Q: I received a postcard from what seems like JetBlue airlines about getting two round trip airfares anywhere in the United States, and if I call within 48 hours, I get a hotel stay as well. But something seems a bit off--it seems too good to be true. Can the BBB tell me if this postcard legitimate?
A: Last year, BBB received a number of concerns about similar postcards popping up in the area, and looks like they are making rounds again early this year. At the time, BBB did some investigating, and the information seems to still hold true. Most of the postcards being reported do not have a particular company or their contact information disclosed openly, and overall there are scant details about the promotion. The only information is a phone number with a promotion code. If you call the number, the person states you need to attend and listen to a presentation that will be held at a local hotel before you can receive your prize.
BBB had also found that similar postcards with the same story have been active with others across the United States. Many times what these presenters are looking to do is to sign you up for an expensive (or even nonexistent) timeshare or a vacation club membership. Some reports indicate that presenters ask for a commitment upfront of membership dues in the area of $9,000 in addition to extra fees in order to claim your airline prize. Even if you do commit, there are so many restrictions on the prize itself that it makes it impossible to redeem if it was even legitimate in the first place.
Companies offering promotions and giving presentations in it of itself is not a problem; many companies do so. The problem is the way certain businesses go about offering and advertising those promotions. Not being transparent or disclosing all the information required up front for a person to be an informed consumer.
If you are thinking about attending a sales presentation, BBB offers the following advice:
• Be cautious of free travel offers received by phone, email, or mail. There is usually a catch.
• Avoid misleading "free" offers. Read the fine print and be aware of asterisks.
• Don't go just for a freebie. Avoid attending presentations if there is no interest in the advertised product, service or membership.
• Look out for freewheelers. Is it a traveling seminar based out-of-state? Research all businesses involved. Sometimes the whole presentation is handled by different companies, such as the initial marketing, the presenter, and then the sales team, and if something becomes a problem along the way, each may end up blaming the other, and it will be complicated to get anything resolved. Consider their complaint volume, and see how they respond to complaints; visit bbb.org for free BBB Business Reviews.
• Don't waste free time. Some seminars are marketed to last a short period of time--an hour--but end up lasting two, three or four hours.
• Free yourself from the hard sell. Sales representatives may use aggressive or high-pressure tactics to convince consumers to buy products or services they don't need or want. If bullied, walk away.
• Freely make your decision. If it is an enticing offer, take time to think it over. Any company that forces an immediate decision may not be worth doing business. Review contracts and purchase agreements carefully.
• Report problems. Contact BBB or file complaints at bbb.org.
• Be wary of suspiciously high savings claims that you are not able to verify prior to making a purchase.
• Research your right to cancel prior to going to a sales presentation and get information in writing should you choose to buy.
• Be wary of companies with little to no contact information such as street address, phone number, email address, etc. For those companies that do supply that information, verify it by going to bbb.org or running it across your search browser to make sure information lines up. There have been cases that have addresses lead back to mail packaging stores' post boxes.
A number of sales presentations involve buying or selling a timeshare. There is some extra homework and attention that needs to be done when considering buying or selling a timeshare. BBB offers these extra tips to consider:
• Beware of upfront fees. Though there may be closing costs or other fees associated with purchasing a timeshare, be wary of any company that pressures you to pay any fees upfront or before reviewing contracts.
• Read the fine print. Especially when selling a timeshare, make sure to read the contract carefully. Find out if the company is actually selling your timeshare or simply charging you to advertise the listing.
• Never wire cash. Credit cards offer a certain amount of fraud protection that you cannot get if you use a wire service. Walk away from any deal that requires you to pay cash or wire money, especially to locations in other countries. This is a red flag to this type scam.
• Get it in writing. Ask the salesman for all information in writing, including all fees, timing and ways the seller plans to advertise the unit.
• Check the license. Ask for licensing information for the seller's agents, and check that information with the Real Estate Commission. Only deal with licensed brokers and ask for references.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Be wary of any seller who promises a big selling price or quick turnaround. High-pressure tactics are always a red flag.
Know where to turn. Before selling your timeshare, read the FTC's advice on selling a timeshare (http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0073-timeshares-and-vacation-plans) and report any fraud or scams to BBB or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx).
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.