By Bill Smith, BBB Reporter
Throughout its near-100-year history, BBB St. Louis has never turned its back on a fight against fraud. Whether confronting a grab-the-money-and-run contractor or a bogus timeshare sales scheme, BBB has acted to protect both businesses and consumers from anyone who puts greed above ethics.
This year, BBB St. Louis has been particularly active in partnering with the media and law enforcement officials on a variety of investigative and public service projects to expose bad business behavior or outright fraud.
Two of the law enforcement investigations – one into a multi-million-dollar computer repair scheme and the other into an allegedly phony investment scheme that took millions more from seniors across the nation – developed directly from BBB St. Louis tips to federal authorities.
Among BBB cases that came to court in 2016:
- A Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit that eventually led to the closing of Critique Services, a St. Louis business that advertised discount bankruptcy services to the poor. BBB St. Louis issued an alert on the business seven months earlier, detailing numerous customer complaints over long filing delays, mishandled paperwork and an inability to collect refunds.
- Federal charges against the operators of what the Federal Trade Commission called a deceptive multinational tech support company – Global Access Technical Support of St. Louis County – that took an estimated $5 million from unsuspecting consumers through a call center in India. St. Louis BBB tipped the FTC to the scheme more than a year earlier and worked closely with FTC investigators and attorneys as they built their case against those in charge.
- Federal court action in Arizona that led to an injunction against the operators of what the FTC has called a $25 million fraudulent telemarketing investment scheme. Five months earlier, BBB St. Louis alerted the public to the operation.
- The criminal indictments of nine Arizona residents in yet another multimillion-dollar investment ruse targeting seniors, including several in the St. Louis area. BBB first reported on that scheme in April 2015.
Todd M. Kossow, director of FTC’s Midwest region, commented on BBB’s involvement in exposing fraud: “Over the years, Better Business Bureau offices across the country have been terrific partners in support of the FTC’s law enforcement efforts, helping to bring problem businesses to our attention and sharing with us the consumer complaints they’ve received.”
FTC acknowledged BBB’s contribution in a press release announcing action against the tech support scam: “The Commission thanks the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois for their collaboration and contribution to this case.”
Beyond its investigative work, BBB has redoubled its efforts in the area of public education through a variety of creative and innovative programs. Key among those are programs to monitor and report scams through our interactive BBB Scam Tracker program, direct educational outreach to schools and neighborhoods and a series of public service announcements on the area’s most often reported scams (see related article).
Information from BBB Scam Tracker reports feeds directly into a federal complaint database that is used to pursue a variety of fraud cases.
Michelle Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO, said the St. Louis BBB office always has been on the front lines when it comes to confronting scams and problem business operations.
“By working daily with consumers and businesses, BBB is in a unique position to learn about new scams and schemes, often before law enforcement or the media. Over the years, people have come to know they can trust BBB to work aggressively on their behalf when it comes to fighting those who are out to steal their money.
While BBB has always worked closely with law enforcement agencies, cooperative efforts have been strengthened by the 14-year-old St. Louis-based Consumer Fraud Task Force. Since its creation in October 2002, the Task Force has been used as a model for similar groups around the country.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of BBB’s Torchlight magazine for BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities.