By Heather Bennett
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is one of the nation’s oldest non-profit organizations. It provides consumers with business profiles, consumer reviews, consumer information, scam alerts and reviews on charities. It’s here to make sure, as consumers, we make wiser decisions about where we spend our money.
I spoke with Tammy Ward, the Communications Director of our local BBB serving Northwest Florida. It covers local businesses and consumer information across 14 counties in the Panhandle. I want to relay how the BBB can help us make wiser consumer decisions here at home.
If you are looking for a service or product and not sure what company to turn to, you can find a list of BBB accredited businesses on their website. You can look through the list of categories for services, or you can use the search bar to look up a specific business you have in mind, and narrow it down by location.
BBB accredited businesses have gone through a vetting process, which includes making sure their licenses are up to date. They provide information on the business, a list of customer reviews and customer complaints, so you can make an educated guess on which business is best to use. If you are a business owner and you are looking to get your BBB accreditation, you can apply after your business has been open and operating for six months.
“I try to make myself available to those outlying counties, because our office is in Pensacola,” Tammy said. “For our accredited businesses, or businesses that wish to be accredited, they want to know that somebody is local to help them. We try to be as flexible as possible.”
The BBB also accredits charities. Along the Emerald Coast we are people who like to give back, and there are a lot of great charities looking for help throughout the year. To make sure you are making a wise investment with your donation dollars, you can check out the list of BBB accredited charities.
They look closely at a charity’s board activity and effectiveness, whether or not the charity has avoided accumulating funds, their annual reports, and their donor privacy. A charity has to spend at least 65% of funds on program activities and no more than 35% on fundraising. Charities that are BBB accredited have seen an average of 13.5% growth in public support.
“Some BBBs have a local review process. So, if you have a local nonprofit charity in the area, we can do that locally if it is not on a national level,” said Tammy. They can also review local chapters of national organizations to provide local information on the charity.
The BBB is also a useful resource to find out what scams are active in our area. Since 2015, their Scam Tracker (www.bbb.org/ScamTracker) has been a place for consumers to research scams and report them. The website allows you to search by scam type, money lost, and geographically. If you’ve been a victim of a scam, visit the site and report everything you can remember. Although they are not able to retrieve any money lost to you, they use the information to warn others and have helped law enforcement with investigations.
Some of the more active scams going on right now are employment scams, fake check scams, IRS scams, mover scams, social media and trial offers, grandparent scams, online purchases, and Covid-19 related scams.
One of the Covid-19 scams we need to be aware of is a fake vaccine appointment. Vaccines are free. If someone is asking you to pay or providing you with a “free gift with postage and handling” type of offer, it is fake. “A lot of times they are looking for personal information,” stated Tammy. “If you get a call that you can set up an appointment, they’ll ask for your Medicare number or ask you to verify everything with your social security number.”
Scammers are also using your information when you post a picture of your vaccine card on social media. “We’re cautioning people not to do that,” said Tammy. “If you post the card, you’re posting personal information.” She also said that scammers are using the pictures of the cards to recreate and sell them.
Tammy shares local and urgent scam alerts on the Facebook Page for the Better Business Bureau serving Northwest Florida. Follow them for the latest information on scams and updated information on accredited businesses.
In a time when most of us are trying to save money, we also need to be aware of where we are putting it. The Better Business Bureau serving Northwest Florida can help us be educated consumers who make wiser decisions on who gets it. For more information, please check out their website at www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-of-northwest-florida.