Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Twist on the BBB Phishing Email Scam... Again!

BBB has been the victim of a phishing scam for over a year. Scammers have just launched a campaign involving supposed BBB complaints. The emails carry an attached “complaint form” that is actually a virus! Many were emailed yesterday and demand a response by January 23rd. The emails purport to come from the Chicago BBB.

If you have received this, or any other suspicious emails from someone claiming to be from the BBB, please forward them to to help us shut down the scammers as quickly as possible. Do not click on any links or download attachments.

For more on the BBB phishing scam, go to

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Looking to Hire a Contractor? Know Where to Look and Whom to Pick

More and more businesses are hiring consultants and contractors to fill vacant positions or to perform specific tasks within the company, and some of them are never actually present in the office but spend the majority of their time working remotely. BBB is advising businesses that are looking to grow their workforce, whether through remote consultants or in-house contractors, to consider a few simple tips to finding the consultant who’s right for the business’s needs.

The key to picking the right consultant is to be certain that your company needs one. Take the time to lay out the specifics of the problem you face, the exact objective you want to accomplish, and a time frame for doing so. 

Ask around. Your business network is a great place to start. Check websites like LinkedIn to find people you may know. Ask people you trust for referrals to qualified consulting firms or sole practitioners.

Schedule an introductory meeting with three or more of your best prospects. This will allow you the opportunity, by asking pointed questions, to verify that the consultant has experience with the specific problem or project, and your industry. 

Check references thoroughly. Reputable consultants should be able to provide references readily, while would-be-consultants will have few, if any, to offer. Also check to see if the consultant is accredited by a national association.

Get a written proposal. Reliable consultants will provide a written, detailed proposal before the contract is signed.

Clearly spell out all fees. Consultants can charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a monthly retainer. Hourly rates could raise your costs substantially, so ask the consultant to put a ceiling on the job to cap your expenses…and make sure the consultant knows who is authorized to assign them additional tasks that are not spelled out in the contract.

Keep good records. For each consultant you hire, establish a file, which should contain the consultant’s contract, invoices, copies of 1099 forms and any other information that shows the worker is operating an independent business.

For more business tips, go to

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Protecting Data – Does Your Business Know What to Do?

In times of escalating privacy and data breaches, customers expect every business — large or small — that collects their sensitive personal information will protect it. BBB advises business owners to proactively address customer anxiety and take steps to both prevent and prepare for a security breach.

Last year, more than 125 million people were affected by data loss incidents.  Consumers need assurances that they can trust the companies they do business with to secure their data.

In the wake of a security breach, it’s important to take action quickly. Small and large businesses alike need to be able to readily determine the nature and scope of the data incident, and take all appropriate steps to contain and stop the attack.

BBB recommends the 2012 Data Protection and Breach Readiness Guide, which reflects input from a wide range of stakeholders, including interviews with companies that have experienced breach and data loss incidents, and industry and breach analysis experts. 

For more data security advice you can trust, visit, and for a complete OTA guide, visit

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

BBB Offers Businesses Tips on Finding a Tax Preparer

BBB is reminding business owners that it’s better to start gathering the materials you’ll need to file your 2012 tax return earlier rather than waiting until the last minute. And don’t forget, IRS rules say taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else.

The BBB offers the following advice on tax preparation and how to find a trustworthy tax preparer:

■ Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB reports on local tax preparers and tax preparation services.

■ Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.

■ Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider. Be sure to find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.

■ Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). A PTIN must be obtained by all tax return preparers who are compensated for preparing or assisting in the preparation of, all or substantially all of any U.S. federal tax return, claim for refund, or other tax form submitted to the IRS.

■ Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with your state’s Board of Accountancy (for certified public accountants), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

■ Remember that a paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your return.

■ Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.

■ Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in case of an audit.

In addition, be sure to use the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center as a resource.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is a Smartphone Credit Card Processor Right for Your Business?

