Seal Of Approval

New BBB service can help consumers weed out online scams

Wondering if a business that’s advertising a product or service online is really legit? The Better Business Bureau has provided a quick way for consumers to find out. Companies that have met the BBB’s business standards for customer service and marketplace ethics will now display a BBB Online seal on their Web pages.

The system is designed to make consumers more confident in the Internet as a marketplace, says Holly Cherico, spokesperson at the BBB. “When shopping online, you’re left without the traditional cues of being able to view the product, see the business and talk to the salespeople,” she says. The seal signals that the company has been visited by the BBB at its physical business location to ensure that the business is not a facade, but has an actual staff and a real product or service to offer.

When you locate an online advertiser displaying the seal, just click on the icon to link to the BBB Online home page (www.bbbonline.org) and get a BBB reliability report on the company. Consumers should always click to check that the seal links to the company’s confirmation page on the BBB Web site. That will ensure that the company is a legitimate participant in the program. Inquiries about companies and other BBB information can be found at www.bbb.org.

Companies must meet certain requirements in order to use the seal. They must: (1) be in business for a minimum of one year (with limited exceptions); (2) respond promptly to all consumer complaints; (3) agree to correct or withdraw online advertising when the BBB finds their advertising claims to be false or misleading; and (4) provide information regarding company ownership, management, street address and telephone number where they do business.

The online market place performance of the company will be monitored by the nation’s 137 BBBs, and the seal will be withdrawn from any business that fails to answer consumer complaints. Says Cherico: “People can create sophisticated Web pages, which makes it easy to think you’re dealing with a reputable company. Unfortunately, sometimes the creator is just a computer whiz who is running a scam.”
The seal, which debuted this past May, is currently displayed on 50 business home pages. The goal is to register 3,000 companies by the end of the year. All BBB Online participants are members of the Better Business Bureau. James L. Bast, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, says, “We encourage the business community to support this important self-regulation initiative, and give consumers a trustworthy compass to safely navigate the unchartered waters of Internet commerce.”

Consumers should note that the BBB does not pre-approve online advertising. Its local and national advertising review programs are described on the Web site. Consumers who have complaints about online advertising can file comments online with the BBB.

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