A bureau that targets scammers, helps resolve disputes between customers and merchants and provides other assistance to consumers is witnessing an increased demand for its services. In 2012, the Better Business Bureau serving upstate New York experienced a 30 percent jump in the number of service requests over the prior year.
Warren E. Clark is regional president of an agency that serves 48 counties. He talked with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer about common summer scams and new initiatives. Here is a summary of the interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview in the video above.
Meyer: In this era of high-tech information-sharing and social networking, have we become more savvy, better informed consumers?
Clark: I think we have. We have the ability to reach consumers on many, many levels – from the phones which we’ve always used, and letters, faxes – to social media and the Internet. That also is a double-edged sword, because people are able to proliferate the scams and the misinformation on a broader scale.
Meyer: What are some of the more common things we’re seeing, particularly in the summer months?
Clark: The moving scams are always active as the weather gets better and people are likely to be moving. Emergency scams where people come to your house and say “you’ve got a roofing problem. It needs to be [fixed] right away, and normally it would be $10,000. I’ll do it for $5,000. Give me $1,500. I’ll go buy materials.” And they’re gone.
Meyer: Most people know that the Better Business Bureau is a place where you can lodge complaints. Talk about that ... I was on your website and you have some interesting numbers.
Clark: We certainly get a variety of complaints against both [Better Business Bureau] accredited businesses and non-accredited businesses. The public has been looking for more information. So in the last couple of years, we’ve started to publish complaint detail. Rather than just say a company had three complaints, people can literally go in and read the complaint and the business’ response.
Meyer: Your numbers say that a vast majority of these cases are settled.
Clark: Our resolution rate is quite good. Overall, our resolution rate is about 75 percent. Our resolution rate with our accredited businesses approaches 99 percent ... which is why people come to us looking to do business with an accredited business. Because if they don’t make a good-faith effort to make it good, we would actually expel them. We expel people almost every month for either having too many complaints, if they fall below a certain letter grade, or for not resolving a complaint that we consider a bona fide complaint.
Meyer: There are couple newer initiatives that are under way.
Clark: We’re very engaged in helping military families and veterans ... This is one of the populations that scammers go after ... We actually have a program called Military Line. The Pentagon tracks the disposition of complaints that are filed by military and veteran families. We’re also helping [veterans] to get engaged with employment issues and financial understanding and readiness issues ... The other program that we’re very proud of that we’re in the process of beginning is local charity review. Our national organization has a division called Wise Giving Alliance. It’s one of the largest national charity review sites in the country. We review over 1,000 charities ...There are actually 20 standards that charities are asked to meet... We expect this to be a tremendous benefit to both our small businesses that get besieged by requests for donations, and by our larger accredited businesses that have whole divisions that have to respond to requests for money.