training conferences, supplies, starter kits, products or memberships.

High-pressure sales tactics, unfulfilled promises and undelivered goods or services are the usual complaints. Beware if advertisements, promotional materials and websites are:

•Marketing substantial income or profit with little effort or work required.

•Selling limited-time offers and life-changing results.

•Missing full, valid contact information; PO box numbers are not sufficient.

•Lacking written cancellation instructions and refund policies.

•Filled with asterisks, fine print and hard-to-understand language.

•Beware if seminars or promoters are on a travel schedule or based out of town, or if the promoter is the only method for signing up, investing or purchasing. Consumers should beware their lack of ability to answer questions or unwillingness to put verbal guarantees in writing.

There are tips for consumers that can assist in making the decision to attend:

•What are others saying about seminars? Run an Internet search.

•Find BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org.

•Try contacting companies by phone and email before making purchases.

•Cross-check physical addresses with state licensing agencies.

•Get all promises, claims and purchase policies in writing, and read all contracts carefully before signing.

•Use credit cards, which may allow disputes on unfulfilled purchases.

•Demand copies of receipts and order confirmations. Retain them.

•Understand the Federal Trade Commission's three-day Cooling-Off Rule.

Complaints can be filed with BBB, the FTC and the state Department of Justice.

Marjorie Stephens is the communications director for the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. Before you make a purchase, go to the BBB website at www.neindiana.bbb.orgor call 423-4433 or toll-free 1-800-552-4631 to check out a business.