The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.
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A reader contacted me to talk about her experience trying to buy a foreclosed house from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
HUD homes are sold in an “as-is” condition, but HUD is supposed to tell the buyer what required repairs need to be made before they can buy the home. The inspections are made by HUD contractors. Potential buyers can also take their own inspectors into the home to do their due diligence.
Our reader said her inspector found a defective boiler and other problems with a HUD home in the Twin Cities.
Have you ever purchased a HUD-owned home? Since purchasing it have you had to make repairs that you didn’t anticipate? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 612 673-4028.
After an undercover federal investigation, a New York funeral home has agreed to pay a $32,000 fine to settle charges it violated federal consumer protection laws.
Funeral homes are required to provide consumers with accurate, itemized price information about services at the outset of making funeral arrangements, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Harrison Funeral Home and its owner, John Balsamo, were accused of violating that law after FTC inspectors posed as consumers seeking to make arrangements and the funeral home failed to provide price lists.
The FTC "funeral rule" gives consumers numerous rights when dealing with funeral homes, including getting prices over the phone, getting casket prices before you actually see them, and making funeral arrangements without having to pay for embalming.
Consumers who like to shop may be enticed to enter a secret shopping program, but the Better Business Bureau says mailings attempting to introduce people to mystery shopping are usually bogus.
Typically marketing companies businesses hire secret shoppers to evaluate the customer service or to gather information on a specific product. For example, a clothing store may want to ensure their employees are asking customers to sign up for a store credit card, so the company may hire secret shoppers who will go the store and then answer a survey.
The BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota said some secret shopping schemes look official because the scammers mail real-looking checks from legitimate businesses, sometimes sent via UPS or FedEx.
"The checks are bogus and these businesses have no association with these schemes," the BBB said in a news release Tuesday.
Firms do not typically send out checks to lure in potential secret shoppers,according to the BBB. "At best, being a secret shopper offers supplemental income."
The BBB advises visiting the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website, mysteryshop.org, for a list of reputable mystery shopping companies.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce urged consumers last week to research investment offers and services before making their investments.
The department said the recent lifting of an 80-year old ban on advertising of private offerings has the potential to lead to greater abuse.
"This is a reminder for investors that whether using a new crowdfunding portal or an accredited investor aggregator, it is important to do your due diligence and to understand the risks involved when using an unregulated third party," the department said in a statement released last week.
The department also released an updated list of top threats to investors and small businesses, compiled by the North American Security Administrators Association.
Here are the top investment schemes for 2013, according to the NASAA:
New Investor Threats
New Small Business Threats
Attorney General Lori Swanson is warning Minnesotans to beware of look-alike websites of governement services or personal business transactions, such as credit reports.
In her monthly consumer alert column, Swanson said Minnesotans have paid fees for address changes, tax identification numbers and credit reports, which are all free or at a low cost, because they landed on a website that only resembled the official agency.
Swanson described the experience of one consumer identified only as "Christina," who "wanted to re-direct her mail while she was away at college. She ordered an address change from a website that had a similar logo as the United States Post Office, only instead of a blue eagle, the website had a blue bear. Christina missed the nuance and paid $40 for the purported service," Swanson said. "Her mail was not forwarded and when Christina called her local Post Office, the representative told her that changing an address online costs $1."
Swanson said people can protect themselves by looking at the extension of the website. For example, a governement website should end with .gov.
People should also search through a reliable source, like a governement portal, to doublecheck contact information for state agencies, Swanson said.
Minnesota's portal for state agencies, board and commissions is mn.gov/portal/government/state/agencies-boards-commissions.
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