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BBB TIPS, A COLUMN BY MARJORIE STEPHENS

Dept. of Transportation emails and ‘free’ samples not what they seem, BBB warns

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 6:35 am

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

The BBB issued the following alerts:

•If your business is receiving notices from the Department of Transportation by email, be forewarned that the DOT does not send emails. The below two notices were brought to our attention by a local business owner who had recently renewed her registration by mail. She does this on a semi-annual basis. These emails were particularly alarming to her because of the mention of an $1,100 and a deactivation of her USDOT number and applicable fees. She had checked with the DOT, and it does not send these emails or charge any kind of fee for renewal or tardiness.

•Accepting a free sample does not seem like a cause for concern. However, when a company randomly calls you out of the blue and wants to “confirm your address” to send free samples, think twice!

What if they really don't want to send you samples but instead an invoice? No big deal, you just refuse the invoice, right?

Well, what if new office personnel sign the invoice, not knowing that the merchandise wasn't ordered?

This could be a problem, which is why it is very important to not readily accept free merchandise from vendors.

BBB received a call from someone wanting to confirm our information so that they could send us free samples. Don't fall for it!

Before providing an address, check out a company's reputation with BBB and see if it has had complaints, especially ones pertaining to billing or high-pressure sales.

Does the company have a good rating?

Does it respond to complaints?

Be very scrupulous about training your employees on how to handle gifts and/or solicitations.

Inform them of worst-case scenarios and what the outcome could be of making a bad, uninformed decision.

•Real estate offices and agents are being warned of a phishing scam that targets them.

The messages are fake Better Business Bureau emails that claim the company is being investigated and threaten legal action if the receiver does not respond with more information.

However, links in the emails lead to websites that ask for detailed financial information. Some of the emails contain attachments that may include viruses or other malware.

“Better Business Bureau is frequently spoofed by scammers and other criminals, because we are a trusted source and the recipients are more likely to open the emails if they have the familiar BBB name and logo,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in a news release.

“We have a vigorous program to detect these phishing campaigns as soon as they start, and we have been successful in shutting down more than 175 fraudulent websites in the past 18 months.”

“We are taking an extra step this time to warn real estate agents and offices, because we haven't previously seen one specific industry targeted like this,” Hurt said in the release.

The fraudulent emails have been sent to real estate offices across the United States.

CBBB is working with a professional deactivation service to have the fraudulent websites taken out of service, an action that normally takes less than a day and sometimes is as quick as one or two hours.

BBB has taken numerous steps to assure the security of its official email. All 113 BBBs across the U.S. and Canada, as well as the headquarters offices in Arlington, Va., and New York City, use multiple authentication protocols (SPF, DKIM and DMARC).

This allows BBB to alert Internet service providers immediately to reject emails that don't carry the proper authentication. About half of all ISPs honor BBB's reject requests.

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