Special to The Dallas Examiner
As a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening marketplace trust, Better Business Bureau knows that consumer protection is essential to maintaining a strong economy. Consumers who fall victim to unethical and fraudulent business practices or scams often lose confidence in the marketplace, affecting their future purchasing behavior and quality of life. Victims’ personal information is often compromised, significantly increasing the risk of experiencing identity theft – a crime that can take years to recover.
To protect themselves and their loved ones, consumers must play defense and engage with an increasingly digital marketplace responsibly and safely. Organizations and agencies across the U.S. provide countless resources to help people navigate a complex marketplace, and there is no better time to refresh your knowledge about protecting yourself than during National Consumer Protection Week.
Recognized annually during the first week of March, consumer advocacy and protection groups capitalize on National Consumer Protection Week to bring awareness to issues within the marketplace that could place people at risk of losing their time, money or personal information. Multiple government agencies, such as the FTC, FBI and CFPB, aggressively pursue and prosecute criminal fraud across the country. Still, the best defense against falling victim will always be the person engaging in the transaction.
As a consumer, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself from a negative marketplace transaction:
- Research. Spend time using resources such as BBB.org – or Give.org for charities – to search for reviews or complaints before handing over any money. Check for multiple contact methods and verify they are putting you in contact with the right business or person. Check the terms and conditions, including return or refund policies and warranty limitations – pay particular attention to the fine print.
- Relate. Compare the price or estimate with other businesses to ensure you get a fair price for the product or service. Be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals, especially for name-brand products or projects that take a substantial amount of materials to complete. Check warranties, guarantees and policies across businesses – one that is a bit more expensive but has a more comprehensive warranty may be a better option.
- Review. Take a step back from the interaction and take a breather. Scammers rely on impulsive decisions and immediate payment before the consumer can check if everything makes sense. Trust your gut – if something feels off or doesn’t seem right, it may be best to walk away. Get as many specifics of the transaction as possible in writing, including delivery or completion dates, warranties and verbal promises.
- Report. Less than 5% of victims of mass-market fraud report their experience to BBB or a government agency. Reporting scams helps organizations learn more about how people are exposed to unethical or fraudulent practices, which they can use to educate the public on how to avoid falling victim. Provide as much detail as possible – it is only through your reports that unethical practices come to light and may help you recover your identity or losses.
Use Official BBB Complaints
Encountering a marketplace issue can be frustrating, especially when it may seem that a business is not giving a dispute enough attention. While most challenges are easily solved by communicating directly with the business, consumers can also rely on BBB to help find a solution through its dispute resolution system, which begins after an official complaint has been submitted. By working with businesses and consumers to find a mutually agreeable resolution, BBB strengthens trust between buyers and sellers of products or services and can help remove misunderstandings.
Use BBB Scam Tracker
Unfortunately, some issues are not with legitimate sellers or businesses but with con artists and scammers who are well-versed in appearing trustworthy. Using various strategies, these individuals often leverage human emotion and ongoing situations to steal from the public. By taking advantage of new technologies, scammers can cast their net across a much larger area by spoofing caller IDs, creating lookalike websites, providing fake investment dashboards and other highly sophisticated methods to appear legitimate.
Consumers who encounter scams are encouraged to report their experience to BBB Scam Tracker. If interacting with a suspicious business or individual, use BBB Scam Tracker to search for their name, company or other specifics to see if other people have encountered an issue with them. Users can search for reported scams by zip code, website, business phone number, and many other categories. In 2021, BBB Scam Tracker helped save consumers an estimated $31 million.
For more information about how to protect yourself from unethical business practices and to search for BBB Business Profiles on companies across North America, visit BBB.org.