Melanie Duquesnel says one of the toughest hurdles for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan is just putting a face on a scam.
Many people do not want to publicly admit they fell for a 2 a.m. phone call from someone who sounded like a grandchild and was begging for money to get out of a jail in Barcelona.
“They get labeled stupid,” said Duquesnel, president and CEO of the BBB Serving Eastern Michigan. “They get labeled ignorant — and they don’t want to lose their independence.”
But even sensible people can get caught. She tells the story of a retired police officer who had worked with the BBB in Florida and one morning was about to wire a lot of money to Italy in a frenzy to help a grandchild. She only pulled back and stopped when the Western Union clerk asked whether she was rushing to buy some Milano glass or something special.
The Better Business Bureau is on the front lines of reporting scam news, offering tips on identity theft issues, working with businesses and consumers to resolve disputes and providing educational services, such as a Shred Day in April and senior scam seminars.
Some of the alerts are making consumers more proactive. The BBB, for example, had more than 1,300 cars line up at its shred event in Southfield in April. That was on a day when another event in Southfield was also helping consumers shred old bank statements and other documents, too.
Duquesnel has been working with the media across the region, as well as speaking at senior seminars, to get the word out. She advises reading credit card statements carefully and drove home the point to one group by telling them how her husband didn’t spot three months of charges for a DirectTV bill for someone in another state.
Sometimes consumers need to realize that negative things can happen in the digital age, she said.
The BBB nationwide has joined a cyber-security coalition by Target, an accredited BBB business. Target, which had a well-publicized data breach during the holidays, has committed $5 million to launch a campaign to tackle cyber-security challenges.
Duquesnel, who grew up in Chicago, joined the BBB in 2010 and calls herself a “recovering banker.”
But the BBB had some rebuilding to do, too, after the recession hit and the local BBB lost ground as some companies went out of business.
The local BBB had 3,200 accredited businesses that pay a fee for accreditation in 2010 after the recession. That was down from 6,900 accredited businesses in 2005, before the recession.
Now, the BBB is back to about 4,000 accredited businesses. The average fee is $492 annually for an accredited business. The fees are based on the size of the business, with major corporations paying much more.
The BBB recently launched a new website, www.bbb.org/detroit, that is designed to be more user-friendly and easier to search. The site links to more than 4.5 million business reviews nationwide and more than 11,000 reports involving charities. Consumers can file a complaint from that site.
The BBB reviews accredited and non-accredited businesses and the BBB Serving Eastern Michigan coverage includes about 90,000 businesses for its entire territory, which includes the Upper Peninsula.
Unlike other sites, such as Yelp, the BBB works to verify complaints, notify a business of a problem and seek some sort of resolution.
“Yelp is for all intents and purposes a messaging board,” she said.
The BBB tries to offer what it calls “marketplace neutrality.”
Businesses, she said, need to be upfront and return phone calls when a consumer has a complaint. Sometimes, the problem is that companies are becoming more overwhelmed as business improves but the staffing has not increased to meet higher demands.
Consumers, she said, need to be reasonable in their demands and expectations. Sometimes, the consumer wants to change an order but is unwilling to accept that the change can lead to a higher cost. The BBB works, she said, to understand whether the complaint is legitimate or the consumer is complaining for recreation.