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Protecting your business against friendly fraudsters

Businesses are increasingly becoming victims of “friendly fraud” — fraud carried out by customers to get items free of charge.

The Better Business Bureau of the Southwest (BBBSW) warns business owners to be on the lookout for friendly fraud and offers advice on how to protect against this growing threat.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many companies — for example, the travel site Expedia — are currently seeing up to a 50-percent spike in friendly fraud since October 2008. The most common types of friendly fraud involve cases in which a customer falsely claims they:

•Never received an item ordered;

•Received the wrong item ordered; or

•Had their credit card stolen and were charged for items. The customer then demands a refund from the business or issues a chargeback on their credit card.

When “friendly” fraudsters are unable to coax reimbursements from a business directly, many then issue chargebacks to their credit card companies. Creditors will investigate the situation, asking for the business owner’s side of the story before deciding whether the business is at fault.

Defending a business against friendly fraud is no easy task, but there are steps to take. The BBBSW offers the following advice to small business owners:

•Verify the buyer’s billing address before sending merchandise. Some retailers require that the billing and shipping address match before fulfilling an order. However, some businesses have found that simply paying for an Address Verification Service, which confirms that the billing address matches the address associated with the credit card, is sufficient.

•Use a shipper that tracks delivery. Some shipping firms provide tracking information and signature confirmation. Such information can help shed light on whether the customer really did not receive the goods.

•Deactivate or deny access to products. For retailers that do not ship tangible items, but rather items such as downloads or access to sites, a plan for denying access is both prudent and practical.

•Clearly state and make visible your return policy. This includes any product guarantees, time restrictions, condition requirements, or fees—such as for restocking.

•Be prepared to make your case to the credit card company. Staying organized and presenting a solid case—including records of delivery or reimbursement and your return policy—in the face of a chargeback will assist the credit card company, and increase your chances for a favorable resolution.

•Analyze sales records. This can help you identify consumers who charge back items on a regular basis, enabling you to decide whether to stop doing business with them.