Free Services of BBB, Part 1

Did you know that BBB is a non-profit organization that offers most of its services for free? People sometimes think that BBB is a government agency or maybe even a business, but we are a non-profit whose goal is to make the world a better place by creating greater trust in the marketplace. Pretty cool, huh?

BBB is almost entirely funded through our business accreditation fees – allowing businesses to display their accreditation and show their commitment to building trust in the marketplace. Those funds allow us to provide a wide range of services to both consumers and businesses.

BBB Business Directory

These days, our business directory is primarily online, and allows users – absolutely anyone who can get on the Internet – to search our list of companies by name or category. This way, they can quickly find out if a company is accredited and what its BBB rating might be, among other things. Companies are included in our directory whether they are accredited or not, so it really is a fantastic source of information about most businesses.

It is important to note, by the way, that the directory is not just online. From the beginning, consumers have been able to call in and check out a particular business, or ask for a list of Accredited Businesses in a specific category (asking for a list of BBB accredited plumbers, for example). This service is still available and people use it all the time.

BBB Guide to Trustworthy Businesses

In Mid-Missouri, we publish the annual BBB Guide to Trustworthy Businesses, a tabloid with a complete listing of all BBB Accredited Businesses in our region. The guide is distributed through the newspaper with the largest circulation in the region, the Columbia Daily Tribune, and at coffee shops, restaurants, and other businesses. It is a great resource for checking the accreditation of over 500 businesses

BBB Complaint Reporting

Perhaps BBB is best known for our complaint process, allowing consumers to register a formal complaint about a business they feel has not met the commitment they have made with their product or service. Those complaints and how they are resolved – or not resolved – are incorporated into the company’s business record, available through the BBB directory, and other consumers can see how the company handles complaints.

BBB Complaint Resolution

Being able to register a complaint to a neutral third party is great, but BBB service gets even better, acting as a neutral third-party that can help resolve the complaint. Often, complaints are resolved pretty quickly; once a company knows about a complaint, they frequently work with the consumer to address the situation. Many times, everyone is able move forward, feeling good about the way things worked out; sometimes, BBB looks at the situation and decides that the business has done everything that could reasonably be expected of them, even if the consumer is not 100% satisfied at the end.

Sometimes, settling the complaint requires more. Without BBB, these cases often end up in court. BBB, though, offers free mediation, and even legally binding arbitration – services that typically cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Next week, we will learn about even more free services offered by Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau.

Important Things to Know About Scams

As regional director of Mid-Missouri BBB, I spend a significant amount of my day talking about scams – with people who contact us; on radio and TV programs; in front of groups; and in other ways. In the process, it often seems as though I have seen pretty much everything – until I am reminded that there is always some new twist on an old scam.

What follows is a list of personal observations stemming from that experience. It is in no particular order and includes lessons learned, tips to keep from getting scammed, and things I have found to be true. Hopefully, it will be helpful.

  1. It is important to know about scams, not just for yourself, but so you can protect others in your life that might fall victim.
  2. Even really smart people can fall victim to the right kind of scam.
  3. A request from someone to wire money is a classic red flag that you may be seeing a scam. Once money I wired, it is almost impossible to recover.
  4. Tip: Never wire money to someone you do not know unless you are 100% sure that everything is legitimate.
  5. Scammers do not necessarily want your money, at first. They may want personal information that they can use to get to your money at a later time, or to steal your identity.
  6. There are scams specifically created for every time of year (holidays, seasons, etc.).
  7. There are scams specifically targeting every demographic (women, veterans, seniors, students, you name it).
  8. The Internet and social media have made it exponentially easier to commit a scam.
  9. People can fake any e-mail address pretty easily, so it might look like you are hearing from someone you trust (a big-name company or organization, your employer, or even a friend), when it is really someone trying to get your money or personal information.
  10. Tip: If you are buying something over the Internet (or even in person) and have any reason at all to be concerned, use a credit card (as opposed to debit), because the protections in cases of fraud – and the ability to get your money back – are typically greater.
  11. Follow your instincts. Often, people feel like something is wrong with a deal that turns out to be a scam, but they do not listen to that feeling and fall victim to something they could have avoided. If you have any cause for concern at all, look more closely before taking any action, or just walk away.
  12. Tip: If you receive an e-mail or see something on a website that might be a scam, look up the phone number separately – rather than using a number that has been provided – and make the company or organization involved. This can often be any easy way to confirm that something is not right.
  13. Tip: Never, ever click a Web link that you are not expecting, even if you know the sender, until you know for sure that it is okay. This is the most common way for someone to get into your computer to deliver a virus, gain access to your computer files, or even completely take control of your computer.
  14. Cell phones (smart phones) are like little computers, and are susceptible to essentially the same issues as computers – they can be given a virus; be taken over by someone in a remote location; or targeted by scammers in countless other ways.
  15. Your parents were right, “If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is!”

This list is hardly exhaustive of all the things I have learned about scams, but it provides a good foundation that everyone should have. Follow this list and stay alert, and you, your money, and your personal information will be much safer.