Fraud can put thousands of lives at risk. Take Theranos, for example—a seemingly revolutionary blood-testing startup that employed faulty medical procedures on innocent patients. Only after the company received prestigious media features and attained a $9 billion valuation was Theranos finally exposed and charged with criminal fraud.
Although it may seem that regular people can do little to expose fraud in elaborate cases like Theranos, it is still imperative that we know how to identify instances of fraud in our personal lives. Thankfully, there are a plethora of resources that are available to help us make informed everyday consumer decisions. When dealing with a new business, I take a few simple steps to evaluate trust.
The first step is asking family and friends about their past interactions with the company. Positive experiences suggest that a company is trustworthy and well-known enough to do business with; however, I will do further research if the company has any negative reputation or is unknown to my loved ones.
To find out more about the company’s credibility, I will then employ Better Business Bureau’s search feature to identify the company’s accreditation status, BBB rating, and customer reviews/complaints. Because accreditation requires eight standards of trust to be met, an accredited company is likely safe. As long as I acknowledge that customer reviews are frequently negatively skewed, BBB’s information should lead me in the right direction.
If further investigation is needed, I’ll browse the company website, looking for evidence of professionalism. For example, up-to-date information, realistic product prices, and high-quality photos can all indicate trustworthiness. I’ll be sure to check out the “Contact Us” page because a legitimate company will recognize that easy communication with the customer is critical to earning trust and sales. Conversely, a lack of contact information suggests a one-sided transaction that could potentially be fraudulent. Specifically, I’ll look for a real physical address and working phone number on the website.
If I still need peace of mind, I will continue to gather information by Google searching for customer experiences and complaints regarding the business. Once again, we need to realize that customers who take the time to share their experience online are often outliers, and don’t always represent popular belief. Thus, using multiple review sites and comparing these customer reviews to other signs of trust are vital.
Finally, when I am ready to make a purchase from the trusted business, I will look for credit card, PayPal, or other secure and traceable payment options when making my purchase. If the company passes this final test, I can be confident that I am dealing with a trustworthy company.
Being a mindful consumer is becoming an increasingly important skill in our unforgiving digital marketplace. Theranos has demonstrated that even the most promising companies can hide dark secrets. However, if we implement these cautionary steps into our purchase routines, we’ll be able to keep ourselves safe while enforcing integrity within the business community. And you never know—maybe you could save a life.