FTC Battles Scammers Targeting Minority Communities

Stop Fraud Means Rip Off And Con

On Thursday the Federal Trade Commission released the report “Combating Fraud in African American and Latino Communities: The FTC’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan,” describing their work on assisting and educating African American and Latino communities. The report takes a detailed look at what needs to be done in order to promote public awareness.

Anyone who is actively working to serve these communities would benefit from reviewing the report. Sadly, the FTC’s research found that African American and Latino communities are known to under-report scams, despite being more likely to be targeted by scammers.

The types of scams they typically fall prey to include employment and debt scams. This includes work-from-home opportunities and debt relief scams. The best way to combat these types of cons is to educate and inform minority communities about these dangers and encourage them to report the crimes.

The FTC plans to expand its efforts in informing these communities by building networks with community organizations, visiting the areas with low-rates of consumer fraud reporting, and by further developing its law enforcement efforts to stop frauds affecting these communities.

The agency has scheduled a workshop for Dec. 6 in Washington D.C. to bring together groups that serve these groups, as well as state and federal law enforcers to study how the changing demographics of the U.S. will affect fraud prevention work in the future. More information can be found at  www.ftc.gov.

Other Resources

Better Business Bureau is another resource for anyone who believes they have fallen victim to a scam. They can research possible scams in their area on BBB’s Scam Tracker or by calling their local BBB office.

In the meantime, here are some important tips to remember to avoid falling prey to scammers:

  • Do not give Social Security, financial or other personal information to strangers who make contact by phone, internet or mail.
  • Keep antivirus software up to date and be careful when surfing the Internet.
  • Shred financial, tax, medical, insurance and other confidential records when no longer needed. Visit Council of Better Business Bureaus to find a shredding event in your area.
  • Trust your instincts. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

5 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses

Image courtesy of sba.gov/nsbw
Image courtesy of sba.gov/nsbw

Whether you live in a large city of a million people or a small community of 10,000, you’ve probably seen efforts encouraging people to “shop local” at some point. But why exactly should you choose a local business? What’s the benefit beyond just being nice to a local?

As it turns out, there are actually plenty of benefits that many people never realize. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

1. You’re putting more of the money you spend right back to the community.
A big reason people shop local is they enjoy “helping the community,” so to speak. People enjoy knowing the money they spend stays right in their area. But when you do shop local, some of that money you spend comes back to help the community a second time. And even better, it’s a larger portion than it would have been from a “big box” store. When a local business owner feels appreciated by the community they’re in, they are much more likely to spend money at a small business themselves—because they know how important support is. They’re also much more likely to make a business donation to community causes (schools, churches, etc.). These businesses understand what it takes to keep a community strong, and are much more apt to be a part of local efforts.

2. You’re helping your community stay unique.
There’s a reason that one of the first things people do with out-of-town visitors is take them to their favorite local restaurant or coffee shop. People love sharing what makes their town unique, or what makes it “better” than all the rest. And local businesses truly are what make an area special. When visitors shop at these stores, they get a sense they’re really “somewhere” instead of the same store they have down the block from their own house. You’ll probably find products at these stores that aren’t available anywhere else. Ask someone about a recent trip they took, and they’ll either tell you about the incredible local cuisine and the quirky shop they found, or how the weather was as they drove to the chain restaurant.

3. You’re getting better service.
It sounds obvious, but nobody knows a community like someone who lives there. When you trust a local business, you’re dealing with someone who knows and understands your area. Sure, the big box store employees may be locals, too, but they don’t have the same investment in the community a local shop does. This doesn’t apply to all types of stores, but there are times when you just need a local’s perspective—at a garden store, for example. A small business owner will take the time to make sure you purchase exactly what you need and exactly what’s going to work for your area, and they will likely throw in some good advice you wouldn’t have otherwise.

4. You’re helping the environment.
If you do any interstate traveling at all, you’ve seen the large semi-trucks crawling across the roadway. These trucks are a vital part of the transportation of goods in this country, but if you’ve watched the smoke that billows from their exhaust, you’re probably thought it can’t be too good on the Earth. When you shop local, you’ve got the knowledge you had a little less part in that pollution than you would have otherwise. In addition, there’s a great chance that shopping local means you drove less mileage yourself, meaning you contributed a little less pollution from your own car.

5. Price isn’t always the bottom line.
It’s no secret that you might pay a little more for something when you shop local. But it’s an investment that’s worth it. Here’s the important part, though: Small businesses try to keep their prices as competitive as they can. They’re not choosing to charge more, but it’s simply a necessity. They can’t afford an expensive TV advertising campaign, and they can’t afford to undercut the prices of the big guys. But what they can do is focus on quality. More often than not, purchasing a product you know is quality from someone who is involved in your community makes all the difference.

But if for no other reason than the ones listed here, it’s always nice to support a local business simply to recognize the hard work and passion that went in to building that business. As any business owner can attest, it’s not easy. Local business owners truly are the backbone of any community, and your support means more than you probably know.

If you have a choice, make an extra effort to shop local. You may pay a little more, but know that you’re investing not just in a local resident, but in the community where you live.

The Importance of Giving Back

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Your customers—especially the younger generation—want to know what your business is doing to make the world a better place. According to a 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82 percent of consumers take corporate social responsibility into account when deciding where to shop and which products and services to purchase.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is the most outward-thinking place I’ve ever worked. From free ID theft prevention events to educational webinars to volunteer work, BBB and its staff serve as a great reminder of the value of giving back to the community.

BBB also awards college scholarships to local high school seniors each year. This year was a little different than years past: BBB held a video contest for the first time, and the jackpot was bigger than ever. This year’s $10,000 scholarship was recently awarded to a talented, bright young man from Alaska who plans to attend Brigham Young.

“We are impressed by the creativity and effort put into all the videos,” BBB CEO Tyler Andrew said. “When we launched the scholarship, we wanted to increase awareness among teens on the importance of marketplace trust.”

This scholarship—this one act of generosity—actually triggers a cycle:

  1. givingbackBy offering a scholarship, BBB is promoting its name and mission to the youngest generation. This ensures kids will know where to look for trust when they become adults and enter the marketplace as consumers and business owners. The scholarship also reminds parents about BBB’s services to the public.
  2. These consumers will then look to BBB for trustworthy information on local businesses. And as stated in a Roper survey, 74 percent of consumers prefer to do business with a BBB Accredited Business.
  3. Accredited Businesses pay annual dues to BBB. They will continue to renew their Accreditation each year as long as they see a return on their investment: more customers.
  4. BBB uses these annual dues to fund its day-to-day operations and its services to the public—including the scholarship.

Corporate social responsibility can help your business gain customers, but it can also help you retain and attract talented employees.

Allowing your employees to be involved in volunteer activities can help them feel more fulfilled and enriched. Reports show that when employees have the opportunity to give back to the community, they have a renewed appreciation for their contributions to your company.

If you’d like to become more involved in your community, there are some simple things you can do to get started. If you have a storefront, keep a collection jar for your favorite local charity at your front desk. Employees and customers alike will effect real change just by dropping off their spare change. You could also organize an employee volunteer day. A group activity such as cooking for a homeless shelter or painting an elderly neighbor’s house can have the added bonus of boosting camaraderie among your staff.

Not only is giving back good for business, but it’s the right thing to do. It builds relationships, it makes your employees feel more engaged and satisfied, and it reminds you just how lucky you are.