5 Things You Didn’t Know About BBB

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Better Business Bureau has been serving consumers and businesses for more than 100 years. That’s more than a century of helping to advance marketplace trust. While you may be familiar with our grading system, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about BBB. So let’s take a look at some of the services and missions we work at every day.

Here are five things you didn’t know about BBB:

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1. We are here for servicemembers and vets. 

The BBB Military Line is a consumer education program that offers a MobileMi$$ion app, which provides resources for vets, active duty and retired military personnel. The app is designed for transitioning servicemembers, veterans, and their families to help them navigate their finances during the shift from active duty to civilian life. This app provides access to educational activities, a financial mentor, and peer chat support on the go, wherever you are.

Want to speak to someone in person? Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest is available to give presentations to military personnel on scams and identity theft, wise buying, car shopping, buying a home, investing in higher education and much more. Contact our Marketplace Development Team at marketplace@thebbb.org.

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2. Request a Quote

This one is specific to Accredited Businesses only, but is important to note. Once businesses receive accreditation they can install the Request a Quote button on their BBB Business Review page so customers can quickly and easily ask for estimates, information or proposals from the business.

But wait, there’s more. If a customer is looking for a bid, but doesn’t know which company to go with, they can send requests to multiple companies. Find out more at www.bbb.org/northwest/quote.

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3. Serve as mediators. 

BBB has been helping resolve disputes between businesses and consumers for more than a century and whether your company is a small local firm or large national corporation, we are here to share our expertise and experience with you and your customers. A panel of approximately 1,000 professional arbitrators–predominantly attorneys–partner with the BBB system to provide arbitration hearings that are local and yet consistent with overall program mandates. The programs are developed for specific industries, including automotive, telecommunication and moving and storage. This service helps both businesses and customers save time and money when handling legal issues.

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4. We are looking out for our future.   

Teenagers are making economic decisions every day and with advances in technology they are doing a lot of it online. But who is educating them on how to be smart consumers? Our Marketplace Development Team visits high schools across the northwest educating our youth about identity theft, social media safety, scholarships and financial aid. They can come out to your organization and present on these topics. Locally, we host a $10,000 scholarship contest for a high school senior who personifies high ethics, as demonstrated through leadership, community service, overall personal integrity and academic accomplishments.

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5. We investigate scams.

BBB Scam Tracker provides consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities. All 112 BBBs operating in Canada and the United States are collecting information from consumers and processing data, which is shared with law enforcement agencies for use in identifying and prosecuting scammers. Go to bbb.org/scamtracker to see the interactive map and see what scams are happening in your area.

This is just a fraction of the types of services BBB offers. To learn more visit bbb.org/northwest today.

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BBB Accredited Business, AlphaGraphics, Supports FBLA Program

Written by guest blogger, Scott Dumas, AlphaGraphics Tacoma Owner

On Monday, Feb. 8th a group of students visited our AlphaGraphics Tacoma location for the annual Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) sponsored Job Shadow program. This program has been supported by AlphaGraphics Tacoma for the past three years.

The FBLA program in the Tacoma/Fife community is currently Washington State’s second largest with more than 100 students participating. The program focuses on numerous aspects of business, as well as the products and services produced in the local community.

Three students participated in the event. They each delivered a five-minute verbal presentation demonstrating their interests in graphic design, marketing, and small business ownership. The superintendent of Fife Schools, principal of Fife High School and Congressman Denny Heck listened and gave valuable feedback. The CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce, two educators, and the local newspaper also attended the event.

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We firmly believe in the FBLA program, as it helps students see first-hand how businesses actually operate. All facets including, customer service, pre-press, production and center management were addressed. The students were genuinely engaged asking a wide range of questions throughout the visit.

The students will now move on to district, regional and ultimately the national FBLA competition. Historically, this Tacoma/Fife chapter of the FBLA has done quite well over the years. In last year’s national competition they took first place in the E-business category.

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Off to College

Going off to college can be both exciting and daunting – whether the school is in your home town or thousands of miles away. I remember when I left home to travel to an out-of-state university, I was more excited than nervous. We didn’t have to worry about identity theft or Craigslist rental housing scams. The college application process seemed so much simpler and less dramatic. You sent in a paper application with a check, took the SAT’s just once with no prep classes, and in many cases, went off to a college campus you had never seen before. On the other hand, what I wouldn’t have given for a laptop computer and the internet instead of my graduation-present Smith Corona electric typewriter (with a box of carbon paper and correction tape) and the hours upon hours spent at my school library’s using the microfiche machines to look for hard copy reference material for term papers.

