Saturday, June 29, 2013

OSHA in the Workplace

If you operate in the construction or manufacturing industry, you’re likely familiar with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA can be a scary acronym, but understanding their practices and why they’re important can alleviate some of that confusion and stress.

We've compiled some basic tips when communicating with OSHA before and during an inspection:

  • OSHA exists to ensure safe working conditions, and to help you avoid citations rather than just give them.
  • When an OSHA Inspector arrives at your office, factory or construction site, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for their credentials and verify they are who they say they are. If something seems not quite right, call the OSHA regional office.
  • Wait until the proper person arrives before authorizing the inspection to begin. The Inspector may have a lot of questions regarding safety and business practices, and you want to have a properly-trained employee there to answer these questions.
  • Keep copies of any documentation provided to OSHA during the inspection, and try and record the things they are recording. Inspections may result in further questions and investigations, and you want to have comprehensive documents to refer to.
  • If you’re issued citations you agree with, pay them! You will have a limited time frame to make payment, or penalties may be issued.
  • If you’re issued any citations you don’t agree with, take the extra step to set up an informal conference. Present your side of the story, give evidence, bring records, and show good faith efforts for your corrective actions.

So what can you do to be ready?

  • Train your employees! Especially the person at the front desk, or the first point of contact for your business.
  • Make a checklist with a “What to Expect” list for your employees. OSHA Inspectors often arrive after unexpected accidents—you don’t want confused employees assisting an Inspector during a potentially critical time.
  • Make a readily-available inspection kit. Include contact numbers (HR, store manager, etc.), camera, pencils/pens and measuring tape.
  • Review your safety policy ever 7 years, and have appropriate training so employees know it’s serious and relevant.
  • Post safety and labor-related posters in well-seen areas, and update them frequently.
  • Contact OSHA to find out which safety standards apply to your business and implement policies specific to those standards.

It's important to keep safety a top priority. If a citation is discovered, it will be a fine. Non-payment of fines and failure to correct issues can end up being extremely costly to your business and sometimes you perso

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rhode Island Secretary of State Warns of Deceptive Mailing

Small businesses owners should be on the lookout for a deceptive mailing that claims to be from Rhode Island Corporate Compliance. According to ABC6, the letter asks businesses to fill out a form and attach a $125 check. Many businesses are being misled because the documents look official.

In April 2013, a similar mailing scam targeted Maine businesses and was sent from Corporate Records Services, located in Augusta. The letter offered to complete corporate meeting minutes for a $125 fee. Other states including Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio and Indiana have issued warnings against deceptive mailing scams from Compliance Services.

BBB encourages business owners to do some research on any solicitations they receive that ask for payment, even if the document looks official.  Do not provide business information or a payment until you have completely checked out the offer and organization.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When “Free” Doesn't Mean “Free”

Recently, a mailer was sent out that advertised a FREE service valued at over $800.  A consumer called and asked how it could be free. The answer… “It wasn't.” Sometimes, consumers get so caught up in the excitement of a valuable product or service being offered at a free or reduced rate that they forget to ask this very important question. Of course, the advertisement says “free” so how could it not be, right?

Technically, businesses should not use the word at random, unless you truly mean it. There are exceptions though. Frequently in advertisements, businesses will promote something as being “free,” but then in order to get the product or service, there are accompanying fees. This practice is not uncommon and is used in various industries.

It is not acceptable to mask or to try and hide costs with small print or confusing verbiage. The BBB Code of Advertising specifically says that if a “free” offer is contingent upon another purchase, this fact must be stated “clearly and conspicuously together with the offer.” The use of an asterisk next to the word “free” referencing a footnote is not an acceptable practice.

Do you offer anything for free? How do you advertise it?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Yellow Pages Look-A-Like Scams

As a small business owner, have you received an official looking invoice from what appears to be the Yellow Pages? This scam continues to gain steam despite numerous investigations and enforcement actions taken by the FTC.   

The “walking fingers logo” and the Yellow Pages name have no copyright or trademark protection, making it easy for scammers to make it appear legitimate. 

If you receive an invoice like this, you should request additional information from the solicitor and check with your local Yellow Pages for affiliation. 

If you have been a victim of this type of scam, contact us at

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cut Down on Junk Mail and Spam

There are a few things more annoying than junk mail, spam and unsolicited calls and texts messages.
But how do you stop them? While it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate junk mail, spam text messages and unwanted phone calls, BBB recommends taking the following steps for getting your inboxes and phone lines under control.
Unwanted mail shouldn't cost you your identity. Pre-approved credit card offers are an easy target for identity thieves who can steal incoming mail and use these offers to open fraudulent credit accounts. Stopping these pre-screened credit offers can help reduce the chances of identity theft. U.S. consumers can “opt-out” of receiving pre-approved credit card offers for at least five years by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit: This service is offered by the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian andTransUnion.
Stop unwanted direct mail solicitations. To stop most mailings, U.S. consumers can go to and opt out of mail from members of the Direct Marketing Association. DMA regularly updates its list, but it may take up to six months before solicitations from all DMA members stop.
Has your evening been interrupted by telemarketers? You’re not alone. The U.S. government’s National Do Not Call Registry is a free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home. To register your phone number or to get information about the registry, visit, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number.
Are you receiving spam text messages? First and foremost, don’t respond. Responding to the text message only confirms a working number and opens the door for more messages. If your number is already on the Do Not Call Registry and you’re still receiving messages and phone calls, file a complaint with the FCC and consider PrivacyStar. BBB National Partners AT&T and Verizon have partnered with PrivacyStar to give you back control of your smartphone. The smartphone application, available in the U.S. for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone, lets you block unwanted numbers, look up unknown numbers, and file a complaint with the FTC.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's National Small Business Week!

National Small Business Week is June 17-21 and BBB is taking the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of successful small business owners.

According the U.S. Small Business Administration, two out of three private sector jobs are created by small businesses. Today, half of all working Americans either own or work for a small business. 

In honor of National Small Business Week, BBB is encouraging small business owners to take advantage of the many resources that BBB and the Small Business Administration have available:

BBB Code of Business Practices
The BBB Code of Business Practices represents sound advertising, selling and customer service practices that enhance customer trust and confidence in business. This Code should be a road map for creating and managing a trustworthy business. 

BBB Code of Advertising
BBB was founded on the principles of truth in advertising, which rests first and foremost with the advertiser. BBBs review local advertisements and work with companies to adhere to the BBB Code of Advertising, which lays out principles, definitions and suggestions for ethical advertising that all businesses can adopt.

BBB Tips on Direct Selling
BBB and the Direct Selling Education Foundation partnered to create a series of articles, videos and PSAs to educate direct sellers, their customers and even those considering a career path in direct selling. Free tips and advice you can trust on direct selling are available at

Small Business Administration
SBA’s Online Learning Center is a virtual campus complete with free online courses, workshops, podcasts, learning tools and business-readiness assessments. Course topics from writing a business plan to mastering overseas markets are available for business owners along with e-books, templates and articles. Visit

Saturday, June 15, 2013

#Hashtags Are Coming To Facebook

On Wednesday, Facebook announced that hashtags will now be clickable in an effort to create more public conversations on the social network.

Initially, the hashtag feature is being rolled out to a small group of users. Within the coming weeks, more users can expect to see clickable hashtags.

According to Facebook, users can now:

  • Search for a specific hashtag from your search bar. For example, #NBAFinals.
  • Click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram.
  • Compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.

What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is the number sign (#) combined with a word or phrase.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Businesses: Hang Up on Utility Bill Phone Scam

Scammers are calling small businesses and impersonating utility staff, claiming to be collecting on late bills.

How the Scam Works:

The phone rings, and the person on the other line identifies her/himself as a representative from your local electric, water or gas company. He or she tells you that you are late on your bill. You need to pay immediately, or your utilities will terminated.

However, instead of accepting payment by credit card or check, the caller wants you to pay by prepaid debit card. The scammer instructs you to obtain a prepaid debit card and call him/her back.

Prepaid Debit Cards and Scams:

Prepaid debit cards are becoming an increasingly popular method of payment for scammers. Wire transfer services have tightened their security, so crooks have turned to these prepaid cards instead. The cards are difficult to trace, and you do not need photo identification to collect or spend the money.

Be sure you treat a prepaid debit card like cash and remember that transactions cannot be reversed.

Tips for Spotting a Utility Scam:

Because local gas, water and electric companies do sometimes contact their customers by phone, it can be difficult to tell a scammer from a real agent. Here are some tips:

  • If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card, this is a red flag. Your utility company will accept a check or credit card.
  • If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative.
  • Never allow anyone into your business to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.
Have you received any suspicious calls lately?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Four Tips for Public Speaking

If you are like most people, the thought of speaking in public strikes fear in your heart. No worries; you can overcome your fear of public speaking.

