Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line:
I have recently decided to open a food truck. With the great boom of mobile restaurants, I've decided to throw my hat in the ring. I have some concerns regarding credit card payments and a colleague has mentioned using my smartphone. I'm worried about the security of that method and I want to ensure that my customers' information will be kept safe. Do you know about this method of payment?
Congratulations on your new venture! This is an exciting time for food truck entrepreneurs as the mobile food movement is really taking off.
With this change in how we dine, technology has made it possible for sales to take place outside a brick-and-mortar store. Now, as a traveling retailer, you can make sales with simply the touch of a button and the swipe of a credit card via your smartphone.
Smartphone credit card readers offer new opportunities for businesses. However, the Better Business Bureau serving Central California is advising business owners to make sure that this type of system is right for their business as well as safe for their consumers.
As advancements in technology are changing the way companies do business, it is important to find the right technology that will benefit your specific company. You must also remember to always maintain proper security for customers.
For businesses that have credit card reader capability, BBB recommends you:
* Do your research. Just like a landline-based credit card system, you'll need a merchant account to process payments, a scanner device to read the card, and software (an app) to make it run. Don't skimp on research. Start with your bank or your credit card service for suggestions on recommended services and devices. Check out all vendors at www.cencal.bbb.org. Ask for references.
* Choose the right combination. Your smartphone merchant account might interface with your existing landline-based account, and that will make life easier. Build from there; find the app you feel comfortable using that has the features you want. There are more than 100 apps available for different smartphones; each is usually compatible with a number of different swiping devices. The reader itself is the last step (and the easiest to replace or exchange).
* Read the fine print. Using a smartphone credit card reader might be a great way to increase your sales while on the road. However, make sure to read the fine print for the smartphone app to make sure you won't be charged while you're not using it.
* Offer the customer service your shoppers expect. Some shoppers may not be familiar with this kind of payment method. Be sure to offer them the option of having a receipt emailed to them, or even offer to print the receipt there with a separate smartphone printer. This will allow your customer to have a record of the transaction and reduce the hassle should the person want to return the product.
* Beware of scams. As with any emerging technology, scammers are figuring out how to exploit vulnerabilities. Don't buy the devices or apps from vendors you don't know.
These easy steps will ensure that you and your customers are protected.
-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.