By Bill Smith, BBB Reporter
When David Mohler decided to pursue BBB Accreditation two years ago, he felt confident he was making a good decision for his business.
The vice president of Thompson Supply Co. didn’t know it also would turn out to be a good decision for his family.
“I consider myself pretty savvy about sniffing things out,” said Mohler.
But earlier this year, Mohler let his guard down when he responded to a scratch-off prize mailer from a Branson travel club. He and his wife already had made reservations to attend one of the club’s sales seminars when he spotted a warning about the club in a BBB newsletter.
The newsletter item included a photo of the prize mailer linked to a BBB alert on the business. The alert documented numerous consumer complaints and law enforcement efforts to shut down the travel club.
“I don’t always read every email or newsletter,” Mohler told BBB shortly after reading the alert. “Glad I did today. Needless to say, we will not be attending based on what I read. My membership expense was recovered in full due to your alert.”
Mohler’s story is hardly unique. Virtually every day, BBB hears from businesses or consumers who have dodged scams or avoided a problem company based on information provided by BBB.
BBB staff members are trained to identify a wide variety of scams and schemes and counsel consumers on how to avoid them when they call. BBB’s investigator takes a deeper look as needed and writes BBB warnings to alert the public to bad business practices or scams perpetrated in Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois.
BBB is part of a network of people constantly searching the marketplace for unethical or questionable business practices. Accredited Businesses, consumers, law enforcement and the media along with BBB are vital components in a community-wide effort to protect the public.
George “Butch” Welsch, president and owner of Welsch Heating and Cooling, says he knows first-hand how a handful of bad operators can poison the well for other, more reputable businesses. Welsch saw it happen with the HVAC industry in the early 1960s.
“I am very sensitive as to how a few bad apples in ANY industry can cause immense damage to that industry,” Welsch said. He said he has made it a personal challenge to work with BBB and others “to blow the whistle on companies which I feel are going about things in an unethical manner.”
He believes all ethical companies share a similar responsibility.
“BBB accreditation is more than just a sign on a front window or a plaque on a wall,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “It is an ongoing commitment to fair, honest business practices and a willingness to root out and expose those who are out to do harm.”
Linda Bass, owner of Around The Clock Medical Alarms in Cape Girardeau, Mo., said, “We have all heard stories of an elder person who has been scammed by an unscrupulous construction company or contractor, or of someone who has had their life’s savings taken away through less than honorable means.”
Reporting bad businesses to BBB is critical, she said. “This act alone can help prevent another victim from being subjected to a bad situation.”
Accredited Businesses repeatedly have told BBB that they believe consumer education should be a priority for the organization. Surveys of Accredited Businesses in 2011, 2013 and 2015 all showed a strong commitment to informing the public about unethical business practices.
Staci Maneage, owner of The Gutter Cover Company in St. Charles, said: Ethical businesses have to “stand together and not look the other way when we see companies abusing the public.”
Jason Ingram, regional director of Accelerated Wealth in Columbia, Mo., said businesses can rise and fall quickly in the university town, and it’s vital to report worrisome business activities to BBB. “To take a few minutes to document your bad experience may save someone else or force the less-than-honest business person out of our community.”
Jim Pellock, owner of Precision Construction Services of Columbia, Mo., also believes BBB “has a unique ability and credibility” to affect bad business practices.
Drew Zorn with Bank of Missouri said: “As a member of the business community, you can help raise the level of quality and respect in your industry by not sitting idly by as others who represent your profession employ deceitful practices.”
The tip that prompted the alert on the Branson travel club came from BBB staff members, but it might just as easily have come from one of BBB’s 7,400 Accredited Businesses or from consumers in Eastern Missouri or Southern Illinois who depend on BBB for trustworthy information on businesses across the region.
In recent months, St. Louis BBB moved to strengthen its reporting network by joining a national BBB project called Scam Tracker, a computer-based, interactive program to identify and document scams locally and across North America.
For the first time, BBB website visitors can see consumer-reported scam activity as it is recorded.
Several consumers who filed complaints with Scam Tracker said they did so in hopes of educating and protecting others.
While Frances Murphy of Affton said she never lost any money in a Facebook sweepstakes scam in late January, she used Scam Tracker to alert fellow seniors to the scheme.
“I’ve always been this way,” she said. “I want to reach out and help older seniors who may buy into this. I’m tired of people being taken advantage of and hurt.”
Another Scam Tracker contributor from St. Louis said she nearly fell for a computer tech-support scheme. She felt a responsibility to share her experiences with others.
If law enforcement can’t prosecute the scoundrels, “then we have to help each other,” she said. “We may not be able to stop it, but it’s important to educate people so they won’t be able to victimize as many people.
“People have got to be cautious,” she said. “All the time.”
BBB has forged strong relationships with the media and law enforcement officials such as state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FBI.
BBB participates in FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, a national system that records fraud-related complaints from a variety of sources. Recent Consumer Sentinel statistics show that while Missouri and Illinois were 16th and 27th respectively in complaints per 100,000 people, Missouri ranked first in complaints about identity theft. Illinois ranked fifth.
BBB regularly warns seniors and others of schemes including misleading investment opportunities, thieves who lure innocent victims into a variety of Craigslist and other fraud perpetrated over the phone, in person or online.
“I’m a big story teller,” said Mohler, who believes in sharing what he learns with as many people as possible. “If I get screwed, I am going to tell everybody.
“If you can save one person, why wouldn’t you?” Mohler asks. “It’s only right.”
This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Torchlight magazine, published quarterly for BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities.