BBB Issues August 2009 Hot Topic List

 These are some of the most requested inquiries by local Pennsylvanians at your Better Business Bureau last month. Information is based on our research as of March 1, 2009. For updated BBB information and a current report on the companies, click on their name. To access over four million companies nationwide, visit Please take into consideration the importance of the practice and the total performance of the company.

1. Numerous calls have been received from Pittsburgh area residents about Education Services Provider, a pay per degree institution based in California. Complainants allege that high school diplomas or GEDs awarded by the school are not accredited, and are of little or no value to the student. Students complain the company fails to disclose that the diploma is not recognized by higher learning institutions, and is not verifiable by potential employers. Other complainants allege unauthorized credit card charges or the company fails to deliver the diploma at all. Information on Education Services Provider and other “diploma mills” may be available through local college and vocational school databases.

2. Bon Voyage Travel holds sales presentations for membership in a Travel Club.  Trips are booked through Sea Land Travel.  Attendees are promised “free gifts” that involve fees and taxes.  After becoming members, consumers complain that the trips offered on the company website are not of the quality promised. Based on customer complaints, BBB believes that Sea Land Travel and Bon Voyage Travel Club are linked to Castaways Vacation Club.

3. Freedom Financial Management, Inc. has recently been marketing in the Western PA area offering to settle consumer’s debt for a fraction of the debt value. BBB recommends caution when doing business with this or any Debt Negotiation company.

4. Calculated Management charges consumer’s a monthly fee of $29.95 – $39.95 for a debt settlement/negotiation service.  Recent calls to BBB of Western PA indicate that consumer’s who have signed up and paid money can no longer contact the company.  Six complaints filed against this company in the last six months have gone unanswered.

5. Peel, Inc., an internet commerce and marketing company, selling a variety of products online, has 1240 complaints on file with BBB, and has failed to correct the underlying cause of the complaints. Consumers allege undisclosed or unauthorized charges, lack of clearly disclosed shipping and/or membership fees, and deceptive advertising, and difficulties obtaining refunds.

6. Pennsylvania Attorney General has recently filed a civil lawsuit against Senior Carpenters seeking restitution for money paid to the home contracting company.  The suit is a result of complaints filed with the Bureau of Consumer Protection.  BBB has processed an additional 42 complaints against the business which currently has an “F” rating and a history of non-responsiveness.

7. Residents in the Western PA area are being contacted by United Collection Bureau, Inc. in an attempt to collect debts.  Consumers report that in some cases the debts are valid, in others they are not.  BBB has processed 404 complaints on the company and has concerns with the overall complaint history of the business. BBB urges people to know your rights in regards to Fair Debt Collecting Practices.

8. The conversion of 57 National City Bank locations to First Niagara Bank took place September 8th in the Pittsburgh area.  The process has been reasonably smooth, however customers and the company are reporting a few problems.   Conversion of the additional National City branches to PNC Financial Group is slated to begin in November, 2009.