5 steps to managing complaints

The poor handling of a customer’s grievance can be one of the easiest ways to destroy an otherwise impeccable reputation. So what is it you ought to do when your business receives negative feedback? Click here for guidance.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s on the Internet, so it must be true!

Photo by Jon Sullivan [Public domain]

Photo by Jon Sullivan [Public domain]

Everyone knows that it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer volume of information on the Internet; just about anything you want to research is online somewhere. Just the other day, out of curiosity, I went on Google to see how many noses a snail has. Will I ever need this information? No, probably not. But the answer is out there so I just had to find it. Fun fact: they have four.

But researching businesses on the Internet can be slightly harder than finding snail nose numbers. Despite what everyone dares to hope, not everything on the Internet is true and dishonest advertising is everywhere. That’s where Better Business Bureau can help.

The BBB Code of Advertising is designed to guide businesses in making factual claims on websites and other advertisements. In doing so, the Code also protects consumers by minimizing the risks that they are deceived or misled by dishonest marketing.

Honest businesses will follow all of the standards in the Code and will be able to substantiate their advertisements. Keep the following points in mind when reviewing websites:

1. The company advertises a guarantee or warranty on its products or services.

In high school I worked at a sporting goods store and had to try and upsell customers into buying additional warranties on everything from exercise equipment to battery-operated water bottle fans. The point is that there are warranties on nearly everything. Make sure that businesses advertise, in writing, the limitations/durations of these promises and who is required to fulfill the warranty obligations if issues arise.

2. The company makes definitive statements without substantiation.

One word can make the difference between a factual statement and a deceptive statement. One word? Really? The answer is yes. For example, a company implies that it is the largest and most successful when it advertises itself as “the” leader rather than “a” leader. But, can that statement be proved? Make sure that companies can back up any statements they have on their websites and ask for proof if necessary.

3. The company advertises BBB Accreditation on its website.

When it comes to advertising BBB Accreditation and letter grades on the Internet it’s always a good idea to double check. A business that uses the BBB online seal on its website is required to display it in a very specific manner and it should link directly to the correct BBB Business Review. BBB ratings change all the time; never assume that an advertised rating is correct without visiting bbb.org.

 Remember, the BBB name and seal are trademarked; misrepresenting BBB Accreditation is not only illegal, but fundamentally deceptive and wrong. BBB team members work hard to scrub the Internet of non-accredited businesses that try to gain a competitive advantage by using the well-recognized seal and you can help! Submit BBB fakers to adreview@thebbb.org.

Advertisers bear primary responsibility for truthful and non-deceptive advertising. So whether it’s researching snails or hiring a business, make sure to verify any and all claims.

Don’t be Fooled by “Tech Support” Scams!

Differences-between-worm-virus-and-trojan-horse

Trojan | © Berishafjolla / Wikimedia Commons /CC-BY-SA-3.0

One of the most common ways in which people unknowingly fall victim to cyber-crime is through computer-related phone scams. According to the most recently available United States Census Bureau data, 75.6 percent of Americans had household computers in 2011. With the population of the U.S. approaching 319 million, there are approximately 241 million potential victims of illegitimate offers to restore and fix computer software issues.

During my time answering public phones at Better Business Bureau I have heard a plethora of stories involving the infamous “tech support” scam, where various technology “support groups” claim to offer fixes for computer malware problems. Don’t be someone who takes the bait!

Reports to BBB indicate that the unsolicited callers mostly claim to be affiliated with Microsoft, while others claim affiliation with Windows Corporation or similar well-known technology companies. However, the callers are not associated with any corporation and they are simply seeking remote access to computers in the hopes of obtaining personal information for identity theft purposes; sometimes, callers require “fees” for their services and ask for prepaid money cards or money transfers. One Washington State man lost more than $10,000 to an illegitimate Microsoft Tech Support offer in 2013.

Of course, the obvious question is: How does a random caller know that my computer has a virus? That question leads to an obvious answer: He doesn’t!

