In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Amy Rasor, Fort Worth regional director for the Better Business Bureau, discusses how the Better Business Bureau can help residents make informed decisions on which businesses to visit, how to file a complaint and fraud prevention.
To learn more about fraud prevention and the Better Business Bureau, click here.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For more, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
What are some ways that consumers can utilize the Better Business Bureau?
We have a number of ways that consumers can benefit from taking advantage of our services. We are a nonprofit organization, a lot of people don’t realize that, but we are a 501C6 membership organization. So like a rotary or a chamber of commerce, our members pay dues to be a part of it. And then we also have our 501 C3, which is our Education Foundation, and that serves to support our community through educational efforts around how to avoid being taken advantage of by a scam.
So a couple of tools, any time you want to do any kind of business, go to our website and search for what you’re looking for. And you can find, it will pull up businesses that match that criteria in your area close to you. It geolocates, so it’ll be the closest to you. And so you can look at businesses there, find what their ratings are, what customers have said about them, photos and videos of what they do, their work. That’s a great way to find a good trustworthy business before you get taken advantage of by anyone, so that you can make sure that you’re doing business with an ethical business in our community. You can also use our scam tracker function, bbb.org/scamtracker. You can look in there and find out what has been reported, and you can zoom in as far as as close to your neighborhood and as far out as the entire country to see what is trending as far as scams.
You can also report into scam tracker. If you had something that happened to you, you can put the information in there that helps us to track information, find out if there are new trends. And we have an investigative team and researchers that go and figure out if there’s a pattern or if something new has come up in the marketplace.
You mentioned that scam tracker. In terms of the level of frauds or scams, has it increased since the pandemic, decreased or stayed the same?
It has absolutely increased what we see the most of. Year after year, online purchasing scams have increased each year. But we all went online in the past couple of years, and so certainly that increased, but the most alarming that we’re seeing the most of here in our area are employment scams. And those are happening very frequently with a plethora of different techniques for basically fishing and hooking people into the scam.
Can you tell me more about the nature of those employment scams?
Sure. Usually an employment scam is one of two things. A lot of it is phishing for your personal information. So you might receive a text or an email or a call saying that they saw your information somewhere, maybe on a job or maybe on your LinkedIn profile.
And so they’re going to reach out to you with a job and an offer that probably is too good to be true, and get you to fill out all of your personal information as you would when you would normally get a job. You think about the sensitivity of that information. A lot of times that’s going to be your driver’s license number, your social security number, your address, your contact information. So that’s the primary concern is the phishing part, because they will then sell that information and put you at risk of identity theft.
The other piece is when they get you to agree to the job. A lot of times they will send you money, send you a check to go and purchase the supplies for the job. Give you a list of what to buy, and then you’re supposed to send them the overage when you’ve purchased your supplies, and you still have some left. You either send that to them via wire transfer or gift cards. And then that check that you’ve deposited in your account ends up bouncing, because it’s not a legitimate check. And so you’re out the money, and then you’ve sent them gift cards, or wire money.
If you’ve been scammed or are having problems with a business, in terms they’re not practicing ethically or otherwise, what should people do? And how does the Better Business Bureau take action?
So a couple of different ways. It really depends on each consumer situation and what took place and what they want to resolve it. So a consumer has two options: they can either write a review, and that’s basically they want to let other people know what their experience was like. They can do that, or they can file a complaint.
If they file a complaint, then we on our end ask for proof of a transaction. So they have done business with this person, they’ve paid them for some kind of a product or service, then we reach out to the business to verify that that is their customer. We do this to make sure that we have the right business, that this isn’t just some kind of a personal vendetta. A lot of businesses have similar names. So as an example, for the heat right now, you might be trying to contact “ABC Air.” But the company is really “A-B-C Air.” You know, there’s the little subtleties in the differences in names. And so we want to make sure that we have the right business. Once we’ve confirmed that and we have the information from the consumer, we ask the consumer what it is that they want. That’s different from one consumer to the next.
Some may want an apology, some may want a refund, some may want a redo if it was work that was done, they might want them to do it over. It really depends case to case. And so we serve, basically, in that situation as the mediator and we talk to the consumer and ask what they want.We go to the business and say, “Are you willing to concede or do this, for this consumer?”
What we’re looking for here is for the businesses to be responsive. So if the business is a member of BBB, they’re an accredited business, they’re required to respond. That is one of the standards that they agreed to when they become a member. And so the requirement is a response. If they’re not an accredited business, and we reach out and we don’t hear anything back, that does affect the business rating. And we try and work with the consumer to close out the situation. And a lot of times this saves both the consumer and the company attorney fees and other expenses and pain and suffering. We usually close within 30 days.
How many complaints does it take for the BBB to actually investigate a business?
So we automatically go through each complaint that we receive, we work through the process. But if we start to see a pattern, we have people on our team that are investigating and looking for the patterns all the time. So if we start to see, you know, this business got two complaints on one day, three the next day, we’re going to open up an investigation right away to look at what’s going on. We always reach out to the business and ask them: “What’s the situation here?” We’re seeing this: would you like our help to navigate through it and figure out the best way forward? So that really gives the business the opportunity to right the ship, get things set and back in the right direction.
What if they’re not accredited with BBB? You know, maybe they’re a brand new business, a year old and started in their house or something?
Right. So we do accreditation for businesses as early as six months. If they’re not a member of BBB or they’re not accredited, we still reach out to them, we will still work with them. If they’d like to help us work through any situation, of course, they’re not required to and some won’t answer the phone or will refuse to work with us. That is certainly up to them, but it will affect their rating on BBB as nonresponsive, and we’ll show other consumers that was the way they handled the situation.
Is that money recoverable or is it, once you’ve been scammed the money is gone?
We do recommend that if a consumer has been scammed, especially when there’s money involved, and especially if it’s larger amounts of money, certainly report it to us because we can start working on it as information through our channels and investigations. But it’s also important to share that information with the Attorney General’s office, as well as the FBI. The FBI is very good at tracking down and recovering.
Are there any other resources in terms of beyond the BBB? I know you mentioned the FBI and other organizations, the Attorney General. Are there other organizations that work to prevent fraud or financial exploitation?
There are several, and it depends on the situation. A lot of different organizations are targeted toward specific things. We’re always a good place to start because we can provide the resources pertaining to a specific situation.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think that we could benefit as the marketplace if more people used BBB. Look for good businesses before it’s too late. And then you know if it is too late, certainly reach out to us and see how we can help.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.