In an effort to keep the media and public informed, the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau offers these monthly "Hot Topics." Readers should take into consideration the importance of the practice in question and the total performance of a company. This list is current as of Oct. 27, 2005. The BBB can be contacted toll-free at (866) INDY-BBB, or locally at (317) 488-2222.

1. Bank Scams are hitting Indiana and the country. It works like this. The consumer receives a call from someone saying that the consumer’s bank has closed and the caller needs the account and PIN number so money can be transferred. Or the caller might say something like, "Your bank information is on a list for public viewing. You can remove this by providing oral authorization, including all the information on the bottom of your check." Your bank already has your information. Don’t fall for these scams!

2. "Russian Women" are looking for someone to take care of them. Yeah right! An e-mail received by an Indianapolis consumer states, "My name is Ekaterina. I am 28 years old. Live in Russia, city Kazan. I am cheerful woman…" "She" goes on to say that the U.S. would be a good place to live, her boyfriend, Dennis, stood her up and now she has "no man to meet me." She wants a man with "serious attitudes which go to a marriage." This is a scam. One U.S. man has been arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for this "Russian Brides" scam. Guess someone else is carrying on the tradition.

3. Indiana Troopers Association is soliciting by phone. The BBB president received one of their solicitation calls. When asked from where they were calling, the caller replied, "Fairmont, W.V." The caller asked for support ranging from $25 to $45, but finally got down to $15 for their trooper decal to put in the car window. When asked if they were a professional fundraiser, the solicitor replied, "I am a professional solicitor, but not third-party solicitor." Strange. We checked, and they are for-profit fundraisers. The fundraiser hired by this organization between January 2004 and January 2005 brought in $678,108.48, and kept 80 percent. The BBB standard is that no more than 35 percent of related contributions be spent on fundraising.

4. National Awards Commission is sending very official mailings to Hoosiers. One Anderson consumer thought the letter came from the government and started filling out the requested information, but then thought to ask the BBB. Good for her! The gold seal and official look mean nothing. The mailing asks for $11.89 to be sent in order to win $1 million. Consumers should understand they haven’t won a dime. The $11.89 is for a coupon booklet to purchase items from the company. What a deal!

5. Global Payment Direct is sending a letter to Hoosiers informing them they are entitled to a "total payout." The amount seems to vary. One Plainfield consumer received a letter and cashiers check for $49,750. There is, of course, the upfront fee. In this case - $4,975. The $49,750 check is a forgery. If the consumer writes the $4,975 check he or she is out that money.

6. My Free Medicine uses two addresses – one in Cerritos, Calif., and the other in Louisville, Ky. Complainants allege after sending the required registration fee of $95 to $195, the consumer received nothing from the company, or experiences difficulty contacting the company regarding their order status. The FTC filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction against this company for misrepresenting that consumers are eligible and pre-approved to receive prescription medications for free, and that they are dealing directly with pharmaceutical companies. This company has the Bureau’s lowest rating.

7. Transnet Wireless Corporation and Nationwide Cyber Systems, two Florida companies, have been advertising on radio and TV, selling Internet kiosk business opportunities, which includes mounted computers in public places that accept payment for Internet access. Consumers paid from $10,000 to $15,000 for one kiosk and up to $100,000 for multiple kiosks, but the computers were rarely delivered. The ads stated, "There is unlimited income potential… 142 percent return in the first year," and that $1,000 to $2,000 per month per kiosk could be expected in revenue. On Oct. 11, 2005, a Florida U.S. District Court Judge granted a temporary restraining order and an asset freeze against these two companies. Both companies have the Bureau’s lowest rating.

8. Agents Travel is soliciting Indiana consumers by telephone, attempting to sell a travel club/membership discount program, including discounts on airfare, hotel stays and rental cars. An Albany, Ind. consumer agreed to the 30-day free trial offer and gave the company his bank account number so the $59.95 could be debited if he agreed to keep the membership. Of course the money was taken out even though the membership was cancelled. More than 90 complaints have been filed against this company, most of them for this very same problem. This company has the Bureau’s lowest rating.

9. Zoogster Costumes is selling costumes online. The BBB is receiving complaints from Hoosiers that they haven’t received the correct costumes (wrong size and wrong product). They aren’t the only ones. More than 30 complaints have been filed against this Georgia company, and they have the Bureau’s lowest rating.

10. The Zikos are at it again! Michael Ziko agreed to seal coat a parking lot for a Carmel business, charging $2,000. The customer says Ziko did a "lousy job," but now can’t find him. The Ziko family is famous for this kind of "lousy work."

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