Spring Break Has Passed, Looking to Stay in Shape for Summer?

You may joined a gym during the winter months to stay warm and in shape, but with the sun shining warmer now, here are some tips for joining a gym or even staying with your current gym membership.

Choosing a gym is a lot like shopping for an apartment: there are a number of features to consider, and you’ll likely find something that meets most of your goals, but not all. Here are a few tips to help you when you’re choosing a fitness club or gym membership.

Mr Potato Head Lifting

Check out new member offers. Many gyms offer introductory specials, discounts, or free months. Be sure you read the fine print, and calculate how much you’re on the hook for paying—monthly or annually— after the special rate ends.

Read the renewal policy. Some gym contracts renew automatically, or a written notice 30 to 60 days before your existing contract expires. Make sure you know how and when you’ll need to approve or cancel a new contract, and add the date to your calendar after you sign up.

Know if there are early termination fees. Many fitness memberships require extra fees if you want to break your contract before your renewal date. Be sure to read these before you choose your gym, so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.

Take your time to consider your options. Don’t be pressured to choose a membership quickly. A reputable fitness club or gym will give you time to read your contract, and answer any questions you might have.

 

Ecuador Earthquake Donation Tips

­

With hundreds killed and thousands injured by the devastating earthquake in Ecuador over the weekend, generous Americans are already seeking ways to support those in need through donations. BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises donors to avoid being taken advantage of by questionable solicitations or wasting their money on poorly managed relief efforts.

“The news out of Ecuador is heartbreaking,” said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “People want to help as soon as possible, and that is wonderful, but donors need to follow some key rules about supporting disaster relief so that their gifts get to those who need them most.”

Across the world, relief and development organizations and governments have begun responding to the earthquake in Ecuador. American charities have also begun accepting donations to assist in the region. BBB WGA suggests that before you choose a charity to give to, read this Disaster Relief Donations tip (below) and remember to check out the charity on Give.org.

BBB WGA has a list of nationally soliciting charities that have been accredited by BBB WGA (i.e., meet all 20 BBB Charity Standards), and indicate that they are collecting contributions to assist Ecuador relief efforts. The list, which will be updated as more charities join the efforts, is available at bbb.org/ecuador

BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers donors these tips for disaster relief giving:

Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.give.org to research relief organizations and other charities to verify that they are accredited by the BBB which means they meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Digital Spring Cleaning

Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance urge you to follow this four-week outline and clean up your online life with an easy-to-follow timeline and plan.

Ms Doubtfire

Week 1: Keep Clean Machines

As a very basic first step, make sure that all web-connected devices ‒ including PCs, mobile phones, smartphones and tablets ‒ are free from malware and infections.

  • Keep all critical software current: Having all software current is one of the best security measures you can take. This includes security software, web browsers, document readers, operating systems and any other software you use regularly.
  • Clean up your mobile life: Most of us have apps we no longer use as well as ones that need updating. Delete unused apps and keep others current. An added benefit of deleting unused apps is more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera – making sure apps use them appropriately.

Router

Week 2: Make Sure You’re Secure

Building on Week 1, users can enhance the security of their online accounts – a fast and simple way to be safer online. There are quick and easy things you can do that have long-term safety and security benefits.

  • Get two steps ahead: Turn on two-step authentication ‒ also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication ‒ on accounts where available.
  • Secure your router: Make sure your router has a strong password and does not broadcast who you are through its name, such as “the Jones Family” or “123 Elm Street”.
  • Make better passwords: Longer passwords  that combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols provide better protection.
  • Unique account, unique password: Having separate passwords ‒ at least for key accounts like email, banking,and social networking ‒ helps to thwart cybercriminals.
  • Write it down and keep it safe: Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place in your home.
  • Secure your phone: Use a passcode or a finger swipe to unlock your phone.

Delete

Week 3: Digital File Purge and Protection

Tend to your digital records, PCs, phones and any device with storage just as you do for paper files.

  • Clean up your email: Save only those emails you really need. Delete or archive what you don’t need and be sure to empty your deleted mail folders.
  • File upkeep: Delete or archive older files such as numerous drafts of the same document and outdated financial statements.
  • Manage subscriptions: Unsubscribe to newsletters, email alerts and updates you no longer read.
  • Dispose of electronics securely: Wiping data isn’t enough. When you dispose of old electronics, look for facilities that shred hard drives, disks and memory cards.
  • Update your online photo album: Back up photos you want to keep, and delete old pictures of yourself and family.
  • Back it up: Copy important data to a secure cloud site or to another drive where it can be safely stored. Password protect backup drives and keep them in a different location off the network for maximum security.
  • Empty your trash or recycle bin on all device.

Thumbs up Facebook

Week 4: Clean Up Your Online Reputation

Parents and older kids with social media accounts can take an active role in making sure their online reputation is squeaky clean.