These days, there are a lot more things to consider if you or a family member is starting college. With various scams so much in the news today, it’s prudent to be cautious.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants

According to Saving for College, the average cost of tuition for four years of college is between $39,000 for a public university and $134,000 at a private college. Most students have to rely on financial aid.

If you are applying for aid, be diligent about doing your research:

  • Be wary of any companies that want to charge a fee for a scholarship application or a grant. You should never have to pay a fee.
  • Don’t pay money to any company which offers to find scholarships for you. This information is readily available online, free of charge.
  • Shady companies will promise an unusually low interest rate for a student loan but have large fees attached. Instead, research loans that are offered through federal programs and local banks.
  • Delete any emails you receive that announce you’ve won a scholarship that you never applied for. This is a phishing attempt to garner personal and financial information.

Health Insurance

College students have several options for medical coverage. Most can stay on their parent’s health insurance policy until age 26. Be sure to check with your insurance company if you are going to college in another area as there may be out-of-network charges. A second option may be health plans for students offered by the college at an affordable rate. Coverages may be more limited than a parent’s group health insurance, so be sure to compare plans. A third option is to buy an individual health insurance policy through an insurance broker or the state’s insurance exchange.

Insuring Personal Belongings Dorms or Student Apartments

With students now overloaded with expensive tech devices such as computers, iPads, cell phones, digital music players, and bicycles (not including their clothes and books!), it’s important to properly insure these items. Most parent’s homeowner’s policies will cover their child’s contents in a dorm room, but the policy deductible (often $500) will apply. Coverages will include losses such as theft and fire, but not for lost items.

If living off-campus, a parent’s homeowners policy may still cover, but only up to a certain percentage. It may be best to buy an inexpensive renters policy. Note that if there are roommates sharing an apartment, each person should obtain their own policy. Check with your insurance agent to see what options work best for your family. Be sure to inventory all possessions by taking photos and writing down serial numbers.

For students venturing to college out-of-state who have a car, they may need to buy a separate auto insurance policy. Check with your insurance company to see if the vehicle can stay on your policy while away at college. Ask about any resident student discounts if they are away at school with no vehicle. As they are driving your vehicles less, the rates may go down but still keep them insured for their visits home as well as for the possibility that they may occasionally drive a roommate’s vehicle.

Off-Campus Student Housing

Craigslist scams for rental housing have become more and more prevalent countrywide. Scammers hijack existing rental and for-sale home listings and offer them as rentals for a really low price.  This is the number one red flag that the ad is a scam.

Other red flags to beware of:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. It probably is.
  • The landlord is not in the area and only communicates through email.
  • The landlord wants the deposit wired. Remember – wiring money is the same as sending cash. If it ends up being a scam, you won’t get your money back.

It’s best to deal with local realty companies and word-of-mouth from friends. Ask for advice at the student assistance office on campus. And, visit the rental unit in-person.

Better Business Bureau urges parents and students to be wary of possible scams. Do your research at bbb.org and then invest in a bright future.

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.

#BBBinRipCity: Why the Trail Blazers/BBB Partnership Works

bbb_trailblazers_sponsor_headerIt’s game time! As the Portland Trail Blazers enter the NBA playoffs as a No. 4 seed, capping off what has been an exhilarating 2015 season, many wonder just how far they will go. But for Better Business Bureau, who is a proud sponsor of the Blazers, it can’t get much better than this.

BBB and the Blazers entered into a partnership last year sharing a common interest in educating, community support and consumer protection. And with the help of BBB’s Accredited Businesses, the Blazer/BBB partnership has come to fruition.

So, was it worth it?

You better believe it.

Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation.
Spencer Mitton with his $10,000 scholarship check from BBB Foundation in March 2015.

I was in awe last month when I watched 18-year-old Spencer Mitton of Anchorage, Alaska, accept a $10,000 scholarship check from BBB CEO Tyler Andrew in front of 20,000 cheering fans during the Portland Trail Blazers halftime show. It was a huge moment for this young man, BBB and the Blazers because it reinforced the commitment that both organizations made to improve the lives of young consumers.

Like the Blazers, BBB strives to stay relevant—which has been increasingly difficult in today’s digital world. A partnership with the Blazers put BBB back into the mix.

During the 2014-15 season, the Blazers partnership connected BBB with 950,000 fans across the Northwest. With the support of our Accredited Business partners, BBB’s brand and mission was showcased in front of fans during every home game, in the community, at an exclusive watch party, during the first-ever Blazers/BBB Business Summit at the Moda Center and now in the playoffs.

