January, 28, 2010

It’s cold outside and your heat cuts off!  It’s a problem most of use will probably encounter at some point in time. Don’t get burned when it comes to having a furnace doctor make a house call to your home. Your local Better Business Bureau has some tips to assist you in avoiding being ripped off or overspending when it comes to furnace repair and maintenance.

  • Check Before You Call

Before you call a repairman, there are a few things to look at that you may be able to fix yourself before spending money on a service call.

First off, be sure that your pilot light is on; if it’s gone off for some reason, you’ll have instructions likely pasted on the side of your furnace for lighting the pilot light. Be sure, too, that your thermostat is clean and is reading the temperature correctly, as a faulty thermostat could fool you into thinking there’s something wrong with the furnace.  Also make sure that your furnace’s air filters don’t need to be changed.  Sometimes the fix is as simple as buying and inserting a new air filter. Check your owner’s manual for details on other routine maintenance you may be able to perform yourself.

  • Call a Professional

Once you’ve checked all that basic stuff, don’t attempt to do anything further on your own. You’re likely to further damage your furnace trying to fix it yourself, which will end up costing you more in the end. You could also potentially injure yourself very seriously, as furnaces run on very flammable elements. 

Contact the Better Business Bureau to check out a business before you invite them to your home. Look for a BBB Accredited Business on our online directory.  BBB Accredited Businesses must meet and abide by the Better Business Bureau’s standards and agree to participate in the BBB’s dispute resolution program if a problem arises with a customer.

Any reputable heating and cooling contractor will be licensed by the State of Michigan and carry identification with them when making a house call.  Never allow anyone making a service call to your home inside without providing the proper credentials.

Make sure that you understand if your furnace’s warranty mandates specific requirements for selecting a contractor who conducts repairs to ensure that who you select does not void your warranty or charge you for service that should otherwise be covered by another company.

  • Beware High Pressure Sales Pitches

Keep in mind that while most furnace companies are reputable, competent, and fair; others may tell you that your furnace needs to be repaired or replaced when it really does not. Some may use high pressure tactics, such as telling you that your system is leaking dangerous gases that could explode or poison those inside the home.

Don’t be scared into buying a new furnace or authorizing unneeded expensive repairs to your existing heating system.  If you have questions about the safety of your home, call your local utility and ask them to inspect the situation.  DTE/MichCon customers should call 800-947-5000.  Consumers Energy customers should call 800-477-5050.  If you believe you may be in physical danger do to a furnace malfunction or gas leak, leave your home until the situation is fully checked out.

If you are told that your furnace needs to be replaced because it is too small, think back to the last time it failed to properly heat your house.  When purchasing a furnace, you should base its size on the demands of your household and the square footage of your home.  Don’t waste money on a furnace that is more powerful, and more expensive, than you actually need. Research the size and efficiency of the equipment and ask the contractor to explain specifically why they are recommending a particular sized furnace.

Also be wary of offers for “free” furnace inspections.  Often times these will lead to recommendations of other work that needs to be done, sometimes necessary and sometimes not. 

The most important first step when it comes to furnace repairs is not to panic.  Be sure to check the warranty on your system to see whether any repairs or replacements are covered.  Remember that many heating systems come with long-term warranties.  Check your warranty to review what it covers, for how long, and who will honor it.

  • Get Multiple Estimates

Always try and get at least two estimates before you authorize work to be done to your heating system or purchase a new furnace.  All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used.  If a new furnace is being installed, the estimate should include a full description of additional work required for the installation of ducts, registers, electrical wiring, and the repair of adjacent surfaces. Compare more than costs, also evaluate the quality of the equipment and the value of any warranties offered. Note that not every warranty is the same so it is important to understand the terms and conditions when doing your pricing comparisons.

Remember to also check out the businesses with the Better Business Bureau and compare the customer service histories and ratings listed in their BBB Reliability Reports.

  • Get It In Writing

Always get a contract before authorizing work on your furnace.   Read the contract thoroughly and understand it before signing it.  The contractor you choose should provide at least one call back service free of charge after repairs or installation to check the work.  Make sure that this is written into the Agreement.  Also make sure any warranties on the work are referred to in the contract.  You may also want to see if you can purchase a service contract that will provide you with an annual furnace inspection and additional future maintenance.

The best way to avoid disputes over what is or isn’t expected from a home improvement job is to write out the details in a contract. Remember the more thorough the contract is, the better protected you are in the case a complaint or a dispute arises with the furnace doctor you have selected.

For more advice and consumer tips from your Better Business Bureau, visit us at



January, 4, 2010


The Better Business Bureau today released a list of the top 10 scams and rip-offs of 2009. Not surprisingly, many scams sought to take advantage of people who were suffering under tough economic circumstances—such as the unemployed. Additionally, the use of free-trial offers to lock consumers into recurring credit and debit card charges was widespread online.

“Many of the scams on the list are perennial problems, but some of last year’s scams were distinct because of the economic climate and scammers’ penchant for taking advantage of the top headlines in the news,” noted Tim Burns, Public Affairs Director for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan. “People should be aware that scam artists are always modifying and changing their methods and solicitations so they can continue to lure in new people to be swindled. Taking a few minutes to check out a potential scam by going to before you get hooked could save you a lot of time and money down the road.”

Following, in no particular order, is BBB’s list of top scams and rip-offs that took advantage of consumers and small business owners across the U.S. in 2009:

  1. Acai Supplements and Other “Free” Trial Offers – Ads offering trial offers for teeth whiteners, acai anti-aging pills and other miracle supplements blanket the Internet, including trusted Web sites of national news organizations. The marketing campaigns often falsely claimed an endorsement by Oprah, Rachel Ray and Doctor Oz. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB that the free trial actually cost them as much as hundreds of dollars, month after month.
  2. Stimulus/Government Grant Scams – Even before President Obama announced the stimulus plan in February, scammers had already set up schemes for misleading consumers and small business owners into thinking they could get a piece of the pie. Offers for worthless assistance and advice on how to get government grants bombarded consumers online, over the phone and via mail.
  3. Robocalls – Owning a cell phone or having their phone number on the do-not-call list did not help thousands of people across the US put a stop to harassing automated telemarketing calls in 2009.  The robocalls often claimed that their auto warranty was about to expire—which wasn’t true—or offered help in reducing their interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the FTC to increase restrictions on the practice in 2009.
  4. Lottery/Sweepstakes Scam – The victim receives a letter in the mail pretending to be from Reader’s Digest, Publisher’s Clearing House or a phony foreign lottery claiming that he or she has won millions. The letter comes with a check that represents only a portion of the total winnings. In order to get the rest, the victim has to deposit the check and then wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers supposedly to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.
  5. Job Hunter Scams –Scams targeting job hunters vary and include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers and requirements to pay a fee in order to even be considered for the job.  Another common scam was reported to BBB by job hunters who were told by a prospective employer that they had to check their credit report before being considered for a job. The job offer is actually a marketing ploy for online credit monitoring that costs the victim every month until they cancel. 
  6. Google Work from Home Scam – Countless Web sites cropped up in 2009 that claimed you could learn how to make money from home using Google or Twitter and offered a free trial of learning materials. The Web sites often included the Google or Twitter moniker and logo. As a result, many people who complained to BBB thought they were getting a job with Google or Twitter when in, fact, they were being lured into another misleading free-trial offer and were billed every month for the materials and other mystery charges that added up to hundreds of dollars.
  7. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue/Debt Assistance – Many families are struggling in the current economy and hucksters are offering to help them save their house from foreclosure or help them get out of credit card debt. Unfortunately, victims are paying hundreds of dollars up front for the assistance they desperately need but ultimately never receive.
  8. Mystery Shopping – Consumers across the country thought that they could make some extra money by becoming a secret shopper and evaluating the customer service of various stores. The victim is asked to evaluate their shopping experience at a few stores as well as a money wiring service such as Western Union or MoneyGram by wiring money back to the scammers. A seemingly real looking check is supposed to cover the costs, but ends up being a fake. The victim is out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
  9. Over-Payment Scams – Over-payment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or sites like Craigslist. Typically the scammer pretends to be a customer, possible renter or interested buyer, respectively. The victim receives a check for more than the amount requested. The scammers then ask the victim to deposit the check and wire the extra amount elsewhere, such as to a shipping company. Ultimately though, the check is fake and the victim is really wiring money back to the scammers.
  10. Phishing e-mails/H1N1 spam – A perennial problem, phishing e-mails pop up in inboxes and can take various forms such as appearing to be from a business, a government agency or official or even a friend. Whatever the setup, the goal of any phishing e-mail is the same: to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware. In addition to phishing e-mails, spam e-mail selling wares to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus were particularly rampant in 2009.

Consumers can call their local BBB at (248) 223-9400 or visit online at for information on avoiding scams and schemes. Always research a business with the BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money. Scam victims should file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at While not every complaint may be resolved, filing one assists the BBB with warning other consumers about fraudulent activity taking place in the community and working with law enforcement to arrest scammers that may be violating the law.

Tips for Boarding your Pet over the Holidays

December, 14, 2009

Many of us find ourselves traveling to visit family and friends during the holiday season, but are troubled to find that we have to leave a loved one behind…the family pet. Your local Better Business Bureau along with Camp Bow Wow, A BBB Accredited Business, have some tips to ensure that when you have to board your pet it has a safe and enjoyable holiday too.

 It is important to visit nearby facilities to tour locations, compare services, and experience the way staff interacts with the animals before selecting a place to board your pet. Also check out the kennel’s Reliability Report with the Better Business Bureau before making a final decision.

While it is easy to do research online, the BBB recommends actually taking a physical tour of where you are considering boarding your pet before you commit to placing your pet there. This allows you as a consumer to have a first-hand look at the facilities layout, cleanliness, and attentiveness of the staff. Some questions to ask pet boarding facilities include:

  • What is the staff to dog ratio? (One staff member for every 10 – 15 dogs is considered an optimum level);
  • What type of training do staff members get? Are there any training requirements on how well behaved your pet needs to be?
  • What does the kennel do if there is a medical emergency? Do they have in-house medical staff, will they take the animal to your personal veterinarian, or do they have a relationship with a third-party veterinarian that provides care for their facility?
  • Do they mandate that all dogs they care for be current on vaccinations?
  • How often do they clean cages and exercise the animals?
  • Are the dogs merely supervised or does the staff interact with them?
  • When are they fed? Can you request specific food or provide your own?
  • Can you make special arrangements for your pet’s individualized care or are the facilities’ services standardized for all the animals boarded there?
  • Are there various price structures for services and length of stay? Are there minimum and maximum lengths of stay for pets?

When visiting a boarding location, also consider the following points as you tour the facility:

  • Does the kennel seem overcrowded, smell, or not look clean?
  • Is there an outdoor play area? If so, does it have a security fence around it? If not, does the staff take the animals for walks on a leash outside?
  • Do the pets seem well cared for? Does the staff seem knowledgeable and caring?

After you’ve decided to board your pet somewhere, it is also important to be adequately prepared for dropping them off for their stay. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Do a trial stay: Take a trail run with the kennel by having your pet stay for a short overnight stay prior to having them stay for a long period of time while you are out of town.

Protect them from parasites: Make sure your pet is up to date on their parasite control treatments for fleas, ticks, and heartworms. You don’t want them to come home with new unwanted companions.

Don’t indulge your pet: Before you drop them off at the kennel, don’t overcompensate with a few days of extra attention and treats to make up for your absence. The extra attention will make your loss more impactful on your pet when you are gone.

Don’t take favorites to the kennel: You might think that taking your pet’s favorite toy or blanket might make their stay easier, but things can get lost during playtime or when cages are being cleaned. So don’t leave anything that’s loss would create behavioral problems when you drop off your pet for its stay.

Stay calm: Don’t get emotional when you drop off your pet for their stay. Pets can sense emotions and act out based upon them. If you have family members who may not be able to control their emotions in saying goodbye, leave them at home to pack for your vacation.

For more holiday consumer tips from your Better Business Bureau, visit