  • Own your online presence: Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It’s OK to limit with whom you share information.
  • Clean up your social media presence: Delete old photos and comments that are embarrassing or no longer represent who you are.
  • Update your “online self”: Are your social media sites up to date? Review your personal information and update it where needed.

 

Tips for Hiring a Professional Contractor so It’s Not a Pinterest Fail

It’s that time of year–the weather is getting nice again, you just received your tax refund, you are itching to bar-b-cue soon…but what’s missing? Oh, the deck, of course! You’ve pinned some ideas, you’ve marked some pages in magazines of the perfect ambiance you want to create for your backyard. We suggest that you do it correct from the start. There are projects that can be done in a weekend and you may not need a professional for, but we have the tips for you to hiring a professional contractor and getting the job done right.

1. Start with a Reliable Source. Use a BBB Accredited Business, visit denver.bbb.org to read customer reviews and check out a business review online for free.
2. Request a Quote. BBB now offers a free Request a Quote feature on our website. Plug in what type of project you are trying to do and we will have 3 BBB Accredited Businesses send you a quote…for free! No hassles, you can choose to accept or not later.
3. License and Insured. Make certain that the company you are considering has proper licensing. State licensing is not required for general contractors; however, a city or county may require specific licensing.
4. Contract and Payment. Obtain a signed contract that clearly states the start and end date for the project, warranty information and all exact costs and times of payment. Avoid paying large amounts upfront and without a signed contract. Make payments in line with the stages of the job, do not complete payment until the whole project is completed.
5. Building Permits and Bonding. Obtain building permits for the work. Un-permitted work can violate local zoning and building codes, and invalidated insurance coverage. Verify that all workers are bonded to protect you from property theft or damage.

Don’t Get Fouled When Trying to Attend March Madness Games

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament schedule was announced this past Sunday and official brackets determined. Congratulations to the University of Colorado Boulder Buffaloes Men’s Basketball team for making it into the tournament!

The Pepsi Center will be hosting the first and second rounds of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest bracket this week. If you are planning to cheer on the Buff’s in Des Moines, Iowa or even attend another game, make sure your March Madness experience does not get fouled.

Most problems lie in transactions with private dealers, mostly on websites like Craigslist and eBay. Ticket seekers in the past have been taken by wire transfer scams and non-delivery of tickets and have been turned away from games because their tickets turned out to be fakes.

BBB offers the following tips to help fans avoid being ripped off:

  • If you buy a ticket outside the event’s website, check for any refund or guarantee policies. Research the ticket site or seller to see if it provides any buyer protections, such as money-back guarantees if tickets are fake or do not arrive on time.
  • Be wary of ticket offers at extreme discount prices – these are generally too good to be true.  Buy at your own risk if you choose to use sites like Craigslist that offer no guarantees or seller identification. NEVER wire funds to strangers to pay for tickets. Try to meet in-person if possible. Always use a credit card for extra protections if the tickets are fake or you do not receive them.
  • The NCAA advises fans to buy from their website, or host schools ticket offices. The NCAA Ticket Exchange is the only 100% guaranteed, NCAA-approved secondary ticket marketplace that allows fans to buy and sell NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tickets with other fans. Ticket holders who are unable to attend a game or find their team eliminated has a place to safely sell their tickets, and buyers can be assured that the tickets are authentic and guaranteed. Visit towww.ncaa.com/tickets.
  • Report any suspected ticket scams to local law enforcement and your BBB so that others can be warned.

Dream Vacation or a Nightmare?

As you dream of summer fun, we are reminding consumers of vacation scams that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare.

The BBB has tips for avoiding vacation scams:

Don’t believe everything that you see. The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website.  Check out the company on bbb.org to see what others are saying.

Get everything in writing.  Before providing any form of payment, get everything in writing. Make sure all verbal agreements are also provided in writing. Review all terms and conditions, taxes and fees, and cancellation policies.

Don’t pay upfront.  Never pay upfront, or with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card for any vacation package or rental. Use a credit card or PayPal in case the charges need to be disputed.

Verify reservations. Follow-up directly with the airline, rental car company, hotel and/or cruise line to confirm arrangements have actually been made to your specifications. It may even be a good idea to search the web for the address of the vacation rental property or, if renting a home or condominium for a week, the place where you will be picking up the keys.  Unfortunately, in some situations, victims of travel scams have discovered that reservations were never made and were provided fake confirmation numbers.

Look out for fake contact info. Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.

Double check the URLs. Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.co)

Look for a secure connection. Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock icon.

Watch for too-good-to-be-true deals. Be sure to comparison shop and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.

 

Tips for Trusting Your Tax Preparer

Most people get help filing their taxes, either from computer software or a professional tax preparer. Scams have some consumers concerned about who they can trust with their financial data and private information.

A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall, substantive accuracy of your tax return(s). If there is a problem with your return or you are audited by the IRS, the tax preparer can help you address the issue and can often represent you. The preparer is required to sign your tax forms (paper or electronic) and provide their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), a number assigned by the IRS.

Better Business Bureau advises taxpayers to be extra cautious when choosing a tax preparer, since that person or company will have access to your personally identifiable information (PII). Here are some BBB tips to help you find a tax preparer you can trust.

Get Referrals. To find a tax preparer, start by asking friends and family for recommendations, then check BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org. Look beyond the letter grade; complaint details and Customer Reviews will tell you about others’ experiences.

Make sure they are properly registered. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.

Look for credentials. Anyone with a PTIN can prepare your tax forms for you, but some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants (CPAs) and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters. Other preparers can help you with forms and simple IRS matters, but are limited otherwise, and they can’t help you if they didn’t prepare your form. Learn more about tax preparer credentials on the IRS website.

Keep a watchful eye for promises. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Also be wary of “refund anticipation loans,” which can take a hefty chunk of your refund in commission. Refunds are processed quickly these days, so it’s a better bet to just wait for the real thing rather than pay a premium to get it now.

Search for free tax programs. There are several free government programs that prepare taxes free of charge if you meet an income requirement; go to the IRS’s Free File page for more information. Check with your state government to find out about their program (search “file tax free” and your state’s name in a search engine, and look for .gov websites).

Tax Software and Apps. If you plan to file yourself, use tax software or an app that provides both excellent data security and good customer service. Some of the top names in tax prep software are BBB Accredited Businesses, so check with bbb.org first.

Newman at cash register

Finding an Agent to Match Your Real Estate Needs

Denver’s beautiful sunshine is back and it’s the perfect time to begin looking for a house. With the market as crazy as it is with houses being bought, in all-cash, the same day it is put on the market, one way to ease the stress of finding a new house (or selling yours) is to find the right real estate agent.

BBB recommends buyers interview several candidates before choosing one to help in their search for a new home. Ask friends and family for references, then check each real estate agent’s BBB Business Review to see his or her history of complaints, BBB rating and more. Ensure each agent is properly licensed.

During the interview process, ask the agent for recommendations from previous clients. Ask how many home buyers the agent has assisted in the last year and the average price of the home purchased. If you’re looking for a bargain, ask about his or her experience with short sales and foreclosures.
In addition, buyers should have a list of needs and wants to discuss with each agent during this process. Discuss your total budget, including down payment, closing costs and other fees, as well as how much you can afford for a monthly payment. If possible, get pre-approved for a mortgage so you have hard numbers to work with.

Be wary of agents who make big promises while asking for little. It’s unlikely they will be able to deliver.

Money out of car

Why Would You Overpay? Oh, it’s a Scam

The “overpayment” scam is back and it doesn’t discriminate…this affects consumers, businesses and also nonprofits.

This classic scam has been around for a while. A scammer sends a check or PayPal wire to you, but then says that they “overpaid.” They then ask you to re-send or re-wire the overpayment to another account, usually giving them access to your bank information and more. From there, the scammers can take all of your money, not just the amount you “sent back.”

BBB offers the following advice to avoid an overpayment scam:

  • Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, confirm the buyer/seller/donor name, street address and telephone number.
  • Don’t wire. Never under any circumstances wire funds back to the person, a legitimate buyer/seller/donor will not insist upon this type of request.
  • Never assume that a check is legitimate, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It may take weeks for a financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit.
  • Never accept payment for more than the purchase price of a product or service.
  • Keep in mind, you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution. Verify all checks, as well as certified checks, with the issuing financial institution.

BBB urges any consumer, business or nonprofit that receives such emails not to respond or engage in any way. If you receive a check, do not deposit it and report your experience to your BBB.

 

Love is in the Air for Scammers, Too

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and that means the chocolate, cards, flowers, diamonds are all on sale right now. Scammers realize this too…so before you run off to the store to purchase a diamond that’s somehow 50% off or the flowers online that look gorgeous for only $20, do some research.

In 2015, the BBB reports that consumers spent nearly $19 billion dollars on gifts for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day, primarily flowers, and the number one complaint has to do with quality of the delivery of flowers.

The closer you get to the holiday, the lower the fresh inventory is going to be for flowers. Every year, the BBB receives complaints from consumers that the flowers they purchased were DOA (dead on arrival), or the arrangement never arrived. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) even has a name for unscrupulous online florists – petal pushers. What a great pun, right?

What should you do instead? Research a local flower shop and go there. Not only are you supporting your community by purchasing from a local merchant, but you will also be able to create your own arrangement and know that the flowers are quality.
It is pretty difficult to be scammed by chocolate, but again, buy at your local grocery or a local candy shop, you can even taste-test before you buy sometimes while you’re there!

Diamonds and jewelry are very popular around this time—it is the season for love and we are actually in the middle of proposal season as well. Do your homework on those jewelry stores before purchasing. No one likes to pay thousands of dollars on a fake diamond!

Check us out on KDVR-Fox31 Denver for more tips to stay safe: