How Small Business Owners Can Avoid Post-Disaster Recovery Scams

By Gary Stockton, Experian

Avoiding Construction Scams During Disaster Recovery

When a small business is damaged by a natural disaster — be it a hurricane, flood, earthquake, tornado, or fires like the ones in California recently — recovery presents its own set of hazards. There is, of course, the immediate cost of lost business. There are both short- and long-term physical dangers posed by weakened walls and ceilings, exposed power cables and mold. And then there are the threats posed by skilled disaster recovery scam artists who see small business owners as easy prey.

Kenneth Citarella, CFE, knows all about these post-disaster scams. A former New York state prosecutor, Citarella now works for Guidepost Solutions LLC, which provides investigations, compliance, monitoring, and security and technology consulting solutions for clients in a wide range of industries. In the wake of Super Storm Sandy, which devastated large sections of coastal New Jersey, Brooklyn and Staten Island in 2012, Citarella served as a Guidepost Solutions “Integrity Monitor,” making sure contractors were in fact performing the work for which they were being paid.

“The days and weeks following a natural disaster are times of great stress and confusion,” Citarella said. “This is the perfect breeding ground for scams of all kinds. Small business owners need to be aware of how they may be targeted and how to avoid being a victim.”

How Fraudsters Find Their Marks

While natural disasters are horrific events, they’re great for contractors and restoration companies for whom such events are their bread and butter. As soon as a disaster occurs, it’s not unusual for construction companies to descend on the affected site, blanketing the area with pamphlets and brochures, and stuffing mailboxes with business cards. While many contractors are legitimate, there can be a good number of storm chasers who are just out to make a fast buck. At a time when construction labor is at historic lows, small business owners may find themselves working with a firm with less than stellar credentials

“The more enterprising scam artists will take the time to go door-to-door, offering low-ball prices or even offering to cut the business owner in on the fraud,” Citarella said. “For example, they’ll offer to do the $75,000 worth of restoration work that is actually required, bill the business owner’s insurance company for $100,000, and then split the difference. This is an obvious solicitation of fraud and should be reported immediately to the local police.”

Common Types of Post-Recovery Fraud

In addition to the insurance scam described above, Citarella discussed other forms of fraud a small business owner might encounter following a major disaster.

“The most common type of recovery fraud involves a contractor who shows up to do the first two or three days’ worth of work, and then just disappears. Another type involves the use of lower-grade or otherwise substandard materials,” Citarella said.

Citarella also noted that otherwise well-meaning contractors may buckle under the pressure a natural disaster creates, leaving the business owner out thousands of dollars and still unable to operate.

“A small contractor can easily get in over his head,” Citarella stated. “He may not be able to get enough workers, have problems with his supply line, or be managing too many projects at once. There may be no criminal intent here, but the outcome is the same.”

How to Avoid Contractor Fraud

Find reliable, licensed contractors and validate their businesses before hiring them to help you rebuild. Experian’s ContractorCheck.com/Hurricane is being offered as a free resource to those affected during this time of recovery. This website enables you to find contractors and easily check the critical components of a contractor’s business background, including license, bond and insurance data (if an when available from state licensing boards). Click here to see a sample report.

Also, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers a list of recommendations to business owners and anyone else looking to hire a construction contractor, among their recommendations:

1. Ask for Recommendations. Ask friends, relatives and fellow business owners to recommend contractors they have previously hired.

2. Check Their Track Record. Use bbb.org or other business review websites to get customer reviews, complaints and any notices of criminal violations.

3. Verify the Business License. Make sure the contractor under review has a valid license to do business in your state.

4. Get Multiple Quotes. Always get at least three quotes for any particular job. Any quote that is unusually low is probably one to avoid. Remember the old adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

5. Look for Signs of “Professionalism.” A reputable contractor will arrive in a vehicle that is clearly marked and branded, and may wear a uniform bearing his/her company name.

6. Request References. Ask the contractor for a list of previous customers you can contact and discuss their satisfaction with the contractor’s service.

7. Check Professional Affiliations. Ask if the contractor belongs to any trade organizations. Such companies are usually bound to operate according to a strict code of ethics.

8. Avoid Large Up-Front Payments. Pay by check or credit card for added protection. Avoid paying in cash.

9. Get Everything in Writing. Demand a written contract, and make sure to read it carefully, especially the fine print. Make sure the contract includes the contractor’s name, street address, telephone number, email address and state license number. Fill in any blank spaces. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.

“Document every step of the reconstruction progress,” Citarella added. “Take pictures every day to record the contractor’s progress. Smartphone pictures can be invaluable in the event of contractor misbehavior or if there is a challenge by your insurance carrier.”