Unfortunately, anti-virus software is no guarantee and it is relatively easy for viruses and malware to end up on computers. BBB recommends having computers checked by legitimate companies if problems arise.

Microsoft is aware of this ongoing scam and is working to notify the public on recognizing fake calls. So, if you do receive a call from tech support, hang up and report it.

Don’t Throw your Money Away: Recognizing an Online Scam

1024px-Flickr_-_boellstiftung_-_Laptop_auf_dem_Schoß_(1)

Laptop auf dem Schoß | © Stephan Röhl / Wikimedia Commons / BY-SA 3.0

First guesses are usually right—just ask any student who has ever taken a multiple choice test and changed an answer halfway through. Not surprisingly, this logic also applies when making purchases, and Better Business Bureau can help determine if gut feelings are accurate.

When consumers check with BBB to research a company, sometimes there is no report. Most of the time this simply means BBB hasn’t had a reason to interact with the business, but occasionally, it means that it is not legitimate.

For example, I recently spoke with a consumer who called BBB to verify a company’s legitimacy before making a purchase. After I was unable to locate a BBB Business Review I analyzed the business’s website. Upon inspection I noticed several red flags that made me wary of the company’s intentions:

  1. There was no contact information available.
    There are no requirements for businesses to display their contact information on websites; however, honest and transparent businesses understand that the more contact information they provide the more at ease their customers, and potential customers, will be.
  2. Everything was marked at more than 50 percent off.
    Businesses have the authority to set their own prices as long as they stay within the limitations of the law; however, legitimate businesses will be unable to stay afloat while continually selling items at a loss. This particular store sold overstock at unrealistic discounts: $2,000 items were priced around $750.
  3. BBB Accreditation couldn’t be verified.
    Eligible BBB Accredited Businesses may display their accreditation online if certain criteria are met—like displaying the correct seal and having it link directly to the appropriate BBB Business Review. While reviewing the website in question, I noticed that every page advertised BBB Accreditation, but the seal was outdated, did not link to a review and could not be verified through the BBB national database.
  4. The only accepted payment method was prepaid debit or money cards.
    Businesses have the ability to decide how they want their customers to pay for merchandise, and may refuse certain types of payment. In this case, the website only accepted Green Dot cards. Prepaid debit cards are easy money for scammers and should only be used when handling personal funds.

Any one of these red flags alone wouldn’t necessarily mean that a company is trying to scam people, but all the factors together bring suspicion. Remember, never ignore your gut and report anything that gives you hesitation.

After seeing all of the red flags on one website I strongly advised the consumer to be cautious about doing business with the company. He was inclined to agree.

It’s satisfying to know that I was right. I checked the website a few weeks later and it had already been taken down. It’s likely that the “company” collected some money from unsuspecting shoppers, left them high-and-dry and then set up a new site somewhere else.

Full Disclosure: Green Dot Corporation is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Pasadena, California.

Liar, Liar… Pants on Fire: Illegal Debt Collection Practices

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act | Photo by United States Marine Corps [public domain]

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act | Photo by United States Marine Corps [public domain]

In 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed in the United States to protect and regulate the collection, dissemination and use of consumer credit information. Seven years later, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was implemented to help establish legal protection from abusive practices. Additionally, it promotes fair debt collection and provides an avenue for disputing errors and validating debt information.

While many legitimate companies adhere to the laws, I’ve heard many horror stories of improper—and downright illegal—debt collection practices in my time here at Better Business Bureau. Plus, as someone who has been on the incorrect receiving end of collection attempt calls, I personally understand how incessantly frustrating they can be: I waged an epic phone battle in the summer of 2011 with a company that was trying to track down a debt owed by someone else and had obtained my phone number somehow…

There will always be those who try to game the system for personal gain. As the cost of living surges, debt is becoming a common issue facing many consumers and the percentage of unlawful activity is likely to increase as well.

In fact, according to debt.org:

  • More than 160 million Americans have credit cards.
  • The average credit card holder has at least three cards.
  • On average, each household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt.
  • Total U.S. consumer debt is at $11.4 trillion, which includes mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans.

As part of a cooperative agreement between the Federal Trade Commission and BBB, a comprehensive guide of Facts for Consumers was published in 2010—and I highly suggest that everyone reads it—to answer questions like:

  • What debts are covered?
  • Who is a debt collector?
  • How may a debt collector contact you?
  • Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
  • May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
  • What must the debt collector tell you about the debt?
  • What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?

Know your rights and file complaints with the appropriate agencies if they are abused; these complaints are taken very seriously. If you don’t believe me, just ask the owner of this Texas-based debt collection company, who was permanently banned from business for using deception, insults and false threats to collect debts.

And remember, the best way to avoid sketchy debt collectors is to manage credit wisely and work hard to avoid debt in the first place.

Keep Your Things Protected During Moving Month!

[Public domain]

Photograph by Rharel1 [Public domain]

May is National Moving Month, and if you’re considering a relocation in the near future, make sure to do the research before packing all your belongings into cardboard boxes.

Moving from point A to point B is always stressful, and with the high cost and low trust in the moving industry, many opt to self-move—which is what I did after graduating college. My thought process was: “If I’m handling my own stuff then nothing will go wrong…”

To simply state it: I was wrong.

A few items got left behind due to lack of coordination and even more broke. But, the worst part is that my decision to self-move cost me an irreplaceable present my Grandpa gave me before he passed away—it shattered in the rental truck.

If and when I move again, I’m hiring a mover. I refuse to lose the few valuables I have left. But working at Better Business Bureau has taught me that finding a reputable—and legal—mover can sometimes be difficult. Most people have a connection to someone who has had a bad experience due to a mover; avoid writing your own horror story by following some simple steps:

  1. Make sure the company checks out.
    Businesses that are BBB Accredited agree to follow higher standards, laid out in the BBB Code of Business Practice. They are also required to address any complaints if problems arise, and make a good faith effort to resolve them.
  2. Double-check the business licensing.
    Even if a business is accredited, BBB currently does not publicly report on its licensing. So it’s always a good idea to double-check with the proper departments to get license numbers and see if there have been any significant disputes in the past.
  3. Contact the proper state transportation department.
    Washington State: Utilities and Transportation Commission
    Oregon: Communications Oregon Transportation Commission
    Alaska: Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

The rules and regulations vary slightly depending on the location and whether or not state lines will be crossed during the move. But, all movers need to be properly permitted and licensed in order to be legitimate. Make sure you know the regulations!

After my experience moving back home after school I’m hesitant to ever self-move again. However, I’m not going to simply hire the cheapest mover that I find either. Doing a little bit of research can protect belongings, and wallets.

For more information and advice on moving in your state, read Don’t Go Astray During National Moving Month on the BBB News & Events page.

Introduction: Jessi Cheney

Taken by BBB's Event Coordinator, Rosie Garcia, at BBB's biannual Secure Your ID Day

Helping out at the 2014 Washington BBB Secure Your ID Day event. | Photo by BBB Event Coordinator, Rosie Garcia

Your Better Business Bureau’s Consumer News, Small Business News & Opinion Blog is receiving an additional editor: Me! But before I begin publishing, I wanted to explain who I am.

My name is Jessi Cheney and, at 21 years old, I am currently the youngest team member at BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. Washington-born, I have lived in the city of Kent my entire life, minus the two years I squished into a dorm room in Ellensburg, Wash., for college.

In 2013, I graduated with a B.A. in English with Writing Specialization—two years ahead of schedule—from Central Washington University. I achieved this by taking advantage of the Running Start program my high school offered, which allowed me to earn my high school diploma at the same time as my general associate’s degree.

While attending college I was invited to intern for BBB. Directly after graduation I was able to join the team full-time, and I am now one month shy of my two-year BBB anniversary.

I currently work on the BBB Data Quality Team. My team maintains business records and keeps them as accurate as possible. Additionally, I assist a small group of team members who review and edit BBB outreach materials. I also have the opportunity to answer the public phone lines where I get to learn about issues affecting the public and assist consumers and businesses with any questions or concerns they may have, from checking out a business to updating BBB Business Reviews.

I strive to seek out opportunities to expand the knowledge of consumers and businesses and advance marketplace trust. I whole-heartedly believe in BBB’s Mission and look forward to sharing those values with my community.

Ghosting: The Most Sinister Form of Identity Theft

Time to Let Her Go | © User: Fish Gravy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Time to Let Her Go | © User: Fish Gravy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Approximately 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from victims who are deceased. The practice of stealing identities from deceased persons is commonly referred to as “ghosting” and represents a significant threat to the surviving family members. This issue strikes particularly close to home at the moment; I have an elderly grandmother who, at 91 years young, has been struggling with chronic health issues for some time. When a loved one passes away it can be difficult to think about identity safety, but a few simple steps can prevent huge headaches down the road. It is my hope that others may benefit from this research.

The following guidelines are suggested for deaths at any age:

  1. Obtain at least 12 copies of the official death certificate as soon as it becomes available. It may be possible to photocopy the original, but remember that death records are public and some organizations may request additional proof.
  2. If there is a surviving spouse or another sort of joint account holder, make sure to immediately notify credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders and mortgage companies of the death.
  3. The executor/surviving spouse will need to address any outstanding debts by either transferring or closing accounts; if accounts are closed, make sure they are listed as: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.”
  4. Contact all relevant financial institutions that may need to be informed of the death and make sure to follow the correct procedures. Generally, it is best to submit all pertinent information in the first letter to the agency—sent via certified mail with return receipt requested, as this will speed up processing:
    • Name and Social Security number of deceased
    • Last known address
    • Last five years of addresses
    • Date of birth
    • Date of death
  5. Request copies of the decedent’s credit reports, which will show any remaining active accounts that still need to be closed and request an alert be placed on the name to notify potential creditors to not issue any new credit.

A death in the family can be hard enough, don’t let a stolen identity make it worse.

Congratulations! You’ve been scammed!

Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]

Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]

I’ve always pictured my parents as invincible—two superheroes who not only gave me sound advice growing up, but were always there to pick me up when I fell. They also taught me to make smart decisions and be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true offers. So you can imagine my surprise when I received a call last week about their major life-changing event. Apparently, my Mom was the “lucky” recipient of a $500,000 sweepstakes prize! All she needed to do was pay $2,000 to cover the administrative fees.

Luckily, they called me first and never wired money or disclosed any personal information. But that one phone call really got me thinking: What if my parents had caved-in and wired money? What if they had given the caller personal information? What could have happened if the bad guys accessed my family’s bank accounts?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens every day to unsuspecting and trusting people. Sweepstakes and lottery scams are real. The scams prey on emotions and people are quick to buy into the idea of instant wealth. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans spend more than $100 million a year on foreign lottery sweepstakes.

At this point, it’s unclear how my parent’s contact information got into the hands of the con artists; they followed the proper procedures—always researching businesses with Better Business Bureau, reading the fine print, ignoring phishing emails and telemarketers, et cetera. The worst part is that we may never know how this caller obtained the phone number. But, learning the red flags of these types of scams can reduce the likelihood of falling victim.

I reminded my parents to exercise caution and anyone who receives similar phone calls or letters should listen closely as well:

  • Never pay for a prize. It is illegal for any company to require a purchase or fee to play a sweepstakes; just ask the Washington State Attorney General. Also, processing fees or taxes will be deducted from prizes and will never need to be paid out-of-pocket.
  • Do not wire money. Wire transfers are a great way to transfer money when you need to quickly get cash to your sister in Iowa or your nephew in Florida; they are a terrible way to get money to people you don’t know and have never met in person, especially if they are “out of the country.” Once funds are transferred, it is nearly impossible to reclaim them. In this case, the scammer specifically requested a wire transfer from my Mom, but she recognized the red flag and didn’t do it.
  • Spot the fakes. Bad guys will oftentimes hijack the names of government agencies and the logos of well-known organizations in attempts to confuse and fool victims. Reputable organizations will not call or email winners; notifications will be delivered by certified mail and never by bulk-rate mail. When in doubt, call BBB or visit bbb.org to see if companies and notifications are legitimate.
  • Never cash checks. Even if checks look real, don’t cash them! Scammers often blast out extremely convincing bogus checks in hopes that even just one person will make a deposit and wire some of the money back—this is called an overpayment scam.

