Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beware of "Free Directory Update" Calls

BBB advises small businesses to be careful when receiving phone calls that claim to be offering a free directory update.

BBB recently received complaints from companies that reported being contacted by representatives of IntegriTel Wireless of San Antonio, Texas who claimed to be with the Yellow Pages and later receiving bills for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services they didn't order.

Bruce MacDonald of Massachusetts was among those who reported the company. MacDonald reportedly got a call on Feb. 19, 2013 at his business. MacDonald said the caller claimed to be updating a free directory with Yellow Pages, but later billed his company for services he did not ask for.

“They called, saying they wanted to update our free Yellow Pages listing,” MacDonald said. “They asked if I was authorized to speak for my company and I said ‘no.’ They asked the name of our company again and our phone number—the number he called. I asked, ‘This is a free listing?’ and they said yes, they were updating our business address. They told me our address and asked me to repeat it. The phone call lasted about three minutes.”

MacDonald said his company received a bill in the mail on April 2, 2013 from IntegriTel Wireless for $49.99 for SEO services. A week and a half later, he said, the company got another bill for $99.98 for two months for SEO services.

MacDonald said he researched IntegriTel and found it to be associated with a Yellow Pages scam. He filed complaints with the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau and said he hasn’t heard any more from them or received another bill.

“We check every invoice and match them to purchase orders,” MacDonald said.

BBB offers these tips for business on “free directory” offers:

  • Route the calls to a single employee. Any calls to confirm directory listings or advertising should be forwarded to one employee or small department. That employee should be trained in how to confirm that a directory is legitimate and keep a list of every directory your company has agreed to be in. This ensures that your advertising and directory listings are tracked, and prevents scammers from claiming that another employee agreed to charges.
  • Watch for fraud. Alert your accounting personnel to be on the lookout for disguised solicitations, fake invoices and fraudulent phone calls. Read directory offers carefully, including any small print. Look for terms and conditions, as well as costs.
  • Don’t give out damaging information. If you do receive a phone call about a directory update, be sure not to provide payment on the phone. Even a simple “Yes” answer to any question could be recorded and used to claim that your company agreed to be billed.
  • File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit bbb.org to complain to BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at ftc.gov or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Concerned about business directory fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dun & Bradstreet Reports Phishing Email Scam

Did you receive a customer complaint email from Dun & Bradstreet recently? It may be a phishing scam. According to a recent release on the D&B website, a spammer sent out a large number of emails purporting to come from D&B (alert@dnb.com) alleging that a complaint requiring prompt action had been made against the recipient. Like many phishing scams, the email looks real. In this case, the scammer used the Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. logo and even the correct contact information.

Dun & Bradstreet, is working hard to identify the spammer and recommends contacting D&B (866-584-0283) if you ever doubt the origin or content of a D&B email.

For any email that you suspect may be a phishing scam:

  • Do NOT click on any links or attachments.
  • Read the email carefully for signs that it may be fake (for example, misspellings, grammar, generic greetings such as “Dear member” instead of a name, etc.).
  • Be wary of any urgent instructions to take specified action such as “Click on the link or your account will be closed.”
  • Hover your mouse over links without clicking to see if the address is truly from the sender. The URL in the text should match the URL that your mouse detects. If the two do not match, it is most likely a scam.
  • Delete the email from your computer completely (be sure to empty your “trash can” or “recycling bin,” as well).
  • Run anti-virus software updates frequently and do a full system scan.
  • Keep a close eye on your bank statements for any unexpected or unexplained transactions.
Read the full alert, here

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Does Malware Hurt a Business?

Right before Thanksgiving 2011, BBB became part of a huge phishing scam that continues to this day. Millions of pieces of email bearing our name and/or logo have been sent to consumers and business owners in the hopes the recipient will click on a link or open an attachment that launches malware. We responded aggressively to this illegal use of our name by assigning an IT professional on our national staff to manage the problem on the full-time basis, hiring a third-party vendor to help us shut down the referring websites, and launching BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam) to educate consumers about all kinds of scams.

Technology blogger Dan Steiner has an interesting post yesterday that just happened to mention “our” scam. He notes that globally malware is now a $100 billion problem, and he says all business owners need to think of IT security as a business necessity, not a luxury:

“How does malware hurt a business? By far the most damaging of cost of malware is on business reputation. Google, the world’s most popular search engine, protects users with its Safe Browsing Feature. If an online business, no matter how reputable, accidentally distributes a virus, Google automatically flags it. This leads to an ominous surfer warning or even removal from Google search results. Although a site can eventually be removed from blacklisting, it means weeks or months of lost business.  A lull like that is the kiss of death for many businesses.”