Citarella described four “gears” that run any reconstruction machine. “There’s the business owner, the adjuster, the carrier and the contractor. All four need to work together to get a job done right. However, the only one who has a stake in effective cooperation is the business owner. So if you have a business that needs post-disaster repair, take the time to make sure it’s done right.”

If you are in the process of rebuilding following Hurricane Harvey or Irma and need to check the contractor you are working with, go to www.contractorcheck.com/hurricane to receive up to 15 free reports.

Also, Sam Fensterstock of Credit Management Association published an excellent article titled “How To Assist Your Customers To Stay In Business After Natural Disaster“, it contains lots of great information about disaster preparedness and working with your customers if they are impacted by a natural disaster.

CMA offers solutions, such as Experian and other bureau credit reports, Industry Credit Groups and more to help companies determine how much business credit to extend. For more information on how we can help your company, contact Credit Management Association at 818-972-5300 or visit www.CreditManagementAssociation.org.

This article originally appeared here and has been reprinted with permission.

Benefit of the Month: anscersX Multibureau Trade Credit Report

Have you checked out CMA’s exclusive anscersX multi-bureau trade credit report that contains the key factors about your customers payment habits from the top three credit reporting bureaus?

The anscersX multi-bureau commercial credit report combines key elements of the data from the largest trade credit reporting agencies (D&B, Experian, Equifax, Ansonia plus CreditSafe International), giving credit managers the most complete payment story available. The report is affordably priced, which is based on the number of reporting agencies you request. Better yet, anscersX Reports are available on a transactional basis – no contracts, no minimums, no hassles!

For more information on the report, click here.

Five Things You Need to Know About Your Customer Before you Extend Business Credit

All business customers are not created equal. Even companies that look solid at first glance can hide festering problems that eventually can impact your bottom line. Successful credit management requires you to carefully evaluate the financial health of every business that asks for credit terms. According to Experian, here are 5 questions you should be able to answer before extending business credit:

1. Is the business what it claims to be?
Sometimes, companies needing credit will provide inaccurate information to win approval. Before opening an account, you need to confirm the applicant‘s bona fides, including its location, size, number of employees, annual revenue, years of operation and similar financial indicators.

2. What is its payment history?
Although past performance does not guarantee future results, a company’s payment history is often a strong indicator of how it is likely to behave in the future. Pulling a business’ credit report can easily provide you a snapshot of an company’s payment history as well as other risk measures.

3. Are there hidden factors that could affect its ability to pay?
Are there pending judgments, lawsuits, bankruptcies, regulatory citations or other “red flags” that could make it difficult for the applicant to meet its obligations in the future? This is another area where a business’ credit report will be a key factor in helping you uncover a potentially risky business.

4. How much credit should you extend?
All credit contains an element of risk, but you can mitigate that risk by limiting the amount of credit you extend based on factors such as the customer’s sales volume, debt to-asset ratio and similar aspects.

5. Under what terms should you extend credit to this customer?
You can mitigate risk further by carefully calibrating the combination of interest rates, minimum payments and other contract terms based on each customer’s individual financial metrics.

CMA offers solutions, such as Experian and other bureau credit reports, Industry Credit Groups and more to help companies determine how much business credit to extend. For more information on how we can help your company, contact Credit Management Association at 818-972-5300 or visit www.CreditManagementAssociation.org.

This article originally appeared here and has been reprinted with permission. 

Experian Expands International Alerts

In this global economy, one of the biggest challenges for many businesses is being able to detect financial duress by monitoring companies’ whose headquarters are outside of the United States.

Early identification of negative activity helps your company prevent lost revenue and service interruptions, it also helps minimize reputational damage caused by doing business with a company in violation of U.S. laws. These early notifications can also help mitigate the effects of changing economic conditions while growing new business opportunities with lower risk.

Experian has announced that its commercial alerts now enable you to monitor more businesses in more countries with greater precision.

Experian now offers 25 alerts on 8 countries in Western Europe, with 8 more countries coming soon! These international alerts offer the ability to stay up to date on changes such as: change in ownership, business name and address, as well as changes in credit limit, balance sheet information, and company status and much more.

Proactive notifications empower you to act quickly and mitigate risk, collect on overdue amounts and retain your best customers.

Want to know more? Contact your CMA rep today at 818-972-5300 so we can start helping you reduce the risk in your growing business.

Two Billion Reasons Why You Need to Know the anscersX Multibureau Trade Credit Report, by Bob Shultz

anscersX Report

Do you have to make tough credit decisions quickly? How would you like to have the power of over two billion trade credit experiences available to you from the three most reliable sources on the planet? What about having credit scores and valuable facts on a company’s history at your fingertips immediately when the credit request lands on your desk?

