Business Bulletin: Make sure Valentine treats don't steal your love and money

Business Bulletin: Make sure Valentine treats don't steal your love and money

February 7th, 2014 Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Jim Winsett

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Q: I'm shopping for Valentine's Day presents. Does the BBB have any tips specific to looking for that perfect Valentine's present?

A: Valentine's Day is just around the corner and while consumers are pre-occupied planning a romantic evening and finding the perfect gifts, they could be overlooking important Valentine's Day pre-purchase information. Whether you're buying something as simple as flowers or as serious as an engagement ring, BBB encourages consumers to keep some important advice in mind to get the most for your money and impress that special someone.

Online advertising for Valentine's Day encourages gift-givers to buy "now" with the click of a button. But what if you're not familiar with the retailer? BBB has processed hundreds of complaints about online purchases from consumers who told us they received the wrong item, didn't receive their gifts on time or were very upset with the quality of the item. Since the National Retail Federation predicts about $17.3 billion will be spent for Valentine's Day this year, BBB is urging consumers to spend it wisely and start with trust. Before ordering flowers, chocolates or any other gifts for Valentine's Day check out the company's Business Review at www.bbb.org and do your homework, ask plenty of questions, and comparison shop in order to help prevent disappointment with the product or customer service.

To ensure your Valentine's Day isn't filled with mishaps or worse, a scam, the BBB offers the following advice:

• Florists. Valentine's Day is extremely busy for florists, and unfortunately, not all florists are created equal. Typical BBB complaints around Valentine's Day state the flowers were not delivered as promised (wrong flowers or arrangements) or they were not delivered at all.

• BBB tip: Place your flower order very soon allowing enough time for shipping and verify directly with the florist that the date/time is specified and guaranteed. Request a written receipt for the order and ask about the business's refund policy if the delivery is late, never arrives or is in bad condition. Confirm that the florist you contact is actually the florist fulfilling the order too. At this time of year it's not uncommon for a third party to be involved. Make sure you know their actual street address and phone number just in case you need to adjust your order.

• Jewelers. The National Retail Federation estimates that 19 percent of people will treat their special someone to jewelry, with total spending equaling more than $3.9 billion, with most spending it on the most precious gem of all - diamonds.

• BBB tip: Do some research on the criteria jewelers use when selling a diamond so when you go to purchase a ring you will know exactly what the salesperson is talking about. Diamond scales are established by the Gemological Institute of America and a diamond's value is based on four criteria: color, cut, clarity and carat. BBB recommends you know how to buy a gem before you go and GIA can get you started with their "how to buy guide" (www.gia.edu). Ask your salesperson to write down any information you may rely on to make your purchase. Always ask for the store's refund and return policy before you buy.

• Gift cards. The gift that keeps on giving will also be on the top of Valentine shoppers' lists with 14 percent expected to buy gift cards for their loved ones.

• BBB tip: If the card is scratched or damaged it is virtually useless. To be certain your card will carry its full value, purchase cards that have no value until the store clerk loads on your amount. Verify the protective stickers have not been removed and that the unique PIN number located on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

• Phishing emails and ecard viruses. Scammers do not take a holiday, and love to try to get your hard earned money for themselves. Be on the lookout for these scams.

As Feb. 14 approaches, everyone expects the usual notes of love or e-cards to arrive via email. Cyber-crooks are well aware of this and use this time of year to trick many of us excited to get a love note into divulging personal and financial information through false alerts from fake greeting card websites, problems with your gift order or credit card that actually download viruses to steal personal information.

• BBB tip: Only open emails, attachments and links from people you know. Enhance email filters to block any such threats. Watch out for unsolicited emails with subject lines such as, "Someone just sent you an e-card" or "Send your loved one a Valentine's Day card today." If you ordered flowers and receive an email indicating a problem, directly contact the florist to ensure the e-mail is legitimate. Chances are it is not.

• Catfishing. Millions of Americans utilize online dating sites to search for that perfect match and it can be a very successful way to meet someone special. Scammers are also using the sites and targeting singles of any age and location, commonly now known as catfishing. This is accomplished through the creation of fake profiles designed to steal identity information, financial details or simply money.

• BBB tip: Do not fall for someone who is quick to develop a relationship and claim instant feelings of love. Scammers use emotional ties to increase the chances of their success. If your "match" asks for money to cover travel expenses or has a sudden emergency requiring an extensive amount of money, there is a high probability that it is a scam.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.