Public speaking is a great skill set to have, no matter your career path. If public speaking is not something you already do on a regular basis, you will probably need to brush up on your skills. The Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF), a BBB National Partner, offers four helpful tips to help ease the pressure of public speaking.

Prepare, prepare, PREPARE! If you have not done the legwork before a public speaking engagement, you may feel flustered, nervous, and incompetent. These worries will be evident to your audience, so prepare as much as you possibly can. Write down or type out your content, and frequently rehearse using your notes; also, make adjustments where necessary.

Show confidence. This is easier than it may seem, especially if you have adequately prepared. You know the material, you are a successful leader, and you have been given the responsibility to speak in front of a group of people. Take pride in this role by holding your head high, making frequent eye contact, and speaking in a strong, clear voice.

Focus on key points, but provide personal stories to balance them. Your main focus should be on the key points, or main ideas, of your speech. If you nail those, the rest will not matter as much. However, it is also important to give your audience a way to relate to you personally. So be sure to provide a few personal stories that will illustrate your main points.

End with a call to action. You do not want your speech to fall flat because of a boring conclusion. End with a call to action from the audience. Doing so helps give your speech purpose and drives your point home. Concluding with a call to action also helps your audience figure out where to start.

What other tips can you recommend?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How To Avoid Six Common Advertising Offenses

Small business owners often have to add the title of Advertising and Marketing Director to their long list of duties and may not be aware of the various laws regarding common advertising claims. Creating an effective advertising strategy isn't just about where and when ads are placed, but also what claims are being made. 

The following are six examples of commonly used phrases and tactics in advertising that are often misleading when not used properly:


The word “free” may be used in advertising whenever the advertiser is offering an unconditional gift. If the shopper has to purchase an item in order to receive the free gift, the advertiser must clearly and conspicuously disclose the conditions. Also, an advertiser may not increase the price of the purchased item, nor decrease quantity or quality in conjunction with the free offer. Additionally, free offers should not be advertised when the item to be sold is customarily a negotiated-priced item such as an automobile or home.

“Save up to…”

Price reduction claims that cover a range of products or services should state both the minimum and maximum savings without a misleading emphasis on the maximum savings. Also, the number of items available at the maximum savings should comprise typically 10 percent of the items being sold unless local or state law requires otherwise.

“Lowest price in town…,” “Our prices can’t be beat…,” etc.

Prices for products and services fluctuate regularly and it can be extremely difficult for an advertiser to claim with certainty that their prices are lower than their competitors. Such claims should be avoided unless the advertiser can provide substantiation.

“Best,” “Most,” “Tops,” and other superlative claims.

Superlative claims can be objective, based on fact, or subjective, based on opinion. Objective claims relate to tangible qualities and performance which can be measured against accepted standards. When making objective claims, an advertiser must be able to substantiate all claims.

Obvious use of puffery, such as an advertiser stating they think they offer the best customer service in town, may not be subject to truth-in-advertising standards. However, advertising is all about trust from the consumer’s perspective and businesses should be vigilant against making subjective superlative claims that are misleading.

“Factory direct,” “Wholesale prices,” “Direct from the maker,” etc.

Claims such as these imply significant savings from the actual price being offered by retailers. These claims should not be made unless the implied savings can be substantiated. Furthermore, claims such as “factory to you” or “factory direct” should not be used unless the advertiser actually manufactures the merchandise or owns the factory where the advertised products are made. Similarly, an advertiser cannot falsely claim to be a wholesaler, nor can an advertiser claim to offer “wholesale prices” or items “at cost” unless the items are being sold at the same price as would be purchased by a retailer for resale.

*Use of Asterisks

Asterisks can be used in advertising if they offer additional information about a word or term that is not inherently deceptive. However, an asterisk or similar reference symbol cannot be used as a means to contradict or substantially change the meaning of the statement. The information referenced by the asterisk should also be clearly and prominently disclosed.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fake Scanner Emails Infect Office Computers

You are at work, and you receive a message from what you think is your office printer/scanner. It appears that someone sent you a copy of a scanned document.  The name doesn't ring a bell, but you open the attachment anyway.

When you click on the file, you find that it isn't a scanned copy of the latest office report. It’s really a link to a third-party website that will download a virus to your computer.  These viruses phish for personal and banking information on your machine. 

The settings in the email header have been faked, so the messages appear to come from an internal email address. However, with so many workplaces failing to set strong passwords, it is possible that your scanner was hacked.

As always, variations of the scam exist. Most recently, scammers have disguised malware as emails from Hewlett-Packer and Xerox scanners. But scammers will hijack any famous manufacturer’s name to lend credibility to their scam.