In today’s competitive environment, informed credit decisions must be made quickly to get product out the door. Your company expects credit to support Sales and drive revenue. At the same time, credit decisions must be within your company’s risk tolerance with a likelihood of prompt payment.

This was the thought behind CMA’s anscersX Multi-Bureau Trade Credit Report. anscersX provides all the above and more from Dun and Bradstreet, Experian, Equifax, Ansonia and international data from CreditSafe International. You choose which bureaus you want to see. You pay only for what you get. The report is online and delivered to your workstation within seconds of ordering it.

anscersX provides all of the information you need to make most credit decisions. A Paydex Score from Dun and Bradstreet, Intelliscore from Experian and a Business Risk Score from Equifax, along with over two billion current trade lines, trends, details about the company and public records of suits, liens or judgments.

There is a side benefit to those of us in credit who must defend our decisions. Using powerful information such as the anscersX report will help justify any decision you make. If there are questions or push-back, you are locked and loaded to illustrate why you came to the conclusions you did.

Consider the anscersX report if any of the following are true:

  • Your monthly requirements do not justify a costly contract with one or more of the bureaus.
  • You are looking for a more efficient and cost effective way to order reports from multiple bureaus.
  • You have a contract with one of the major bureaus but want reports from additional sources.
  • You have a limit on the number of reports you can order from a bureau, anscersX can conserve usage.
  • A multi-bureau report will give additional insight into a higher risk prospect or customer.

The best thing you can do for yourself today is to go to anscers.com and check out anscersX, or read information about it here (including sample reports). It is brought to you by Credit Management Association for the benefit of the credit management community.

Robert S. Shultz is a Partner at Quote to Cash Solutions (Q2C) LLC, and a frequent speaker at CMA-sponsored and other credit events.

Top regulatory priorities for the commercial lenders

Tony Hadley of Experian
Tony Hadley of Experian

by Tony Hadley

Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy, Experian

 

In many cases, business lenders often rely on the commercial credit of the enterprise coupled with the personal credit of the business owner when making lending decisions. This is especially true for sole proprietorships and partnerships. To that end, regulatory action and public policy initiatives aimed at consumer credit often times can have a direct impact on commercial lenders. This blog takes a look at some of the top regulatory priorities for business lenders within the credit ecosystem.

Ensuring the accuracy of credit data
Over the past two years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken several actions to make clear that it believes data furnishers — including lenders — are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the credit data that they report to credit reporting agencies (CRAs).

The CFPB issued two bulletins — in September 2013 and February 2014 — reminding data furnishers of their responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the need to properly conduct investigations when a consumer disputes an inaccuracy.

The CFPB backed up these bulletins with an August 2014 enforcement action against a lender that it said failed to fix flaws in its software system that were causing it to report inaccurate credit data to the CRAs.

Debt collection practices remain in the spotlight
Another top focus of regulators that may overlap with small business lending is increased scrutiny of the debt collection market.

Within the collections industry, the CFPB has focused on problems related to how information about a debt is transferred from a first party to an outside agency or debt buyer, as well as the standards and timing of when a collections item goes onto a consumer’s credit report. To that end, in December 2014 the CFPB announced that it was requesting the national credit bureaus to provide regular accuracy reports that highlight key risk areas, including disputes, for consumers. The CFPB will use these reports to help prioritize their work on accuracy metrics, including: furnishers and industries with the most overall disputes; and furnishers with high disputes relative to their industry peers.

The CFPB also released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in November 2013, covering a wide array of complex issues within the debt collection market. It’s expected that they will release the first version of its proposed rule for the collection market in late 2015 – early 2016.
Policies boosting financial inclusion are also critical for business lending

Commercial lenders should also pay attention to efforts by policymakers to improve financial access for the more than 60 million American consumers that either have a thin credit history or no credit data at all. In the case of an entrepreneur, a thin or no hit credit file would make it much more difficult to access affordable capital.

One way to improve the ability for unbanked individuals to access affordable credit is through the reporting of on-time payments made to utility, telecommunication and rental companies by consumers — often referred to as “alternative credit data.” While they have long made pricing decisions based upon the full-file credit data furnished by creditors, historically telecom and utility companies have only provided negative data — i.e. late payments or if an account is in collection.

Including both positive and negative data from these sources will enable tens of millions of thin-file consumers — and small business owners — with a proven record of meeting financial obligations to access fair and affordable credit. The CFPB weighed in on the importance of including alternative data in a 2013 report on financial empowerment. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced the past two sessions of Congress that would clarify federal law to encourage utilities and telecom providers to report positive credit data to the nation’s credit bureaus.