These days, no matter how large or small the business, employees don’t even need to be near their store’s credit card processor to make a credit transaction with their customer. Using smartphone credit card readers, businesses have the capability of taking their sales to the next level, but Better Business Bureau is advising business owners to make sure that such a system is right for their business.

For businesses looking to add the credit card reader capability to their sales, BBB recommends the following tips:

Do your research. Just like a landline-based credit card system, you’ll need a merchant account to process payments, a scanner device to read the card, and software (app) to make it run. Don’t skimp on research. Start with your bank or your credit card service for suggestions on recommended services and devices. Check out all vendors at Ask for references.

Choose the right combination. Your smartphone merchant account might interface with your existing landline-based account, and that will make life easier. Build from there; find the app you feel comfortable using that has the features you want. There are over a hundred apps available for different smartphones; each is usually compatible with a number of different swiping devices. The reader itself is the last step (and the easiest to replace or exchange).

Read the fine print. Using a smartphone credit card reader might be a great 
way to increase your sales while on the road. However, make sure to read the fine print for the smartphone app to make sure that you won’t be charged while you’re not using it.

Offer the customer service your shoppers expect.Some shoppers may not be familiar with this kind of payment method. Be sure to offer them the option of having a receipt emailed to them, or even offer to print the receipt there with a separate smartphone printer. This will reduce the hassle should your customer want to return the product.

Beware of scams! As with any emerging technology, scammers are figuring out how to exploit vulnerabilities. Don’t buy the devices or apps from vendors you don’t know.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tips for Ensuring Your Business’ Insurance

Smart business owners have the proper insurance to protect their company and its assets. But what happens if your insurance company goes under? What does that mean for your business?

Here are some frequently asked questions:

What happens when an insurance company becomes financially troubled, fails and is no longer able to uphold its end of the bargain? That's when the state property and casualty guaranty fund system - a system few know much about - steps in, according to The National Conference of Insurance Guaranty Funds (NCIGF). Put simply, guaranty funds provide an essential safety net for policyholders, one that meets the needs of those least able to deal with losses should their insurance company fail. 

Will I still have insurance coverage? Insurance guaranty associations have been established in every state and are designed to protect policy-holders if their insurance company becomes insolvent. An insurance company must be a member of the guaranty association for every state in which it does business. If a company becomes insolvent, the insurance guaranty association ensures continuation of coverage, either by taking on policies directly or by transferring the policies to a financially stable insurer. 

What about any claims? The laws vary from state to state. However, most life and health guaranty associations provide coverage at limits of at least $300,000 for life insurance death benefits, $100,000 for life insurance cash surrender values, $100,000 for annuity withdrawal or payment values, and $100,000 for health insurance benefits, according to NCIGF. 
Most property/casualty guaranty associations provide coverage on a per-claim basis for personal injury and property damages up to $300,000 and provide full benefit coverage for workers’ compensation benefits. 

Where does that money come from to cover claims? If an insurance company goes bankrupt, any amount of coverage that cannot be attained from the company’s liquidation is borne by other insurers in the state according to the amount in premiums those insurers earn from that state. 

How can I be sure my insurance company is safe? There’s no way to be absolutely sure that an insurance company is healthy. To help business owners evaluate their insurer, there are several businesses that rate insurance companies on their financial strength and creditworthiness, including Moody's, Standard and Poor's and A.M. Best. Business owners can also confirm with their state insurance department that the company is licensed to do business in the state. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beware of the BBB Phishing Email

The BBB reports another scam using the BBB name has popped up again, and has been received by consumers and businesses from our own BBB office including other areas across the U.S. and Canada. They are really good fakes – they use correct grammar and follow formats often used by BBB, so they look quite realistic. Businesses and consumers are advised not to click!

Two versions of the email have been received. One claims to be following up on a complaint filed with BBB, the other is asking for updated contact information “as a service to BBB Accredited Businesses.”

Both refer the recipient to an online form, and the address appears to be that of a local BBB. However, if you hover your mouse over the web address (the part that begins with http), you can see that the real address is not from BBB at all. DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK! The link actually takes you to a rogue website that downloads a Trojan virus on your computer.