NOTE: Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft are BBB Accredited Businesses. Hewlett-Packard is also a BBB National Partner.

How Do I Protect My Work Computer From Viruses: 

While your work computer is not your personal property, downloading a virus is great way to ruin your work day. Here are tips for protecting your office computer:

  • Create strong passwords. Don’t leave the factory presets or use easy to crack passwords. See Microsoft’s tips for creating strong passwords.
  • Don’t believe what you see. Scammers can make emails appear to come from an account at your office. Just because it’s an “” address does not mean it’s safe.
  • Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. Do not click on the links or open the files.
  • Beware of pop-ups. Some pop-ups are designed to look like they’ve originated from your computer. If you see a pop-up that looks like an anti-virus software but warns of a problem that needs to be fixed with an extreme level of urgency, it may be a scam.
  • Keep anti-spyware, anti-virus and anti-spam software up to date.  Your office’s IT department probably has your computer programmed to conduct regular scans and updates. Let these run as planned.

Have you received an email like this?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Leasing an Office Space that Works for You

If your business is starting to take up more room than your home office has to give, it’s time to think about moving your business out of your house. Taking the leap and leasing a commercial office space can be a frightening prospect. But if you ask the right questions and take the time to do your research, you’ll avoid the common pitfalls. 

BBB recommends considering the following when choosing a leasing space that’s right for your business:

What are your needs? Before you start your search, spend some time thinking about what you need in an office space. Don’t just consider how many employees you currently have; seriously consider your company’s growth and estimate how many employees you’ll gain over the course of a lease. The general rule for allotting space is 175 to 250 square feet of usable area per person.   Also consider the common areas such as break rooms, reception area, and conference rooms you and your employees will need. 

Get professional help. Finding the right commercial office space isn’t as easy as finding residential property.  Chances are you’ll need a realtor to navigate you through the process of finding that perfect office space.  Before you select your realtor, check out their free BBB Business Review. 

Location, Location, Location. The perfect location can often depend on what kind of business you run.  If you regularly expect clients in your office you’ll need a convenient, safe, location. Where is the competition located? 

Consider safety and accessibility—parking, public transportation—as well as the condition of the building and the neighborhood.  Will your employees be able to easily get to work?

Take a long hard look at the office space and assess the condition of the building. Office space is typically broken down into three categories, Class A, B, and C dependent on the location, age, condition, and amenities with Class A being considered the highest quality. Ask the landlord about recent improvements and upgrades as well as the condition of the AC and heating units.

Also, discuss with your landlord how much remodeling needs to be done to the office space and determine who will foot the bill. You’ll need to consider the basics such as new carpet, fixtures, and fresh paint as well as major interior renovations such as constructing new walls.

Review the lease carefully. It’s time to get out the glasses because you need to make sure you read all of the fine print of your lease.  If you need help deciphering the legalese of your lease, an attorney who specializes in lease agreements can help negotiate the terms. Don’t be shy about negotiating; this is a major investment and a big step for your company and you don’t want to get locked into a bad deal.

What other tips can you offer?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Important Tips for Businesses Regarding Checks

A BBB-accredited ad agency in San Antonio, TX recently discovered that bogus checks claiming to be from their company were being used in an over payment/money wiring scam. The checks looked very professional, with the company name and actual routing and account numbers.

People who answered work-at-home want ads on Craigslist were caught up in the scheme. One woman was asked to send out fake checks on behalf of the scammers and was paid by Western Union. When she noticed the Western Union payment was in someone else’s name, she called the real ad agency and asked, “Am I working for you?” The answer was “no.”

She had already sent out 200 bogus checks.

According to the ad agency, the scammers somehow intercepted a check that was sent to a client. They knew something was wrong when someone tried to cash it in another state. Scammers “washed” the check and used it as a template for numerous fake checks in the ad agency’s name.

Which brings up some important tips for businesses regarding checks:

  • Monitor your accounts payable. Stop payment on the check and send out another one if too much time goes by and the check appears to be “lost.”
  • Use tamper resistant checks. Checks with security features make it harder for crooks who may intercept them to counterfeit or alter them.
  • Keep track of check orders. Notify your check supplier and bank if you order checks that don’t arrive in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Keep checks secured. Keep reserve supplies of checks, deposit slips and other banking documents locked up and limit the number of people who can access them. 
  • Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t leave checks or other bank records unattended while you serve customers. Someone might take them while you aren’t looking.