BBB warns of community guide schemes

Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is aware of recent reports about companies claiming to sell ad space in community guides – advertising that’s displayed in local eateries and often lists high school sports schedules – under the pretense they’re working in conjunction with an area school or booster group. However, there have been many instances where business owners later discover they were dealing with out of state firms which had no local affiliation. In some cases, after collecting payments upfront, these out of state companies failed to uphold their end of agreements.

“This kind of scheme can be doubly disappointing to business owners,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “First, the business doesn’t receive the advertising they paid for. Second, the parties they thought would benefit from their ad buy – local schools or organizations – don’t get a cent because there is no partnership.”

Suspect offers such as these generally take this route: business owners receive calls or a visit from someone claiming they’re putting together a community guide and offering advertising space to local businesses. Often, business owners assume they’re dealing with their local newspaper (callers and representatives may even insinuate they’re with the local paper). Another angle it takes is when sales representatives claim proceeds from the guides will benefit local high school teams or community organizations.

BBB urges business owners to do their research to avoid falling victim to community guide schemes. It’s always good to know exactly who you’re dealing with; gather as much information as possible before entering into an agreement. Business owners can do this by:

• Researching companies for free at bbb.org. Go over their BBB Business Profile and customer reviews offered through BBB and other websites.

• Asking for references from other businesses the company has worked with recently – and following up on them. Also, inquire about refund policies if the community guide doesn’t ultimately go forward.

• Getting everything in writing and making sure a production timetable as well as a distribution list are included in the agreement. Check with distributors (usually restaurants or coffee shops) of the community guide or advertising piece to ensure they’re aware of the business and have a working relationship with them.

• Verifying the connection if an affiliation with a school, local newspaper, Chamber of Commerce or booster group is claimed.

• Paying with a credit card. This will give you an opportunity to dispute charges if the company fails to follow through. Make sure you’re clear on the dispute window offered through your credit card provider. Many credit card companies give cardholders 60 days to dispute a charge.

Also be sure to also ask how many guides/schedules will be printed and when and where they’ll be distributed. Follow up with distributors to ensure your advertisement was delivered as promised.

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.


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