The bottom line is this: If you don’t own a business, you can disregard any BBB email that claims your company has been the subject of a customer communication. If you do own a business, you can always check with your local office to confirm the legitimacy of any email purporting to come from BBB.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Manage Your Business' Credit Wisely

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of starting up your own business or looking to manage your current business’ credit more efficiently, it’s always important to stay on top of your finances. As your business starts to grow, it’s important to build a good credit record for your business that is separate from your personal credit record.

BBB recommends following these simple steps to manage your business’ credit:

Establish a consistent identity. Always use the same business name, address and phone number from the beginning, so it will be easy for the credit reporting agencies to keep your records in one file. Consider incorporating to legally establish a business identity that is separate from your personal identity.

Open your first accounts. Get a separate checking account for your business. Also open an account with an office supply firm or other supplier that reports the transactions to business credit reporting agencies. Make small charges and pay them immediately — before the invoice even arrives (unlike personal credit scores, you’ll get extra credit for paying before the due date).

Provide key documentation.
 Lenders will generally ask for your business’ tax records and earnings statements for the past few years so they can see how much you have earned in the past. And they may also ask for a business plan so they can assess your potential for future earnings. They are often interested in looking at your cash flow in relation to expenses and your total debt in relation to your earnings. Provide all of this documentation along with explanations to present the strongest case, especially if you have irregular earnings throughout the year, to prove to lenders that you expect to earn enough money to pay your bills in the future.

Apply for a DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet, one of the major business credit reporting agencies (go to It usually takes 30 days to establish a DUNS number, or you can pay extra for an expedited account. Then make sure that the companies where you have trade accounts are reporting the information about your on-time payments to Dun & Bradstreet. It’s also a good idea to provide extra information about your business for your credit file. This is where potential lenders and others will find out about your business and the likelihood that you’ll make on-time payments for your loans, equipment leases and office leases, which will affect the terms and rates. After you have a DUNS number, open a few more trade accounts with other companies that send information to the credit-reporting agencies, make small charges, and pay those bills early, too. Check your account for errors and to make sure you’re getting credit for your early payments.

Check your business’ credit score. Similar to a credit score for individuals, a PAYDEX score distills the information in your Dun & Bradstreet credit report into one number, which shows potential lenders the likelihood that you’ll make your payments on time. These scores range from a low of 0 to a high of 100. A score of 80 to 100 generally means that you pay your bills before the due date; 50 to 79 means a medium risk of late payment (averages 30 days or less beyond the loan’s terms); and a score of 0 to 49 means a high risk of late payment.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Using Hashtags to Promote Your Business

Small businesses should be taking advantage of social media, especially Twitter and hashtags. A hashtag is the number sign (#) combined with a word or phrase. At BBB, we often use #BBB or #StartWithTrust at the end of our tweets.  This way, if people are looking to find general business or consumer tips, they will have a list on Twitter to reference.

A blog post by OPEN Forum has five tips to improve your hashtag strategy:

1. Look for business topics.  Hashtags like #smallbiz and #SMB are very popular on Twitter and they can be a good source of industry news. If you are looking for more specific information, try searching for hashtags like #sales, #marketing and #socialmedia.

2. Hashtags must be simple. You only have 140 characters to get the word out on Twitter. Don’t spend 50 of those characters with a long and complex hashtag.  Keep it short and simple.  Also, limit your tweets to 1-2 hashtags. Anymore than that is overkill.

3. Be creative. Make a hashtag for your business. If you’re hosting an event be sure to create a hashtag, so people can tweet about it.  For example, the Massachusetts Conference for Women encouraged attendees to use #masswomen for those who were tweeting about the event.  The hashtag was a great success on Twitter.

4. Monitor your hashtags. If you use a social media suite like HootSuite or TweetDeck, add a hashtag column to closely observe what people are tweeting. Or simply plug your hashtag in the search bar on Twitter.

