Purchasing goods online has become quite commonplace over the past decade. It has been a whole new renaissance for entrepreneurship. Anyone with a product to sell, $20 to register a domain, and the ability to use cookie cutter web templates, has the potential to become the next overnight, dot com, millionaire. It’s a double edged sword. It’s much easier and less expensive for people to get the word out about their product or business for a greater chance of success and retailers are no longer forced to take out huge small business loans or sign long term leases for brick and mortar establishments that they may not be able to live up to.
The downside is that it has become much easier for scam artists to sell defective products or simply charge people’s credit cards and not send any merchandise, and disappear overnight. Credit cards generally have fraud protection but using debit cards online or wiring money can be extremely risky. Consumers have had to become more savvy at spotting scam websites and using due diligence when researching an online company particularly before they make sizeable purchases.
Many victims of online fraud have been members of the older generation. They have been forced into the world of online shopping simply because some things are only available online or are available at a much lower cost on the web than in local stores. Seniors feel much more comfortable going into a store, seeing the actual product and speaking face to face with a sales associate but this is sometimes no longer an option. Many don’t have credit cards and have made purchases online using debit cards or have wired money making them especially vulnerable to fraudulent transactions.
One area of particular concern is in-home health care products especially when it comes to big ticket items, like portable oxygen concentrators. Portable oxygen concentrators are prescription items and in order to be effective they must be approved by the FDA. When these products are sold in stores state agencies could regulate them much more effectively. Online companies can more easily fly under the radar. In an effort to curtail fraud, especially with those products that seniors might be interested in, Florida has instituted an accreditation requirement to protect their large senior population. Companies that sell home health products but do not have physical establishments in the state of Florida are required to be state accredited according to Florida statutes.
The accreditation program for portable oxygen concentrator companies involves a review of products sold to ensure that they are FDA certified and are medically sound. In addition, inspectors review billing and pricing, return and dispute policies, hiring and employee review practices, adherence to HIPAA standards, and other procedural fundamentals. Establishments are reviewed annually to maintain their accredited standing.
The sister company of 1st Class Medical is located in Florida and has been in business for over 30 years. They operate a chain of pharmacies under the company umbrella of North Florida Medical. 1st Class Medical is the largest distributor in the world of stationary oxygen units and portable oxygen concentrators and is primarily an online entity but they do have facilities in both Florida and Colorado. As such, 1st Class Medical was exempt from the accreditation requirement but opted to make the considerable time and money investment to get accredited anyway.
General Manager, Cory Luckner said, “Our mission statement says, ‘We set the standard for excellence in the industry by consistently delivering unsurpassed service, quality, and value to our customers.’ We feel that the accreditation program is an excellent way to assess our services and policies as they relate to providing first-rate service to our customers. Our company has grown so much over the past couple of years, we’ve had to constantly reinvent our processes to make them run efficiently. What was working smoothly in the beginning became less effective with double and eventually triple the number of people. The accreditation process helped to foster continual improvement, streamline these procedures, and ensure that we are giving the best possible service to our customers.”
The Better Business Bureau can sometimes be a good resource for consumers but it’s more difficult to measure online companies by the BBB’s criteria. You can check online at www.BBB.org to read reviews about any companies you may be considering doing business with. Yelp, or other review sites can also be useful tools.
Consumers can have greater confidence in accredited businesses because they are being held to a higher standard than businesses that are unaccredited. Their products must adhere to strict medical guidelines and companies must maintain up-to-date and accurate contact information at all times so there is little danger of being unable to contact a company with questions or concerns in the future. Warranty and return policies are closely scrutinized and consumers have much more recourse over disputed charges with companies that are state accredited. To see if your state has an accreditation requirement, contact your Department of Health and Human Services.