Helping consumers and businesses since 1912, the Better Business Bureau is a nonprofit organization that advances commerce by focusing on marketplace trust. Encompassing 112 independent local BBB’s, more than 172 million reviews have been placed on the site in 2015 alone for more than 5.3 million businesses.
The BBB of Northern Nevada oversees businesses in 13 counties from its Sparks office located at 4834 Sparks Boulevard Suite 102. Out of 18,000 businesses, over 1300 of them are accredited by the BBB.
“The BBB symbol is looked at as one of trust,” says BBB Serving Northern Nevada President and CEO Timothy Johnston. “We help consumers identify good businesses and report on the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he adds.
Understanding that “trust is key” especially in the rapidly growing world of online commerce, Johnston and his team work diligently to monitor and process customer review activity and complaints, update company records, release scam information, investigate companies to report back to consumers, and vet new businesses.
“Trust is key- consumers want to know that they can trust who they’re giving their hard-earned dollars to,” Johnston adds.
The BBB is supported by local businesses who can then place the BBB seal on their website. An 18-member board of directors oversees the operations as BBB staff provides a level of support unmatched by other agencies. Consumers regularly call with issues, ask for advice on how to launch a business, maybe inquire about how to handle loss of employment, or even ask how to handle complaints.
In 2016 alone, the BBB of Northern Nevada provided 475,000 reports on businesses and fielded 2600 complaints. “We get emails, faxes, we’re never at a loss of work,” says Johnston.
The BBB accredits businesses in all types of industries, but especially those offering services like automotive mechanics, general contractors, financial consultants and law firms.
However, as more and more people purchase products and online, there is a further need for vetting before one hands over their paycheck to an online business that they are unfamiliar with.
“Online trust is big- as consumers, it’s easy for us to go online and hit ‘Buy’ without knowing the company at all,” Johnston says. He adds that the BBB does a lot with investigating scams and they are receiving more calls from customers regarding online businesses.
“People know us as the place to go for advice and verifying reviews,” Johnston adds. In 2016, the BBB received 32,000 reports on scams and the younger generation tends to be victimized a lot more because they do more shopping online. The BBB has helped to flag potential scams for students looking for work by questioning an “instantly hired” model where the fraudulent job posting asks for a PayPal account or W9 and then steals information.
A couple of years ago Johnston said the BBB received almost a thousand complaints on a “company” using a Northern Nevada address within a 60-90 day period.
“Individuals had $29 randomly taken out of their account at different times and if they didn’t watch it, then they accrued overdraft fees,” says Johnston. “I use the word ‘company’ loosely because it was more of a scam. It’s likely that it was an overseas account using a Nevada address.”
The BBB does work with local law enforcement to investigate scams, but the criminals are often hard to catch. Johnston says the best thing to do when doing business with an online company is to double-check with the BBB and if you do give any personal information out over the internet, be vigilant about checking your financial statements.
“In 2006 we were monitoring a Sparks business that bought used smartphones and electronics. You would go online and they would give you a high quote on what the phone was worth, then when you sent it in they would send back a check for an amount that was much less. We were getting complaints from all over the country and the business wouldn’t respond. The thousands of complaints caused it to have a low BBB rating and eventually the FTC shut them down. That was an instance where those complaints worked,” says Johnston.
The BBB is one of the biggest non-government entities that accrues data to help out law enforcement and help squash scams. Every fall, the BBB of Northern Nevada also hosts a “Secure Your ID Day” where everyone is welcome to attend its drive-through shred event.
Even in donating to charities, the BBB offers a different set of standards for those who want to be accredited, like listing the minimum percentage of profits that is dedicated to programs and services. The BBB encourages that charities report all of these details so that donors can make informed decisions on who they contribute to.
“Scams and charities are huge industries; $50 billion in the marketplace is lost to scams. Think about all of those dollars that could’ve gone to reputable businesses,” says Johnston. In 2016, Nevada ranked #5 in fraud and other complaints and #9 in identity theft complaints (released by the Consumer Sentinel Network). To see where scams are happening, visit bbb.org/scamtracker.
“We are here in Northern Nevada to serve the local community and help find trusted businesses, report scams, etc.,” Johnston adds. “The calls are answered by real humans and we’re happy to be of service.”