Read the whole story here on Business2Community.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where are Consumers Spending their Money?

BBB offers a free online service, Consumer Purchase Planning Trends. This service is offered exclusively on BBB’s website and indicates current purchasing trends made by consumers for ten different industries. 

Business owners can check out the purchase planning trends from the last six to thirty-six months, which is a great indicator for future purchases. Each month the public checks out a business with BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont, over 300,000 times.

Last month, Home Remodeling, Construction & Maintenance saw a 2.01% increase in consumer purchase planning in June 2013 from May 2013, with 96,897 inquiries.

The purchase planning information will help predict where consumers are thinking of spending their money on a monthly basis.

To take advantage of this new feature or to learn more, visit bbb.org/boston/public/trends.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Beware of Solicitations from Local Business Yellow Pages

BBB has recently received numerous complaints from consumers alleging they received a fraudulent invoice from Local Business Yellow Pages for an online directory listing. Consumers claim that Local Business Yellow Pages calls their business asking general questions to solicit a "yes" answer, although the person on the call does not actually agree to the service. Months later, consumers say Local Business Yellow Pages' collections department calls, with an edited recording created to verify a "verbal agreement" between the business and Local Business Yellow Pages, to collect on a bill for over $600.00. Local Business Yellow Pages has not yet responded to these consumer complaints. 

On June 28, 2013 BBB sent certified correspondence to Local Business Yellow Pages requesting their voluntary cooperation in resolving complaints on file with BBB and providing steps it will implement to eliminate the pattern of customer complaints. BBB will update this aspect of the Business Review once 
additional information becomes available.

Your BBB offers the following tips to help businesses avoid advertising scams:

  • If a solicitation occurs over the phone, ask employees to have a company submit information in writing for you to verify accuracy. If the information is received in writing, be sure to read it fully and look for disclaimers that may be included indicating that you are approving advertising fees. 
  • If a solicitation occurs over the internet or via email and the company is not one you recognize, make sure not to click on any of the links, confirmation buttons, or renewal buttons. By doing so you may be agreeing to receive or subscribe to an undesired service or listing, or could unleash a virus or spyware onto your computer.
  • When trying to identify the solicitor, make sure to verify that the address that they are claiming to be from is brick and mortar- a "suite" can easily be a PO Box or a mail forwarding company, which means that the company's representatives are concealing their true location and will not be found at the address that is advertised. 

If your company falls victim to a yellow pages scam or winds up receiving an invoice for a service or product that was not authorized, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov and the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Small Business Tip: Increase Sales Without Spending a Lot of Money

Increasing your sales doesn't always have to mean spending money. Take a look at what is already working for you, and find ways to build on those successful elements. The Direct Selling Education Foundation, a BBB National Partner, recommends the follow ways to increase sales without increasing your spending:

Identify top customers and offer them more. You likely have loyal customers who spend more on a regular basis than others. Identify those people and offer them more than they already get. For example, start a VIP program where top customers receive special promotions, incentives, or exclusive access to new products and services. When your top customers know how much they are appreciated, they will not only embrace that “VIP” role by patronizing your business more often, but they will want to share their positive experience with their families and friends. Superior customer service can have far-reaching effects on your overall business.

Customize your sales pitch for each client. Each client is an individual and should be treated as such. Don’t go with a generic sales pitch that every single client hears. Do some research about each person, and incorporate something personal about him or her into your pitch, especially if it’s something you share (an interest in sports, a community activity). When you can relate to clients on a personal level, they will be assured that you have their best interests in mind.

Increase goals for referrals and sales will increase. Bump up your goals for getting referrals. It doesn’t have to be a large jump, but setting the bar higher will motivate you to work harder and acquire more. Instead of shooting for 5 a week, increase your goal to 7 or 8. Make the time in your schedule to meet this new goal, and you’ll find your sales increasing steadily over time. Each time you find that you are meeting the goal on a consistent basis, consider raising it again. Your business should never run in a straight line, but should always be heading in an upward direction to maintain growth and success.

Interact personally with customers more frequently. This may come easier in a retail business, but no matter what type of business you run, make the effort to interact with customers on a personal level as often as possible. Learn their names and one or two facts about them. People love going into a place where they feel like more than just a number. One customer of a local deli states that the moment she realized she would never take her business elsewhere was when the owner greeted her by name, asked how her daughters were, and offered her “the usual.” It’s a comforting feeling for a customer and will go a long way to acquiring loyalty and appreciation.

