The Duality of Better Business Bureau

As regional director for Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau, I talk to pretty much every kind of person you can think of – business owners and managers, customers, men, women, the young, and the old. One thing that strikes me is that many people have a fairly narrow view of what BBB does and whom we serve, based on their specific interactions with us.

This, in turn, leads me to one of the things I love most about BBB – our duality, the fact that we serve both businesses and consumers. Everything we do comes down to the fact that our role is to build trust in the marketplace; to do that, we must serve both sides, those who are selling and those who are buying. To me, this is the real beauty of BBB, and a big part of my job is helping everyone understand it.

For example, we provide business accreditation – a process through which we determine that a business is trustworthy (to be accredited, a business must have at least a B, on a scale of A+ to F; be in business for at least one year; and be free of a pattern of consumer complaints). On the one hand, for businesses that achieve accreditation, this is a feather in their cap, a third-party validation that they conduct themselves in a way that most of us would deem appropriate. On the other hand, providing a directory of businesses that includes accreditation status, gives consumers a powerful tool to make smarter buying choices.

Kinda cool, huh?

Another example is BBB mediation services (which are free, by the way). We work with businesses and consumers to solve disputes, without involving the time and expense of the court system. We even take that a step further, offering binding arbitration services.

These are just a few of the many, many services BBB provides to both businesses and consumers. Others include BBB Scam Tracker, an interactive, online mapping program that allows people to report and see scams all over the country; our business review system; and Request A Quote, which allows consumers to request job quotes from BBB accredited businesses.

Check out www.MidMoBBB.org to learn more about Better Business Bureau and how we can be of service to you. Feel free to contact me with questions, sspence@midmobbb.org or 573-886-8965.

Never Wire Money to Strangers

There are plenty of telltale signs of a potential scam. One of the easiest to spot is a request to wire money. If someone you do not know asks you to wire money for any purpose, take it as a sign to look much more closely at the situation or just forget about it.

I have told the story before of my relative who almost got scammed when he was selling something online. He got an offer, accepted it, and received a check in the mail for maybe $1000 more than the selling price. He e-mailed the buyer to let her know about the mistake, and the buyer asked him to wire the extra amount, and keep $100 for his trouble.

Thankfully, my young relative did not know how to wire money and asked his mother, who knew to be cautious, and the story ends with no money being wired and nobody getting scammed.

But what if my relative had not asked the question? The original check he had been sent turned out to be fake. If he had wired that money, he would never have seen it again, and he would have been out the $1000.

In one way or another, this is a very common story. Scammers often ask that money be wired because it is harder to trace. Once you have wired money, it can be very difficult – often impossible – to recover it.

In any situation, if someone you do not know asks you to wire money, the best course of action is to assume that it is a scam until you have proof that it is not. Almost every time, it will be, and you will be glad you did not fall for it.

Eight New Year’s Resolutions to Avoid Getting Scammed

A big part of my job as regional director for Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau is helping consumers avoid getting scammed. Heading into 2016, I have been thinking about the advice I would give people, the resolutions I would suggest to stay safe from scams. The following are eight things that apply to pretty much everybody, and that I particularly recommend.

  1. Be skeptical of calls claiming to be from the IRS. This is first on my list because Missouri is one of the most frequent targets for “fake IRS” calls. The fact is that the IRS does not call people or email them to inform them of taxes or penalties due, nor does it threaten to arrest or sue taxpayers. Their initial contact is always through the mail.
  1. Get everything in writing. Do not just take a company’s word for it. Get every verbal agreement in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between what you expect and what the business delivers. If there is ever a problem, having everything in writing will make it much more likely that you will be able to resolve the situation to your satisfaction. Also, if a company will not give you the details in writing, this is often a hint that there may be a problem.
  1. Always read the fine print—especially with “free” trial offers. Thousands of consumers have complained to BBB after signing up for a “free” trial offer online that resulted in repeated charges to their credit or debit cards, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars every month. Read the terms and conditions of any “free” trial offer before providing credit or debit card numbers.
  1. Keep your computer safe. Install anti-virus software on your computer and check regularly for software and operating system updates and patches. Do not open attachments or click on links in emails unless you can confirm the email came from someone you trust.
  1. Fight identity theft. Shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely. BBB offers tips and checklists on what to shred and hosts annual Secure Your ID events nationwide to help you stay safe.
  1. Never wire money to someone you do not know. Seriously, being asked to wire money may be the biggest red flag there is in the world of scams. Many scams require that the victim wire money back to the scammers. Scammers know tracking money sent via MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot MoneyPak is extremely difficult. Once you have wired money, it is nearly impossible to get it back.
  1. Ask BBB for help. Better Business Bureau is an incredible resource when t comes to scams. Check online or call with questions; file a complaint with BBB if you have a dispute with a business or have been ripped off by a scammer.
  1. If it feels even a little bit wrong, investigate or just get away. So often, people ignore gut feelings, and so often, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. If something feels funny or wrong – or too good to be true – it probably is.

For questions about avoiding scams or anything else related to trust in the marketplace, contact Sean Spence at 573-885-8965 or sspence@midmobbb.org.