Coming soon: CFPB data collection on women and minority owned businesses
Small business lenders are also keeping a close eye on the development of the new data collection requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. Despite the CFPB being primarily focused on consumer lending, the agency was tasked with implementing a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act that required lenders to ask small business applicants if the business was women or minority-owned.

The problem is that this question is currently prohibited under Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), as a creditor cannot inquiry about the race, color, religion, ethnicity or sex of an applicant. The CFPB will ultimately have to provide guidance to help resolve the conflict between these two laws.

While this new sweeping data collection mandate will not become effective until the CFPB adopts the necessary regulations, it’s easy to see how this could ultimately impact small business lenders.

As many have said before, small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, but they need funds to grow. We’ll want to keep a close eye on each of these initiatives, as the regulatory impact can be huge for small business lenders, and the ability for small businesses to access capital.

Tony Hadley is Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Experian. He leads the corporation’s legislative, regulatory and policy programs relating to consumer reporting, consumer finance, direct and digital marketing, e-commerce, financial education and data protection. Hadley leads Experian’s legislative and regulatory efforts with a number of trade groups and alliances, including the American Financial Services Association, the Direct Marketing Association, the Consumer Data Industry Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Hadley is Chairman of the National Business Coalition on E-commerce and Privacy. For information about reports available from Experian, contact Terry Campos at 818-972-5361.

Announcing the New anscersX Report that combines key data from D&B, Experian and Equifax into one Business Credit Report

The anscersX multi-bureau trade credit report combines key factors from the three largest trade credit reporting agencies (D&B, Experian and Equifax), giving credit managers the most complete payment story available. “We spent time reviewing all the elements on each provider’s business credit report to determine what would give anscersX clients the best insight into their customers’ credit worthiness,” says Robert Shultz, Managing Partner of Trade Information Exchange. “By using an anscersX Report, you have covered the necessary bases at a much better cost and a tremendous time savings.   The anscersX Report provides a quick review of the information needed for most trade credit decisions.”

Credit Management Association® and Trade Information Exchange are proud to announce that they have produced the anscersX Report, a single report that contains all the key elements about your customers’ paying habits needed to make most credit decisions.
Credit Management Association® and Trade Information Exchange are proud to announce that they have produced the anscersX Report, a single report that contains all the key elements about your customers’ paying habits needed to make most credit decisions.

The report, which is available now at www.anscers.com, ranges in price from $29.95 to $64.95, depending on the number of reporting agencies the user requests. Users control which reporting agencies are accessed for the report.

“The anscersX report offers some real advantages to anyone making a credit evaluation,” said CMA president Kim Lamberty. “Single-source Business Credit Reports are made up of accounts receivable data that has been contributed by companies, public record data and scores generated from the combination of this data. Since most companies that contribute accounts receivable data only send it to one provider (D&B, Experian or Equifax), using one report may only provide a piece of the payment habit story.”

The anscersX Reports are available through CMA’s web-based platform anscers.com. “The anscersX Report is a significant proprietary credit offering to our customers,” Lamberty added. “A key feature is the summary section that displays scores from all three providers, plus other key data. This makes the anscersX Report easy to read and comprehend so users can make faster credit decisions. There are other advantages as well. This is a web-accessed report that can easily be ordered and received at the user’s workstation in seconds, all at a low cost. There are no minimum purchase or contract requirements. The users order what they want, when they need it and only pay for the reported results.”

Several CMA Members have already used the anscersX Report and have had positive experiences with it. “We got an answer in minutes as opposed to calling all the trade references on the credit application,” said Mary Donaldson, Office Manager, Worthen Equipment Inc. Grating Pacific Inc.’s Stacy Henry added: “The enhanced anscersX Report is very intuitive and easy to read. The “Summary” section at the top of the report included all the information I needed to make my decision whether to extend credit. That saved me a lot of time.”

To learn more about the program, visit www.anscers.com or call 800-541-2622.

CMA Poll Results – Business Credit Reports

CMA Member Poll: Your thoughts on business credit reports? (463 responses)

  • They are a valuable resource 18%
  • They are necessary but not always valuable 17%
  • They are not a valuable resource 1%
  • We carry a contract for reports 17%
  • We order reports as we need them 19%
  • We use more than one brand (D&B, Experian, Equifax etc.) of report 17%
  • We use only one brand of report 9%
Other comments:
“more valuable for private companies”
“Wish more companies would report more accts.”
“We find that D&B reports are totally outdated and wrong information. We belong to a local credit group which is very helpful.”
“We rely on our on trade data reports”
“We don’t use them hardly at all but probably should”

 

 

 

 

 

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