The Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce announced the launch of its newest program, the Consumer Protection Division, at a news conference Thursday morning.
The program's mission is to create a guide of ethical and honest businesses in the greater Fayetteville area, provide scam warnings, and curate consumer reports for Fayetteville residents.
“We're excited to be a chamber of commerce leading the way with consumer protection,” said Nat Robertson, the organization's CEO and president.
The program has been in the works for about 90 days and is one of only a handful of chamber-run consumer protection programs nationwide, according to Robertson. He cited a similar program operated by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce in Florida as an inspiratioan for the Fayetteville initiative.
Angela Selitto has been tasked to lead the Consumer Protection Division as its director. She has been an ambassador for the Greater Fayetteville Chamber — assisting with public relations and welcome committees — on and off for the past 15 years. When Robertson asked her to lead the new program, she knew it was the right opportunity for her.
“I wanted to do something that could help our businesses and our community,” she told CityView on Thursday.
Selitto will be in charge of verifying businesses for the program, as well as its day-to-day operations.
Businesses which want to participate in the program must be certified through the division. To become certified, businesses must adhere to a membership agreement, which outlines best practices that a business must follow. An application fee of $299 is also required for all businesses, and those with more than 20 employees will have an additional fee of $249. Businesses must also have been open for at least one year and have no active litigations. Chamber members get a $50 discount on the verification fee for their businesses. The certification is valid for one year.
Businesses making the cut will be listed in the division's directory and will get an annual “blue checkmark” in the form of a window decal to display.
“When a consumer sees that certified sticker displayed in the businesses, they know they can shop with confidence,” Selitto said.
The first official membership directory of certified businesses will be posted in January; the directory will be an annual publication going forward.
On the scam protection side, Seletto said that CPD will send out alerts in email newsletters and post them on chamber social media accounts. In recent months, scams such as texts from the USPS prompting users to click a link and provide personal information have become more common.
Consumer losses to scams increased by 30% from 2021-22 for a total of $8.8 billion, according to a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission.
“Senior citizens lose about $3 billion a year to scams nationwide,” Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said. “It's a very serious problem.”
The program already has a few high-profile sponsors, including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
“You all are creating a resource that people in Cumberland County can turn to before they sign a contract or part with their hard-earned money,” Stein said in a prerecorded video message during the news conference.
Beyond helping everyday consumers, the program may have an additional impact on the local justice system.
CPD will offer a mediation platform for resolving disputes between consumers and businesses, with the goal of addressing grievances fairly and reducing the strain on local legal resources.
Chief District Court Judge Toni King said she hears about 200 cases every week dealing with breach-of-contract issues and other disputes. She hopes the new division will help lighten the load.
“When we can remove these types of cases or lower the amount in our court system, it allows us to focus on the more violent or the more important, in a sense, cases,” King said.
West echoed similar sentiments.
“We're going to continue to take these cases seriously when we see them come through the system, and hopefully, we'll see a lot less of them,” he said.
To find out more details about the program, sign up for scam alerts or to get verified, visit https://faycpd.com/ .
Contact Char Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.