Better Business Bureau Admits Mistakes Were Made on Pay-For-Ratings Issue

Better Business BureauThe Better Business Bureau's slogan is "Start with Trust" -- but not so fast. It seems they have inherent conflicts of interest, at least for an organization that has always positioned itself as a go-to source for consumers looking for unbiased ratings.

The BBB is not a government agency and their vetting or verification process is largely unknown. On the flip side, its membership sales process has been known to be aggressive. And that's where allegedly blurred lines are raising questions about what it takes to "earn" an A from the BBB, and whether you can -- or worse yet, have to -- pay to improve your rating.

We asked the Better Business Bureau for an on-the-record comment. "There have been mistakes made," said spokesperson Shelia Adkins. She went on to emphasize that the 16 factors the BBB uses to rate businesses are the same for accredited (read: paying) and non-accredited (read: haven't ponied up) members. I asked if the organization had reviewed the 16 factors in light of recent scrutiny and she said they had. It's no wonder, with on-camera video like this captured by the ABC News program 20/20 floating around speaking for itself.

Are BBB Scores for Sale?

And just out Wednesday, FeeFighters, a comparison shopping website for credit card processing that prides itself on being "financial ninjas who fight to help business owners keep more of their money" came out swinging, with a blog post titled The BBB is a F*&#ing Scam. They're not particularly stealthy about having their own vested interests in the discussion. That said, they allege that consumers are in the dark when it comes to one category particularly riddled with fraud -- credit cards and processing. They find the BBB ratings in these areas suspect at best.

I spoke with Sheel Monhot, director of business development for FeeFighters and the author of the post and he didn't beat around the bush: "It's like extortion," he said. "They tell people 'If you pay, we can take another look,' and hundreds of dollars later, your score goes up." The fee is based on the size of the company, in the $400 to $3,5000 a year range.

Yikes. So, nearly 100 years of "trust" down the drain? At a minimum, it seems we shouldn't put too much stock in a BBB rating. Increasingly, it makes sense to do your own research, perhaps starting with a post on your social networking page (e.g., "Hey, friends: Have any of you ever done business with X?")

Even if you move to acceptance on the idea that businesses are potentially being able to buy better ratings, it's hard to get over the fact that the entity you thought you could always count on in the clutch actually also charges for complaint resolution. You can file a complaint for free, but should you and the business in question not be able to resolve things, mediation doesn't come cheap; apparently some bureaus have given $250-500 quotes. If you have an issue, take it to blogosphere: You'll likely affect real pubic opinion ratings a lot faster and get a quicker response. At this rate, consumers will start to put more stock in transparent consumer comments than veiled, somewhat suspect BBB ratings.

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I agree. Something's definitely amiss at the BBB. I've worked for a couple of really sleazy companies on Long Island and became privy to their unscrupulous way of dealing with customer complaints and unauthorized debits to their charge cards. But, lo and behold, when I, on a lark, unceremoniously logged on to the BBB site there were no negative comments reflected for said companies. Perhaps "BBB" really stands for Buy Back Blunders. As far as finding out what companies have good business practices, I would definitely go to the social networking sites and inquire therein. There's sure to be no shortage of opinions--and that's exaclty what you're looking for.

July 03 2011 at 7:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

but what are they going to do for all those who relied on their ratings to make a purchase? or those that filed a complaint? I have asked the boulder co office to review my complaint and they justed laughed!!

June 27 2011 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

seems like BBB, from their own rating system, would deserve an F..........but I'm sure they would manipulate that into an A plus

June 24 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This happen to me and it just like he said give me money and i will strighten it out i told them to just tell me who was giving me a bad score and i would take care of it. if i sent money and then he would tell me i told him no thanks

June 24 2011 at 8:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Anybody can say anything on a blog. Customer reviews that are not filtered for accuracy or truth lead to dishonest competitors or disgruntled employees making fraudulent claims about a company with no ability by the injured party to rebut. Far better for the BBB to clean up its act than to depend on the anonymous postings of suspect customers out to damage a company.

June 24 2011 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bheckel169's comment
Mike Weston

As far as complaints not being filtered for accuracy on a blog, the same can be said about complaints to the BBB. I previously worked as the customer service manager for a company in the auto warranty business (I know, I know. Everyone hates those companies. That's why I resigned) and had to deal with the BBB on a regular basis. I was constantly told that "the BBB does not investigate complaints. We only inform the business of the complaint and ask them to respond to them." I was also told that "the BBB takes all Complaints at face value." The only thing they could do was show me how I could issue Rebuttals to the Complaints, which readers would see (sometimes).

We had a couple of complaints claiming that we failed to honor the terms of the contract. When I was conducting the investigations, I couldn't find the customers in our system. I informed the BBB that I didn't have any customers by that name and that we suspected the complaints were either from competitors or former employees. We asking them to either submit a copy of the contract that they had with our company or at least to provide the contract number proving they were ever a client. I was again informed that the BBB does not investigate complaints. All they would do was file our response. I asked them if the person that filed the complaint failed to respond, would the complaint be removed from our record? They said that complaints are only removed after the 3 year reporting period expired but that it would be listed as "Complaint resolved with BBB assistance" which made no sense considering they don't even make an effort to validate the complaint in the first place.

We were also informed when we applied for accreditation, due to the industry we are in (Auto Service Contracts), it was not possible for us to become a "BBB Accredited Business" even though we met all the requirements and since we couldn't become a "BBB Accredited Business", we would never have an A rating.

October 14 2011 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Extortion & Mobster Techniques **** But BBB is big and the government allows them to go unpunished. Write your representatives and attorney generals.

June 24 2011 at 8:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow up,

I found out theyre a franchise business like McDonalds, and like other franchises are in it for the money!! Although they claim they're none profit!! Which mean everything they take in is spent showing no profits at years end..... What a reputable compny would show as profit is shared out as bonuses or high salaries to the franchisee and a few employees... Balance the books.... just pay yourself more and claim none profit status............

June 24 2011 at 7:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Any business can "join" the BBB. What does that really do for you? NOTHING! I learned along time ago that if you want to know about a business, CONTACT YOUR STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL OFFICE - CONSUMER AFFAIRS DIVISION. You can check if their license is up to date. How much is insurance the company has for problems. How many complaints have been issued against the company? How have those disputes been handled? Was court arbiitration necessary? If they operated under another name. WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU CALL THE BBB...A STAR RATING.....WHOOPEE.

June 24 2011 at 7:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Re: Transfirst, it appears to be cheaper to pay the BBB directly rather than settling the multiple claims

June 24 2011 at 7:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

admit mistakes? what are they going to do to correct them?

June 24 2011 at 6:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply