2014-01-13 / General

Better Business Bureau

Hiring a Snow Removal Contractor

With winter in full swing now, you may want to hire a snow removal contractor to remove the snow from your property. The BBB urges you to follow these tips when hiring a snow removal contractor:

Ask for references and check them out. Check with the BBB serving Central Indiana for a BBB Business Review on the contractor you’re planning to use at: indy.bbb.org/Find-Business-Reviews/.

Get several estimates. Prices can vary widely and are usually based on the amount of work, which takes into account the layout of the property, size of the area to be cleared, and whether the customer, in addition to plowing, requests shoveling or snow blowing to remove excess snow from other areas. Remember, the least expensive service is not always the best service.

Understand the services. Find out exactly what’s included in the estimate. Are the walks and steps included? What about the cost of sand or salt? Does the consumer call when service is needed, or does the business automatically come when the snow falls? How quickly can the consumer expect service? Will the company clear only after the storm has passed or during the snowfall as well? If the contractor has to come back, is there an additional charge?

Ask about additional charges and price options. Some contractors offer a fixed price for the entire season, regardless of the amount of snow. However, some companies have additional charges during large storms, after the snow reaches a certain depth where they charge by the inch; if so, find out how the company calculates the size of the snowfall. Also, ask if there are additional charges for snow removal on holidays.

Get an in-person estimate and written agreement. Do not settle for verbal promises over the telephone. Get a written agreement. A representative should come out to examine the property and make notes about the service requested and potential obstacles. Before signing the agreement, ask who will be responsible for damages. Also, understand if the agreement can be terminated.

Keep expectations realistic. Keep in mind that a snow storm makes traveling difficult for customers and the contractor, so it may take longer for the contractor to reach and complete the contracted work.

Avoid schemes. If a snow removal service shows up at the door, don’t feel pressured to sign up for an agreement immediately or pay upfront for a service. Reliable businesses will give customers full business contact information, references and be willing to let consumers check their reliability before making a decision.

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New Year’s Resolution? Gym Membership

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions this year? Do any of your resolutions have to do with eating healthier or exercising more? Many people have a resolution for becoming healthier by going to the gym. Be sure to check these tips out before signing up for a new membership at the gym. Questions to ask the gym:

Is there a trial membership? With a trial membership, they may let you try the gym for a few days or a week before you sign the contract. Visit the gym at the same time of day you’d use it to see what the gym is like.

What are the terms of any introductory offers? Gyms often use special introductory offers to lure in new members. Just make sure you understand the terms and what the price will be once the introductory period is over.

Will my membership renew automatically? Be sure to find out and read the contract to see if the contract will renew automatically. How can I get out of my contract? Getting out of a gym contract isn’t always as easy as getting into one. So make sure you understand what steps you would need to take to cancel your membership.

Do they freeze memberships? If you become sick or injured and are unable to use the gym for a period of time, will they freeze the membership?

What happens if I move or travel frequently? Gyms have any number of different policies when it comes to how moving or traveling will affect your membership. Ask if they have a reciprocal agreement with other gyms throughout the country? If you travel a great deal, you will want this.

What happens if the gym goes out of business? Ask the gym to explain what will happen to your money if they suddenly go out of business. Other tips:

Make sure the gym has the equipment to meet your needs.

How is the atmosphere? Is the staff caring and helpful? Are the bathrooms, showers and equipment clean? What is the clientele like? Will it be an enjoyable experience for you to work out in the same facility with them?

Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics to join right away. A reputable gym will give you enough time to read the contract thoroughly, tour the facilities and make an informed decision.

Read the contract carefully and make sure all verbal promises made by the salesperson are in writing. What matters is the document you sign, so don’t just take a salesperson’s word for it.

Check the trustworthiness of a gym with the Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana at: indy.bbb.org/Find-Business-Reviews/.

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Get Ready for Tax Preparation

It’s that time to start thinking about your taxes. Here are some tax preparation tips from the BBB to help you begin thinking ahead:

Ask people you know and trust where they get their taxes done. Check the reliability of tax preparation services at: indy. bbb.org/Find-Business-Reviews/.

Verify the credentials of the person completing your taxes.

Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year.

•Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected, and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.

Check your return before you sign. Look for any mistakes you might find. Review your figures at least twice, and always use a calculator.

•Make sure to sign your return. Returns without a signature are considered invalid by the IRS and are returned to the taxpayer.

Don’t fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid any tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.

•Be on the lookout for bogus IRS emails. The IRS will not communicate to you through email about a payment or refund. If you do receive a phone call, letter or fax from someone who claims to be an IRS employee but suspect they are not, contact the IRS. Forward suspicious emails to phishing@irs. gov.

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Government Grants Schemes

The Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana has been contacted many times about schemers posing as the government telling people they have received a grant.

People are receiving phone calls informing them they received a grant from the government, and they may spend the funds however they would like. To receive the grant, you are asked to buy a Green Dot MoneyPak card and load it with money. The schemers ask for the numbers off the back of the card, and then they take the money. Consumers lose their own money and don’t receive any grant money.

Here are some tips for dealing with a government grant scheme:

•Government grants have to be applied for in order to receive. So if you did not apply for the grant, you should not be receiving one.

•The government does not call you to contact you for such matters. You will not receive information from the government through a phone call.

The federal government does not give grants for personal debt consolidation or pay for other personal needs. Grants are given to serve a social good, such as bringing jobs to an area, training underemployed youth, preserving historical sites, etc. So the government would not give consumers a grant to use however they would like.

•If you get one of these calls, just hang up. You may be tempted to call back, but this will only give the schemer another opportunity to steal your information. Be sure not to press any buttons that the schemers instruct.

•Don’t give out your personal information to someone you don’t know. Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number or Social Security number to an unsolicited caller or anyone you don’t know.

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Sweepstakes Schemes

The Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana encourages people to beware of the sweepstakes scheme. Even though it is very exciting to win a prize, ensure that it is the real deal before moving forward with retrieving your prize.

The scheme is as follows: consumers are contacted about winning a prize, and to receive the prize they need to give the person money. Some sweepstakes schemes tell the consumer about valuable prizes they have won if they send back a completed form and money or make a purchase. Since there is no valuable prize, the consumer will lose their money, and it will be difficult to track the schemer.

This is what the BBB advises when receiving information about a sweepstakes:

•Never pay money for a prize. If you are required to pay for a prize that you have won, then it is most likely not legitimate. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay “insurance,” “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize. There are no purchases necessary in order to enter or win a sweepstakes.

•Never wire money to someone you don’t know. The reason schemers request people to wire money is because it is untraceable. If you transfer money to a schemer, do not expect to ever see it again.

•Don’t be swayed by highpressure sales tactics of promoters.

•If you don’t remember entering into a sweepstakes, you most likely haven’t won a prize.

Want to report a potential scheme or alert the BBB of unethical business practices? Send us an email to info@indybbb.org.

For more information or to schedule an interview with a BBB representative, contact: Tiffany Whisner, Coles Marketing Communications, 317-571-0051, twhisner@colesmarketing.com.

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