Business

Consumer Business with Denisha Maxey

Hundreds of property owners search for ways to secure their homes, families and valuables. Property owners often decide to purchase a home security system, also known as a burglar alarm to keep the burglars out! Alarm companies receive several inquiries about their business. Consumers are using the BBB website to research ratings, complaints and consumer reviews on various alarm companies. We receive hundreds of complaints a year, in our office about alarm companies who use less than ethical sales practices to get consumers to sign up with their services. Alarm companies are known for using door to door sales, where sales representatives knock on consumer’s doors to solicit their business. Often deceptive sales practices are used to trick unsuspecting consumers into switching their service by making claims that their current alarm company is going out of business or posing as being a representative sent by their current provider to upgrade their system. Use these tips to feel secure when you decide to purchase service from an alarm company.

Hand Pushing Buttons on a Wall-Mounted Burglar Alarm
Always do your homework and visit BBBhou.org to research an alarm company. You can view important information about the company, such as ratings, customer reviews, and complaint history. You can also get a recommendation from your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance carrier. They are able to provide you with a list of companies their customers are currently using. Inquire if alarm companies perform background checks on employees. You want to feel secure when you allow their technician in your home to install the service. Always verify if a company is properly licensed by checking the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Program by visiting www.dps.texas.gov.
Get more than one quote before making a decision. You know what your security needs are and they are numerous options available. Maybe a basic alarm system will work for you or maybe you need an elaborate system that includes cameras you can monitor from a cellphones or other electronic device. Only you know what you are willing to spend, create a budget and stick with it. Contact several alarm companies and request quotes before making a purchase. Ask about any specials for installation you may be eligible for and what the monthly fee is for the service. Do not forget to factor in the discount you may get off of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance for having a security system. Getting a discount may make the decision to purchase an alarm system more affordable.
Know your rights as a consumer, thoroughly read the contract and the alarm company’s policies. The contract and the policies will contain valuable information, such as if your system is monitored by a third party, if you are required to get an alarm permit, are you locked into a contract, any exclusions regarding cancellation, and if there are any penalties for early termination of your contract.
Purchasing an alarm system is an important decision, do not be pressured into signing up with a company you do not have any information about.

Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.

By Denisha Maxey

At some point in life we all have had to move and often moving requires the need to hire a professional moving company. Moving can be a stressful event; especially when the handling of your valuables are placed in the hands of strangers. Thousands of moving complaints are filed in our office each year, as well as hundreds of customer reviews. The complaints detail horror stories of moving companies providing reasonable quotes only to increase the rate substantially, often adding hundreds of dollars on to the total. If consumers fail to pay the additional amount, their valuables or held hostage.
Additional complaints received also outline traumatic experiences of family heirlooms and expensive furniture being damaged by inexperienced and careless movers. The damage does not stop there, sometimes there is damage done to consumer’s residents as well. What rights to consumers have to protect themselves from these types of experiences? Use these valuable tips to reduce your stress and chances of being scammed during your next move.

Mother and son unpacking moving boxes
You need to familiarize yourself with the different types of estimates a moving company can provide. Nonbinding means the actual cost of the move can exceed the estimated cost. Binding means the final cost must not exceed the estimated quote. Guaranteed not to exceed means the final cost must be the exact amount of the estimate or lower. When soliciting an estimate from a moving company always ask for a written estimate and read all of the fine print. You want to know exactly what is all included with your move, avoiding any extra unsuspected fees for additional services.
Insurance is the key to protecting your valuables! While the moving company is responsible for your valuables, all moving companies are required to replacement items at .60 cents per pound. You will end up with a check for $60 to cover your hundred pound entertainment center that was broken into a million pieces. Ask about purchasing additional insurance from the moving company and also check with your homeowners or renters policy for coverage. Although it can be hard to place a monetary value on your belongs, you do not want to end up with nothing in the end!
Always verify a moving companies licensing. Interstate movers are required to be licensed by the federal government and assigned a motor carrier number. You can visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at www.fmcsa.dot.gov to get the carrier number.
Be clear about who you are booking your move with. There are several companies who are only brokers; a third party coordinating your move with another moving company. Ask specific questions about who will be performing the move. Avoid having your move booked with a subcontracted company. You may find yourself in a difficult situation if issues arise, if you are dealing with a company you do not know anything about. Last but certainly not least, always review a moving company’s profile for complaints, customer reviews, and other important information about the company at BBBhou.org.