Find ways to improve upon what works for you, break out of your comfort zone, and always look to set the bar higher for yourself and your business.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Has Your Business Received Calls Threatening to Turn Off Your Electricity?

BBB is advising local businesses to hang up on callers claiming to be from utility companies who demand an immediate payment to avoid having electricity shut off.

A business owner told BBB that her business received a call from William Gonzalez who claimed to be with the “shut down department” of the Illuminating Company. Gonzalez told her that her power would be shut off at 12:30 today unless she made a payment immediately. He claimed her recent check to the utility was being returned because it wasn't enough to cover the amount owed. She was instructed to pay $1850.33 using a Green Dot MoneyPak card.

The business owner later confirmed with their electric company that the call did not come from them and that her account was current.

This scam is being reported in many states. The callers are described as having heavy accents and use phone numbers with local area codes.

Scammers frequently try to install a sense of panic in victims in attempts to get quick cash. They usually request payment by wire transfer, credit card, or – most recently – Green Dot Money Pak cards.

Do your research. If you receive a call claiming to be from your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Satisfaction Guaranteed — What It Really Means

The “pants lawsuit” may have been regarded as one of the most frivolous cases in American history, but it did remind business owners to take care when they advertise.

In 2005, Roy Pearson sued his local dry cleaners over a pair of lost suit pants. The dry cleaners had a sign in the window that said “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”

Mr. Pearson lost the case, and wasn’t awarded the $67 million that he originally sought from the business. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia found that the phrase doesn’t mean that the customer is entitled to anything that his or her heart desires.

However, with a “satisfaction guaranteed” claim, consumers can reasonably expect a full refund if they aren’t satisfied. In the end, the court found that the business offered Mr. Pearson more than the value of his pants.

BBB advises both businesses and consumers to be aware of the meaning of “Satisfaction Guaranteed” claims.

Not only the court, but also the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guides and the BBB Code of Advertising call for a full refund with a “satisfaction guaranteed” claim. Any material limitations or conditions that apply to the guarantee should be clearly and prominently disclosed.

BBB also advises consumers to read and understand any terms and conditions for any guarantee, including “Satisfaction Guaranteed” claims. Guarantees often have requirements, restrictions, or limitations that consumers would want to know about. It’s easy for businesses to take a few steps to avoid consumer confusion with clear and straightforward advertisements.

Businesses that don’t offer a full refund may use a different claim. Phrases like, “customer service is our highest priority” and “customer service promise” give the impression that a business will work to remedy dissatisfaction. However, these claims don’t give the impression that a full refund will be issued.

Businesses that do intend to give a refund should be sure to disclose any material limitations to the guarantee. Here are a few examples of how limitations can be disclosed:

1. We guarantee your satisfaction. If not completely satisfied with ABC product, return the unused portion within 30 days for a full refund of the purchase price.

2. Satisfaction Guaranteed! Full refund available upon written request within 60 days of purchase.

3. Just return the ABC product in its original package within six months and we will fully refund your money, no questions asked.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vanity Awards Prey on Small Businesses

Be cautious of emails from marketing companies posing as legitimate credentialing organizations. The emails say that you've won their 2013 "Best of – fill in the blank" award for your industry and congratulate you for joining "such an elite group of small businesses."

You are then offered the opportunity to purchase a plaque, a crystal award or both at a cost ranging from $79.99 to $199.98. A complimentary digital award image and personalized press release are also included in the package.

The awards can be part of a widespread scheme designed to get businesses to pay for vanity awards of little or no value. They mirror offers made in the past by U.S. Commerce Association, an organization whose phony vanity awards were the subject of several BBB complaints.

Phony vanity awards prey on small businesses who are trying to make their companies stand out in their industry. The program's website tells business owners that "a select few have been able to benefit from the strategic value of business awards" and that "a business award can be an account executive's ace-in-the-hole."

BBB offers the following tips to businesses to avoid being taken by this or similar schemes:

Most awards of value to any business will come from a local business organization such as a chamber of commerce or a known, recognized trade organization for a specific industry. Award schemes often have little or no value to the business within the community in which they do business.

Most businesses are not charged to receive honors that they are awarded. If you are being charged to receive a plaque or trophy, it is likely a money-making scheme that has little to do with business performance.

