Bureau lines up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 1999

against scam artists

By MICHELLE J. WILSON

Staff Writer

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Published Sept. 1, 1999

Working with credible local businesses to do your investing, home improvements and travel planning can protect Pike Countians from scams, according to the Alabama Better Business Bureau.

The bureau’s president for Central Alabama Don Boomershine spoke Tuesday to Troy Rotary Club. He works with businesses in 41 of our state’s 67 counties.

The Alabama Better Business Bureau has offices in Montgomery, Birmingham and Dothan, he said.

Boomershine recommended business owners support their local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and trade organizations that promote credibility.

He also outlined several scams of which business owners and individuals need to be aware.

An investing scam that is getting a lot of recent attention is called Ponzi. It has taken in people across Florida, Georgia and Alabama with its promises of "pennies from heaven", Boomershine said.

"A Ponzi scam involves taking money from one group, holding it for a period of time, then paying out of the money from the most recent investors," he said. "They may promise to double your money in less than two years.

"Often these people leave town before they pay back the money."

The newest Ponzi scam is being operated as Greater Ministries in Tampa, Fla., Boomershine said.

The so-called Christian investment has bilked more than 16,000 pastors and church members out of $50 million, he added.

The scam operators use "hot-button issues" like the millennium and overbearing government to get cash from people.

If you are concerned about an investments’ legitimacy, you can contact the Alabama Securities Commission, he said.

Another investment scam involves a letter sent from a supposed foreign government official or agency, usually Nigeria in Africa, Boomershine said. Several Rotarians said they had received such letters.

"An offer is made to transfer over invoice contract funds into your personal account," he said. "Everything looks very official with certified letters and special stamps.

"Once you get involved in the scheme, they ask for your phone, fax and bank account numbers and ask you to send blank letterhead from your business.

"You are asked to travel overseas to complete the transaction. The death or serious injury of several Americans has resulted from the travel to Nigeria or neighboring country," he said.

If you receive a similar letter, you should contact the Better Business Bureau. Boomershine said people should never give out personal information, such as bank account numbers, to strangers.

The area of travel is a growing place for scams. Many of these are operated over the internet. Boomershine recommended Rotarians work with local travel agents when planning their trips.

"If you are dealing with a credible travel agency, they will check for lower fares," he said. "There are many advantages to working with a local travel agency."

Other scams that often start up this time of year involve charities and home heating repair services.

Again, he recommended people do their business locally when it comes to charities. "There are so many good charities in Pike County," he said. "A lot of charity programs, especially the children’s world aid programs, that you need to be aware of."

Before donating to a charity with which you are unfamiliar, check it out with the Better Business Bureau, he said.

With the heating and cooling scams, a new business owner may come to your house and tell you your furnace is broken, Boomershine said. Home owners should have the city’s utility services check their heating and cooling system before committing to costly repairs.

"Get a second opinion, or ask your neighbors to refer you to who services their heating and air conditioning," he said.

Another fly-by night operation involves home repairs.The Better Business Bureau works with Alabama Home Builders to establish credibility, he said.

Home owners can contact their local home builders association to find reputable contractors.

"The Better Business Bureau stands for what is right," Boomershine said. "If you think you have been wronged, try first to settle it with the property owner then file a written complaint with the Better Business Bureau."