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Avoiding Bedbug Scams

Scam artists charge high prices but fail to exterminate the critters

The little bugs continue to cause big problems: A flare-up in dozens of Charlotte, N.C., hotels was big talk at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, at least on social media sites. This summer, bedbugs prompted 25 percent more service calls nationwide than in 2011, reports the National Pest Management Association. The critters even made the Consumer Federation of America's most recent Top Complaints List.

Bed bug extermination is a real problem, but so are scammers out to make money off the pests. For Scam Alert.

Bedbug extermination is a real problem, but so are scammers out to make money off the pests. — Dr. David Phillips/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

So bedbugs are still out there — and so are scammers selling rip-off remedies.

Cedar, cinnamon, lemongrass, peppermint and clove oil? They're the latest additions to the list of bogus eradication products, says the Federal Trade Commission in filing a deceptive advertising complaint against marketers of products called Rest Easy and Best Yet.

They join scientific-sounding gizmos that include ionic, ultrasonic and electromagnetic bedbug eradicators pitched on the Internet.

"I have never seen any evidence that any of them work," says Richard Pollack, a research entomologist who has been studying bedbugs for two decades. And those store-bought "bug bombs" and other off-the-shelf insecticides? "Their risk is greater to you than the bedbugs," he adds.

So don't get bitten — metaphorically or financially — by claims about products like Best Yet ($30 per quart and $3,500 for a hotel-size kit), says the FTC.

The FTC reached a tentative settlement with Rest Easy's marketer, RMB Group, requiring it to pay a fine of $265,000 and discontinue alleged false claims. The company admitted no wrongdoing. CedarCide Industries, makers of Best Yet, says that amid a management change it's "in the process of correcting the concerns made by the FTC."

If you're itching for real solutions to bedbugs, try these:

• Make sure you really have bedbugs. You can find images of them at IdentifyUs, a website run by Pollack.

• Use a magnifying glass on mattresses and furniture to look for dark, pen tip-size feces that may stain fabric; rusty or reddish stains on bed linens (caused by bedbugs being crushed when you roll over in the middle of the night); or tiny white eggs. Another telltale sign, of course, are the skin welts they cause.

• Use the Environmental Protection Agency's bedbug Search Tool for information on approved ingredients and eradication companies. Other EPA info on the bugs is available at this Web page.

• Before traveling, visit the Bedbug Registry for user-submitted (but not authenticated) infestation reports at hotels and other places across the United States and Canada.

• For real results — bedbugs are among the most difficult pests to eliminate — you'll want an exterminator with proven experience. The National Pest Management Association's website lets you search for local pros by ZIP code. Ask to see a government-issued license and work only with companies that can document previous experience with the critters.

• You don't want a guy who'll just come in and start spraying. Before any treatment is applied, the technician should produce evidence of infestation. This may mean applying glue traps near baseboards, thoroughly moving and inspecting furniture and, unfortunately, ripping open your mattress or box spring.

• If dogs are used to sniff out bedbugs, ensure it's not a huckster's mutt by asking to see its National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association certification. Reputable canine inspections cost about $350.

• If you go forward with treatment, expect to pay between $200 and $6,000, depending on the extent of infestation.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

Also of interest:

Remember to go to the AARP home page every day for great deals and for tips on keeping healthy and sharp.

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