Easy steps that can help you discover a firm's reputation: Internet Scambusters #902
If you make a business or buying decision based on a firm's reputation, it better be right.
But how do you discover whether you can count on them, especially when some firms actually pay to have their reputation "polished" online? We'll give you some pointers in this week's issue.
We also have the latest update on coronavirus scams with helpful information on fake vaccine offers.
Let's get started...
How to Check a Business Reputation
When it comes to buying and selling products or services, seller reputations are everything. Well, almost. Value has a role to play too.
Because it's easier than ever to check out a firm's reputation, many sellers put a lot of effort into getting the best and the most compliments they can and acting quickly to respond to criticism.
Even so, lots of shoppers still get caught out when buying online or in brick and mortar stores because they didn't take the time to check out what others are saying about the sellers.
As we explain below, there are some cases where you can't rely on comments and scores others have awarded. But there are some basic researches everyone should follow to get an idea of the reliability and honesty of the firms they're dealing with.
Here are the five most important actions:
1. If you don't know them, research the company by name. The bigger your planned purchase, the more important this is. Type their name into your browser, with and without the word "complaint," and see what comes up.
But don't just look at the first page of returns from your search. That's where clever search engine manipulators and advertisers lurk. Scroll through a few pages.
Another neat trick is to add the letter " v " (with a space either side), which may indicate if a company has been involved in any lawsuits.
2. Check business scoring and reputation sites. These include Google, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau. You can also check with your state or local consumer protection departments.
When looking at scores, be wary about firms that have only top scores. They may be that good but still...
3. If you're shopping locally, ask neighbors, family and friends for their recommendations -- especially for home service contractors such as plumbers, electricians and building contractors. Then, still do your online reputation research, including whether contractors are properly bonded, licensed and insured.
You can also check the files of local newspapers or request recommendations from other users on sites like Facebook and local community forums.
4. Check the websites of firms you're considering. Look for a good modern design, upfront information about privacy and trading practices. Do they give full contact details including names and addresses? Check Google's street view of the address to see if the location is genuine.
Also check the firm's Facebook and Twitter postings to get a feel for how they deal with customers.
If you read testimonials, be cautious. Site owners naturally want to present the most positive image and may filter out negative reviews. And does the firm say that testimonials are available for inspection?
Also, check their Internet website registration. This is quite easy by checking registration websites using the term "whois lookup."
Another useful source of company information is the free-to-use Electronic Data Gathering (EDGAR) service operated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It's a huge database of information about listed and public companies.
5. Watch out for red flags. There are lots of simple things that can signal caution when you're considering doing business with a company that's new to you. For example:
- Have you -- or anyone else for that matter -- ever heard of them before?
- Is the company based abroad, notably in China or certain African countries?
- Is the deal they're offering too good to be true -- in terms of value and quality (e.g. brand names that are normally expensive)?
There are a couple of important issues to bear in mind when you're checking out a company's reputation.
First, there are firms that offer companies a service they call "reputation management." More bluntly, as one of them says, they can "bury negative content," and "make the best things about you prominently visible to others."
This is perfectly legal and all businesses naturally want to emphasize what's good about them. Nevertheless, when you're doing your research, you should be aware of this as a possibility when you're investigating them.
Second, it's also true that most people who are perfectly happy with products or services they bought don't bother to write positive reviews. But many people who are unhappy can't wait to share their grumbles.
As Benjamin Franklin said: "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only bad one to lose it."
This means there could be, unfairly, a lot more negatives than positives in certain online reviews. There's not a lot you can do about this. But where review sites have a scoring system, it's a good idea to check those in the middle -- the three-out-of-five-star reviews for example. Here you'll most likely encounter fair and honest experiences.
Coronavirus Scam Alert of the Week
News that scientists are working flat out to develop a vaccine against coronavirus is encouraging. But they're not there yet.
So that gives scammers an opportunity to prey on our fears by pretending they already have one.
The tricksters are sending out email, texts, and phone messages saying their vaccine is ready and that they can administer it at home.
All they have to do is pay in advance. Sometimes, the crooks ask for money to be wired but mostly they want credit and debit card details that they can use for identity theft.
The scammers are mainly targeting older folk at the moment, but they likely will offer it to anyone gullible enough to pay.
They may even pose as representing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is overseeing much of the anti-coronavirus effort.
But if and when a vaccine is available, the CDC will certainly announce it, but they won't be contacting individuals.
So, a call, email, or text almost certainly signals a scam. If you want to check on the real official position, go to www.cdc.gov
If the contact seems to come from your doctor's office, use the number you should already have (or look it up) to contact the office and check there.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!