Start With Trust. Always check with the BBB before doing business with a company, even if they seem to be doing you a favor. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, especially if you have to pay for the honor.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why You Should ‘Like’ Using Social Media For Your Business

A guide for using sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to grow your business

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are important for your business because they provide an open forum for the community. They offer a free venue to market your brand, let you share news about your products and services and provides a virtual place where you can interact directly with your customers. Social media leaves a door open for potential customers and gives you a quick and easy way to share special offers.

Social media marketing works best when you are transparent, when you engage with your customers and when you give something back. It doesn’t work as well if you oversell, rush, or forget to listen.

Here are some popular social media sites and how you can use them to your advantage:

Facebook offers a mini, all-in-one marketing firm for your business. By using Facebook, you can:

  • Advertise deals, new services and products
  • Post pictures of events
  • Customize your page with a profile picture, cover photo and applications (apps)
  • Share future products or events
  • Interact with customers
  • Make connections 

Twitter is a short-but-sweet blogging service that gives your business 140 characters to:

  • Promote your services and products
  • Interact with current and potential customers
  • Comment on other companies
  • Share links and pictures
  • Advertise deals and coupons

Google+ is your communications tool:

  • Think of Google+ as your brand hub
  • Your page, profile image and recent posts are eligible to show up when relevant to a customer’s search
  • Relevant posts can also show up within search results for your page’s followers
  • Host Hangouts (similar to group video chats)
  • Communities allow groups to form around particular interests
  • Content sharing on Google+ is similar to Facebook

Pinterest is a virtual pin board for your business, focused primarily on photos and videos:

  • Post pictures and videos of your products and services as well as other interesting content
  • Follow popular brands and organizations
  • Interact with your brand’s most loyal customers 

LinkedIn is a professional networking website to help you:

  • Build up your business contacts
  • Find and hire talent for your business
  • Discuss business solutions and tips with other businesses in your field
  • Develop a network with professionals in different areas to improve your business

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seven Scams that Target Small Businesses

Being vigilant against fraud is not only important for a company’s bottom line, it also strengthens customer trust in the business. 

Every year the BBB receives thousands of complaints from small business owners who fell for an invoicing scam or were misled into paying for products and services they didn't want. Scammers aren't always trying to steal money from a business; sometimes they are after a company’s financial or customer data and will use many kinds of high and low-tech methods for getting it.

Here are seven scams that commonly target small businesses:

  1. Directory Scams – A perennial problem that has plagued businesses for decades involves deceptive sales for directories. Commonly the scammer will call the business claiming they just want to update the company’s entry in an online directory or the scammer might lie about being with the Yellow Pages. The business is later billed hundreds of dollars for listing services they didn't agree to or for ads which they thought would be in the Yellow Pages.
  2. Office Supply Scams – Some scammers prey on small business owners hoping that they won’t notice a bill for office supplies like toner or paper which the company never ordered.  Every year BBB receives thousands of complaints from small business owners who were deceived by office supply companies and billed for products they didn’t want.
  3. Overpayment Scams – Be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check or credit card and then asks you to wire the extra money back to them or to a third party. Overpayment scams target any number of different companies including catering businesses, manufacturers, wholesalers and even sellers on sites like eBay, Craigslist and Etsy.
  4. Data Breaches – No matter how vigilant your company is a data breach can still happen. Whether it’s the result of hackers, negligence or a disgruntled employee, a data breach can have a severe impact on the level of trust customers have in your business. You can learn how to defend your company from a data breach for free with BBB’s Data Security – Made Simpler at www.bbb.org/data-security.
  5. Vanity Awards – While it’s flattering to be recognized for your hard work, some awards are just money-making schemes and have no actual merit. If you are approached about receiving a business or leadership award, research the opportunity carefully and be wary if you’re asked to pay money.
  6. Stolen Identity – Scammers will often pretend to be a legitimate company for the purposes of ripping off consumers. When it comes to stolen identity, the company doesn’t necessarily lose money, but their reputation is potentially tarnished as angry customers who were ripped off by the scammers think the real company is responsible.
  7. Phishing E-mails – Some phishing e-mails specifically target small business owners with the goal of hacking into their computer or network. Common examples include e-mails pretending to be from the IRS claiming the company is being audited or phony e-mails from the BBB saying the company has received a complaint.  If you receive a suspicious e-mail from a government agency or the BBB, don’t click on any links or open any attachments. Contact the agency or the BBB directly to confirm the legitimacy of the e-mail.
What other scams have you heard of?