This is a partnership that works—for everyone.

BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.
BBB staff with Jerome Kersey and Blaze the Trail Cat at BBB Secure Your ID Day in October 2014.

“We have already had the pleasure of working successfully with BBB,” said Steve Scott, Trail Blazers Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Marketing & Sales. “Based on our experience with BBB during Secure Your ID Day, we know this partnership will provide security to many deserving members of our community.”

Now with the NBA playoffs in motion, BBB and our participating Accredited Businesses have an even bigger opportunity to leave our mark. As thousands of fans pile into the Moda Center, they’ll see BBB’s seal on the LED board, hear about our mission over the radio and read about us in the Rip City Magazine. This connection drives trust and connects consumers with an added resource to help improve their lives.

Just ask Spencer Mitton, who created this 90-second video about BBB:

His video entry on how BBB protects people from identity theft earned him a scholarship to BYU so he could pursue a career in engineering.

So the next time you’re at a Blazers game, or when you’re watching them on TV during the playoffs, look for the seal and be reassured that the Blazers/BBB partnership is not only working, but making a difference to the people we serve.

Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids

Image courtesy of artur84 | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you begin to look into summer camp options for your children, look beyond the pretty brochures and friendly sales pitches. Make sure the camp you have in mind is safe, well supervised and not a financial trap.

Dig deeper than whether a camp has bird watching, bracelet weaving or swimming lessons. Find out if it has a history of complaints, and make certain it has been in business long enough to substantiate its claims.

Visit the camp and pay careful attention to living, eating, medical and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery or off-site trips. Inquire about the staff-to-camper ratio, the criteria for hiring counselors and whether a doctor or nurse will be on-site. Also ask about the camp’s insurance coverage.

Ask to see a daily schedule, even if it’s from last season. Make note of the hours, the variety of activities, the type of food that is served and any transportation that is involved.

Cover financial matters up front. Know all the fees up front, from the base price and any extra activities charges to whether meals and transportation are covered. Get everything in writing, including details about the deposit and refund policy.

Get references from parents of repeat campers, and ask why they recommend the camp. Inquire with the camp about the camper and counselor return rate.

Look for camps accredited by the American Camp Association, a nonprofit that works to ensure the quality of summertime programs. Accreditation with the ACA means the camp meets up to 300 nationally recognized standards.

Alaska Student Wins BBB Scholarship Contest

This year, Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offered one $10,000 scholarship for a student (or up to three students on a team) in our three-state region. High school seniors applied for the scholarship by creating a 90-second video demonstrating how BBB helps people become smarter consumers. Judges evaluated the applications based on BBB branding, effort and creativity, content and total website views.

Spencer Mitton (center)
Spencer Mitton (center)

Spencer Mitton, a student at South Anchorage High School in Alaska, won this year’s contest from a pool of 16 finalists (individuals and teams). His video offers consumer tips on preventing identity fraud, garnering more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Spencer grew up in Anchorage and plans to attend Brigham Young University this fall to study engineering. He has always been strong in math and science but found that he also enjoys creative projects. He has been studying graphic design on his own since middle school—a talent that is evident by his winning video. Spencer would eventually like to combine innovation with math and science in the technology industry.

Currently the captain of his high school cross-country running team, Spencer would like to continue competitive running while attending college. During the summer months, Spencer runs his own business mowing lawns and teaching piano for clientele that he has built over the past few years.

Spencer is also the winner of the Anchorage School District’s Spirit of Youth Award and has earned the Eagle Scout award for community service.

What You Need to Know about Scholarships and Financial Aid

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money

Millions of students depend on grants and scholarships to pay for college, and applying for financial aid can be confusing.

Some companies claim they can help, but they often end up charging fees for information and assistance that students could have gotten for free elsewhere!

Before paying a company to find financial aid for college, do your research and listen for the following red flags:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” No one can guarantee they will get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees usually have so many conditions or strings attached that it is almost impossible for consumers to get their money back.
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” Scholarship information is widely available in books, at libraries, at financial aid offices and on the Internet.
  • “We’ll do all the work.” Only students and parents can determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms.
  • “You’ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship.” If you have not entered a competition sponsored by the foundation, this claim is highly unlikely.
  • “May I have your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship?” This is never a requirement for a legitimate scholarship offer.
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.” Legitimate scholarship offers never require payment of any kind.

In 2015, your Better Business Bureau is offering a $10,000 scholarship to one lucky high school senior in Western Washington, Oregon or Alaska. It is 100% free to enter–all it takes is a little creativity! Click here for details.

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