As awesome as it would be to win a ton of money out of the blue, it’s a pretty unlikely event. Nationally, complaints about prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries ranked #6 in 2013 with the Federal Trade Commission. Victims of mail fraud should contact their local postmasters or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by phone, toll-free at 1-800-372-8347, or online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

And while my blood is still boiling over the fact that someone targeted my parents, keeping a cool head is key. Whatever you do, avoid the gimmicks and hard sells and learn how to spot the red flags; this will turn you into the invincible superhero that helps others with sound advice.

Note: BBB Senior Director of Public Relations and Community Outreach, David Quinlan, is a contributing editor on this post.

Securing Identities: A Step-by-Step Guide to Document Shredding

Shredded Paper | © Mike Haw / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Shredded Paper | © Mike Haw / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Spring is in the air and it’s the perfect excuse I need to begin the process of cleaning and reorganizing my home/desk/life. I’ve never been much of a hoarder but working at Better Business Bureau for the last few years has reinforced my fear of throwing away any pieces of paper that have personal information on them—after all, most identity theft still occurs via physical methods like dumpster diving and mail theft. And in case you’re wondering, I have a lot of pieces of paper that have personal information on them. So in preparation for the upcoming BBB Secure Your ID Day free document shredding event, I decided to take action. Hopefully my strategy will offer some insight to people in similar situations.

1) Decide what to keep and what not to keep. BBB has a great PDF Records Retention Schedule that lists the most common items and how long they should be kept—based on guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service—and I used it to create four groups of documents:

  • Old stuff to keep forever. The bottom line is that some items simply need to be held on to indefinitely—like previous tax returns, retirement account contributions, deeds and mortgage paperwork.
  • Old stuff to keep for seven years. The IRS recommends keeping documents anywhere from one to seven years, but to simplify the process I just decided to make it easy: If something is on the retention schedule at all and less than seven years old, it will go in the “keep” pile.
  • Current stuff to keep. For the current year’s taxes, I need to hold on to everything from the most recent calendar year. However, it won’t do me any good to mix it all in with the seven-year pile so it gets its own group.
  • Stuff to destroy. Everything else. That happy hour receipt is a great reminder of an afternoon well spent, but poses no real reason to be saved.

2) Sort everything. I gathered all the papers I could find and made a big pile. With BBB’s Record Retention Schedule in front of me it was easy to stick to my four groups.

3) Organize the documents that need to be kept. This is by far the most complicated part of the process. Moving forward, I want it to be super easy to find old papers when I need them. To accomplish this I started a filing system. Organizing documents by type is a great way to maximize efficiency—let’s say I need an insurance document but I’m not sure which year it was filed; I just pop out my insurance folder and it’s there, somewhere. Each folder is organized chronologically, with the most recent documents in front and the seven-year-old documents in the back. I created six different folders:

  • Credit Card/Purchasing Documents
  • Bank Documents
  • Investment Documents
  • Insurance Documents
  • Tax Documents
  • Home/Residence & Personal Documents

4) Shred. Now I’m set to shred. BBB offers two free document shredding events per year—one right after taxes are due in April and the other during National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October. For dates, locations and times make sure to regularly check go.bbb.org/akorww-syid.

5) Be proactive in protecting identities. A personal shredder is officially on my shopping list so that I can keep up with secure document destruction all year long. And I signed up for BBB’s eNewsletter, Torch Report: News for the Savvy Consumer, for ID theft prevention tips and scam alerts delivered right to my inbox every month.

Remember, identity theft is a big deal. Shred it and forget it.