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

MOVING INTO a place of your own for the first time is a huge step. I remember my first post-college apartment move. It was nothing special, but it was mine. It came with a few new challenges and responsibilities and all sorts of opportunities. For the first time, I was able to decide how to decorate an entire living area and turn a blank slate into a home.
Here’s some advice for finding what you’ll need on a budget and a few inexpensive ideas to make otherwise unimaginative rooms come to life.
Look for hand-me-down and used furniture. Furniture – tables, chairs, bookshelves etc. – often takes up the most space and can be the biggest drain on your budget. You could start by mapping out your home using online floor plan software and determining what might fit where.
When it comes to finding furniture, friends, family members and friends of family members may have something they want to get rid of and simply haven’t had the time or energy to do so. Also consider marketplace websites’ free sections and the nonprofit Freecycle Network™, which hosts message boards
where you can find local people giving away their unwanted belongings.
To find used furniture that’s for sale, head to consignment stores, garage and buy-sell-trade social media groups. There are even startups creating online marketplaces specifically for furniture, although they’re generally limited to large cities.
Get your kitchen in order. Many kitchen essentials, such as silverware, can also be found for cheap at second-hand stores. But if you’re looking for something new, you can save money by shopping at discount stores and online clearance sites.
Avid cooks who want to invest in a few kitchen appliances might consider waiting for large seasonal sales. For instance, standing mixers, slow cookers and other small appliances often go on sale every Black Friday.
Brighten up the place. While your apartment may have overhead lighting, a few standing lamps can set a much nicer mood. The good news is lamps often stay in the corner and won’t necessarily show a lot of wear and tear. In other words, this is another great buy-used opportunity.
Don’t shop second-hand for everything. There are a few things you don’t want to buy used: towels and bedding. Add mattresses to that list as well if you’ll be looking for a new one.
When it comes to sheets, ultra-high thread counts could be more of a marketing gimmick than an indicator of quality. Try to focus on how the fabric feels, find a weave that you like and you might be pleasantly surprised by the low-cost options at big box retailers. The same test works for towels.
Purchasing a new mattress can take a big chunk of your budget. Consider one of the new online mattress retailers that sell high-quality goods for less. Buying a mattress without testing it first may seem weird, but many offer free returns within the first few months.
Add a few personal touches. You’ve got the necessities covered, but how do you turn a generic apartment into a place that feels like home? Think walls, windows and floors.
Rather than painting, consider a cheaper (and easier) route by opting for removable wall decals or wallpaper. There are all sorts of shapes, designs, prints and even adhesive chalkboards for under $20. You could also decorate with paper, canvas or metal prints of your favorite photographs. Windows can get a cover-up treatment as well, but rather than spending a lot of money on brand new blinds you can get curtains that add color or a pattern to your room.
An area rug can help tie a room together, but they can also be prohibitively expensive. This is another item that you might not want to buy used unless you know the seller. Luckily, home good stores and some big box retailers usually have at least a few inexpensive options.
Congratulations on the move. Outfitting a new apartment doesn’t happen overnight. Especially if this is the first time you get to pick what to buy, it can take time to find your style and items to match. However, even with a limited budget, there’s a lot you can do to make a space your own.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

Don’t be scammed

by Denisha Maxey

THE END of the school year is coming to an end for students. Soon it will be time to enjoy the summer sunshine and no worries over homework. The end of the school year signifies a special time for high school seniors, who are the graduating class of 2017. My daughter is one of the excited students graduating this year.


The realization of high school being, turned into the reality of college planning and preparation. One thing I know parents who have children graduating this year have come to realize, is just how expensive college tuition is! College tuition continues to rise each year and students, as well as parents, are looking for scholarships to help cover the cost of their education.
Receiving scholarships reduces the financial burden placed on parents and avoids having to apply for student loans. However, trying to navigate the “scholarship world,” searching for scholarships students are eligible to receive can be tricky. Add the additional challenge of scammers waiting to take advantage of students and parents; searching for scholarships can be a stressful task. Here are a few scholarship scams parents and students need to watch out for:
Beware of any scholarship organization making claims of improving your chances to receive scholarships, but request a small fee to get students preapproved. In the end, the student never receives a scholarship and is told it went to another applicant. However, in reality there never was a real chance of being awarded a scholarship. The organization is collecting the fees and pocketing the money. Small fees of $50.00 can quickly add up when you collect it from several unsuspecting applicants!
Do not cash any scholarship check arriving in the mail with an amount higher than you were eligible for. Scam scholarship organizations will send out a check, ask the receipt to cash it and send the dollar amount difference back to the organization. The problem occurs when the check is cashed and the recipient discovers later the check was fake or invalid. Not only have you been scammed out of your money, but there will be consequences and fees from your financial institution. In the most extreme cases, the check may be linked to a criminal investigation you have now found yourself in the middle of.  
Be leery of any pre-approved scholarships emails from an organization you did not apply for a scholarship from. Often these types of emails are in your junk or spam folder because they are sent out as bulk messages. You will not receive a scholarship from organization you never completed an application with. The email will provide instructions on how to receive the scholarship and ask you to pay a disbursement fee. In the end, the recipient ends up with a fake or invalid check and out of a money for a fee that should have never been paid!
In the end, be smart and do your homework. Always research any business or organization offering scholarships or grants by visiting BBBhou.org or BBB.org.
Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.

Come hear updates from industry leaders

By Trishna Buch

The State Of Industry business luncheon is upon us. Industry leaders are going to be converging on the Doyle Convention Center, below, on May 22 to update Galveston County citizens on the happenings of the various chemical and petroleum companies in the county.
Industry leaders from Marathon Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Ashland, Eastman Chemical, Valero Refining and BP Chemicals will be the guest speakers and each person will be giving guests a run-down of their industry and its current state of affairs.
The speakers that the lunch attendees will get to hear from are Rich Hernandez, general manager of Marathon, Connie Bradley, division manager of Marathon, Aaron Cameron, maintenance manager of Ashland, Roselle Bleile, production leader at Dow, Sergio Matute, site manager of Eastman, Sal Viscontini, plant manager of Valero and Peter Nowobilski, plant manager of BP.
Attendees will also enjoy a meal catered by Benno’s – a Cajun seafood restaurant based in Galveston.
If you have not yet had a chance to purchase your tickets, they can still be bought for $20 by going to the Texas City-La Marque chamber located at 9702 Emmett F Lowry Expressway in Texas City or by going online to the chamber’s website at tclmchamber.com. If you do not have a chance to purchase tickets beforehand, you can still buy them at the door for $25.

Photo by James Martin