Better Business by Robb Hicken: Trust marks build confidence but may not be trustworthy

Chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionJuly 23, 2013 

Robb Hicken

For more than 170 years businesses have turned to Dun & Bradstreet for information and data, making it a credible, leading source of commercial information and insight on businesses.

It was that credibility that caused me to open the email clearly marked from D&B. Inside was a complaint form:

"Dun & Bradstreet has received the above-referenced complaint from one of your customers regarding their dealings with you. The details of the consumer's concern are included on the reverse."

If you open an attachment to view further details - the .zip attachment - a malicious .exe file attempts to open on your computer. Credibility tossed into question.

How does a business like yours protect its credibility position when a malicious email makes the rounds? Certainly you could contact every other business you've ever worked with, but that may be impossible.

To allay consumer fears and boost confidence and credibility, many online businesses use trust marks from other organizations. These are seals, logos and icons displayed on a website or placed on email. They assure customers that the business has met certain standards needed to obtain permission to display the trust mark.

Those trust marks - like those created by BBB, Angie's List, PeopleClaim and others - allow you to have confidence in the online business. But like the email from Dun & Bradstreet, that credibility can still be eroded. The email, forwarded earlier this month, claims that part of the complaint is then entered into the Better Business Bureau file. BBB and D & B have no such arrangement.

Remember, even when a company posts trust marks on its website, you should still proceed cautiously.

BBB suggests:

Æ Trust marks should be verified. It's too easy to cut and paste a logo (.gif file) of a trust provider. A trust mark on a website should have a live link to the provider's site. Again, just because it links, be wary, question and verify. Go to the trust mark provider site independently and look up the business.

Æ Trust marks are not all equal. Seals of approval are provided for assurance of service, product and warranty. If they are static, they can expire, be revoked or be neglected. Don't simply assume it's still a valid mark.

Æ Trust mark services vary. Just as security insignias ensure computer safety, they don't provide security to all things. Trust marks can specifically target or validate areas of business. For example, BBBOnline has a reputation for privacy; McAfee Secure has a reputation for virus protection; PayPal's reputation is for financial privacy.

Æ Trust marks can improve business. A Consumer Reports study shows that nearly three in four Internet shoppers look for trust marks before doing business online.

Æ Trust marks allay identity-theft fears. Online shopping is increasing. Trust marks help customers know there are rigorous security and auditing procedures.

Finally, trust marks without action tend to be simple eye candy or hollow posturing. Be certain that when you work to building your credibility online that you're putting up a trust mark that gives consumers confidence the symbol is not simply displayed, but is earned.

Credibility, once lost, takes time to rebuild. Once established, it is hard to destroy.

rhicken@boise.bbb.org, 947-2115

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