5. #FollowFriday or #FF. Use Follow Friday to showcase your most loyal followers or other businesses you support. Try to put as many Twitter handles into one tweet as you can. For a more personal approach, only put one or two usernames.  

For more information, visit

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How to Respond to Online Customer Complaints

Whatever happened to the old adage that a satisfied customer will tell three people and an unsatisfied customer will tell ten? Now disgruntled customers can share their rant about a company for the whole world to hear on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Better Business Bureau advises that responding to complaints is necessary if a company wants to maintain a reputation for great customer service. In the same way that an online rant can damage a company’s reputation, successfully handling complaints online can showcase a company’s dedication to customer service, setting it apart from the competition. 

BBB offers the following advice to small business owners on responding to customer rants:

Continually monitor the online conversation. One of the easiest ways to monitor the conversation, however, is to simply do an Internet search of your company’s name every couple days, keeping an eye out for new results. Set up Google Alerts, to receive e-mail messages when people post comments online or if your company is mentioned in the news.

Pick your battles. Depending on the size of your business, it can be extremely time consuming to address every blog post, comment or tweet. 

Offer full disclosure. When defending your company online, don’t pretend to be an unbiased consumer. Tech savvy individuals can easily deduce who is behind comments so it’s best to be honest and admit up-front that you represent the company.

Take the conversation offline. Some companies have made the mistake of hashing out disputes online for everyone to see. Instead, keep online responses polite and direct and ask the customer if you can contact them directly by e-mail or phone to discuss the specific details of their complaint.

Don’t say anything privately that you wouldn’t want public.  Just because you’ve taken the conversation offline, it doesn’t mean that your e-mails and phone conversations won’t end up on the Internet, so always remain polite and professional.

Follow through. Don’t drop the conversation when resolving a dispute and always follow through on promises. Consider providing a little extra perk, such as coupons, after the issue has been resolved.

Know when to walk away. There’s no satisfying some angry customers and at times a small business owner can only offer a sincere apology and walk away from the conversation.

For more BBB advice on providing great customer service both on and off-line visit

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BBB Encourages Consumers and Businesses to be Safe in 2013

BBB has 10 New Year's resolutions that can help you fight scammers, prevent identity theft and save money in 2013.

1. Do your research. Whether it's a business you're looking to hire or a product you're looking to buy, take the time to do your research. Check out a business at to see its BBB Business Review. For product information, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

2. Keep your computer safe. Install anti-virus software on your computer and regularly check for software and operating system updates. Don't open attachments or click on links in emails unless the email has been scanned for viruses or is from someone you know or trust.

3. Get it in writing. Don't just take a business's word for it. Get every verbal agreement in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings.

4. Never wire money to someone you don't know. Many scams require money to be wired back to the scammer. Tracking money sent via a money wiring service is almost impossible.

5. Protect your identity. Always shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely. Safely store all personal documents, such as your Social Security card, and look up your credit score at least once a year. Check your credit and debit card statements frequently.

6. Shop on trustworthy websites. Online shopping has increasingly become more popular, so before you provide any personal or banking information over the web, make sure you're using a trusted site. Look for the "s" in https:// in the URL for a secure site.

7. Give wisely. Most philanthropists give year-round. To ensure your time, treasure and talent are going to the cause you're looking to support, research all charities at to check their legitimacy and to see how their monetary donations are distributed.

8. Don't be pressured. If a company, organization or salesperson uses overly aggressive sales tactics to pressure you into making a purchase or on-the-spot decision, that's a red flag.

9. Limit the amount of information shared. Scammers use social media sites to gather information on potential victims. Avoid sharing too much personal information and check your privacy settings. Additionally, never announce through a social media site that you are going out of town, or won't be home for a specific amount of time.

10. Let your BBB help. BBB is here to promote marketplace trust. If you have an issue with a business or feel you have been scammed, file a complaint with your BBB.