By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Dec 15, 2023 at 1:02 PM

This content was brought to you in partnership with the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin

If you’re like many people, you probably don’t think about using Better Business Bureau (BBB) services until you have a dispute or complaint that needs resolution. 

But, what many consumers don’t know is that the BBB of Wisconsin is an excellent resource for not only finding reputable businesses to work with but also avoiding scams and situations that require an intermediary for resolution.

James Temmer, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau Wisconsin says that, based on a survey conducted about three years ago, 98% of surveyed consumers have heard of the BBB, but less than 50% actually understand what the nonprofit organization does.

“We get a lot of exposure when it comes to scams, and that’s great because it protects consumers,” he says. “But, folks don’t necessarily talk about the process of finding reliable, trustworthy businesses.”

But trust is at the heart of the BBB’s mission.

“The Better Business Bureau was founded over 100 years ago to prevent fake advertising,” notes Temmer. “And that’s still part of what we do. We are a nonprofit that works to build trust between companies and consumers in the marketplace. As a result, we act as a resource for both consumers and businesses. After all, businesses want good customers too.”

Businesses want good customers too.
Businesses want good customers too.

Finding trustworthy companies

Among the BBB’s most compelling offerings is its business accreditation program, which uses an in-depth vetting process to seek out and certify trustworthy businesses in the market. A simple search for BBB Accredited Businesses on the bureau's website can save consumers hours of research since these businesses have already agreed to abide by standards set by the bureau.

It’s a paid membership program, but it's not just "pay to play." Temmer says the program is backed by BBB's thorough research into each company and a list of standards that each company agrees to uphold.

“Our goal is to increase trust in the marketplace overall, so we only work with businesses who want to increase their trustworthiness and credibility,” he says. “Running a business is not only about how you deal with consumers. It’s about how you run your business, how you treat your employees. Everyone needs a bottom line, but how do you get there? 

“When we accredit a business, we go through a lot of background information. We have an entire team that looks into the businesses. We look at the owners and their principles. We verify policies and procedures, take a look at financials and we require that every BBB Accredited Business maintains a trustworthy record with consumers. Once they are through the internal vetting process, each applicant must be approved by our board of directors.” 

The BBB requires their BBB Accredited Businesses to adhere to eight core standards: build trust; advertise honestly; tell the truth; be transparent; honor promises; be responsive; safeguard privacy and embody integrity. 

“Our members all agree to uphold these standards in their everyday business,” he says. “We believe that maintaining consumer trust is the most important element in doing business.”

Temmer notes that, if a business violates its agreement with the BBB, there are repercussions. “We stand behind the businesses we accredit,” he says, “And that means we hold one another accountable.”

Temmer says that the BBB also takes their work on behalf of consumers seriously, investing time and energy into providing resources and tips for a variety of topics including hiring contractors, investing in pet insurance, resolving issues with vehicle warranties and even filing taxes.

Find a trusted veterinarian or reliable pet insurance on the BBB.
Find a trusted veterinarian or reliable pet insurance on the BBB.

Trustworthy reviews

Unlike many sites that allow any consumer to post a review about a business, the BBB is also careful to vet the reviews that are posted on their site.

“There are reviews written that are paid for by companies and there are reviews written by angry employees or customers,” he says. “So we go through each one and weed out the unreliable reviews to ensure that everything on our site is accurate and trustworthy. We also encourage businesses to respond to customer reviews and complaints and seek resolution.”

These efforts make the BBB a great resource for anyone who is looking for a reliable company to work with, whether it’s a restaurant, charity, home contractor, bank or travel agency.

“We aren’t able to tell you who’s the best plumber for you,” says Temmer. “But we can give you a list of trusted businesses that increase your odds of being happy with the business with which you are spending your hard-earned money.”

In turn, Accredited BBB Businesses take pride in the quality of their services and strive to build long-term relationships with customers.

“A contractor once told me that he knew he was doing things ethically because when he sees a former customer in the grocery store he doesn’t need to duck down another aisle,” says Temmer with a smile.

Man with credit card and laptopX

Avoiding scams

Temmer notes that the increase in online shopping has increased online scams, especially around the holiday season. And while scams can impact people of any age, the group that is scammed most often is consumers between the ages of 18 and 24, largely because they are so comfortable with doing almost everything online.

Whether it’s fake websites that steal photos and descriptions from legitimate retailers to steal consumers’ credit card information, delivery scams that target consumers by asking them to verify their information before a package can be delivered or fake charities that pressure consumers to donate money, scams have become a part of everyday life for most consumers. 

“Our site contains a lot of information and research about scams because they directly impact consumers,” says Temmer. “We always encourage people to research any business before working with them. That’s one of the most important steps they can take to avoid being taken advantage of by a scam.”

Temmer also offers up the following basic tips to avoid scams, throughout the holiday season and beyond:

  • Never give out sensitive personal information unless you’ve verified who is on the receiving end.
  • Never tell anyone when you will be home so that they can make a delivery; legitimate delivery services won’t ask for this information and scammers use this information to target houses for break-ins.
  • Don’t fall for online deals that are too good to be true. As exciting as it is to land a good price on an item you want, it pays to proceed with caution. Research companies before buying from them. Better yet, do business with companies you already know and trust.
  • Always make payments with your credit card to protect yourself from fraudulent charges.
  • Never respond to offers that will only accept gift cards as a form of payment or that offer you a discount for using a gift card. These scammers steal your gift card information and use it to get cash or buy items. 
  • Check out the BBB’s Scam Prevention Guide.  The well-researched guide features videos, resources and risk calculators that provide you with tools and tips to avoid fraud of all types.
  • Use the BBB's Scam Tracker. If you are wondering if a call, request or social media posting is a scam, you can search the BBB Scam Tracker database to see if it’s listed among the listings of existing scams.

Check out the BBB's video short on the "12 Scams of Christmas":

If you do get scammed, report it immediately. The BBB offers an easy way to do so. Their Scam Tracker allows you to report your experience to a variety of sources including the FBI, FTC and Attorney General’s office. Your report is also logged as an existing scam, so it could prevent others from falling prey to the same tricks.

Most of all, don’t feel ashamed if you’ve fallen for a clever scam.

“There’s a stigma that comes with being scammed,” notes Temmer. “But under the right circumstances, anyone can fall pretty to a scam. Scammers rely on emotions like fear, excitement or even a sense of immediacy to assist them in getting consumers to give up personal information, purchase goods or donate money. It’s important to realize that and avoid responding to requests that use these powerful tactics.”

Rewarding trust

In keeping with their mission to build trust in the marketplace, the BBB also rewards businesses that uphold high standards. 

Their annual Torch Awards for Ethics honor businesses (both BBB Accredited Businesses and non-accredited) for exhibiting character, fostering good culture, exhibiting transparency with consumers and impacting the community. Their SPARK Awards honors social entrepreneurs, start-ups and new business owners that adhere to these same principles.

They also offer annual Students of Integrity Scholarships for high school seniors pursuing post-secondary education. The goal is to develop future business leaders and entrepreneurs who promote ethics and trust in the local marketplace.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.