As a former small business owner and a consumer, John Henley of Colchester believes that the Better Business Bureau should be our first line of defense against unscrupulous and negligent businesses.
But based on his experience and what he has read of about bureau’s controversial letter-grade rating system, Henley is convinced that “the BBB is utterly useless.”
I understand how Henley feels. The Better Business Bureau – though it was always far from perfect, and its effectiveness depended on the area of the country – was a very useful tool.
It still is useful but you can no longer give it the credibility it once had, especially when it comes to “Accredited” businesses that pay annual fees to get better grades than the non-accredited, non-paying ones.
When the BBB changed its satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating system throughout the country in January 2009, it claimed it was doing so to give more precise grades, ranging from F to A+, to better serve consumers.
But after consumer advocates, including this one, figured out that only those companies that paid the fee got A+ grades, we started looking deeper into the grading system. We came up with serious questions about the validity of many of the grades, with great companies that refuse to pay getting unusually low grades and weak companies that were accredited getting higher grades.
A group of businessmen in California (whose identities have been kept confidential) decided to prove that the grading system was nothing more than a pay-to-play scheme.
In the past few months, they signed up an unspecified number of fake companies in California and in at least one other state, used credit cards to give the appearance of business activity, gave false addresses, and were awarded A- ratings.
Jimmy Rivers, the pen name of a former California journalist now in the business world, has been exposing many of the BBB abuses on his blog www.BBBRoundup.com. He disclosed (and I was able to verify before the entries were taken down) the identities of two of the fake businesses. For Jimmy’s latest disclosures click here.
The shocker was a business called Hamas – I think all of my readers know that name. But the Southland Chapter of the BBB (the largest in the country) made them an accredited business and gave it an A- rating, the third highest. Starbucks, for instance, has an F rating, but then it would cost Starbucks millions dollars a year to have all its coffee shops accredited.
Southland admitted that it got suckered, but said it does not diminish the validity of the BBB rating system.
Rivers (whose real identity I do know) tells me that many other fake businesses have been accredited and will be revealed in the next few weeks.
Henley is not surprised. The Colchester man wrote to me about a complaint he filed two years ago with the BBB that covers Boston and eastern Massachusetts. His complaint was against a pest control company that Henley claimed did a lousy job of keeping pests under control as the firm had been hired to regularly protect the home. After his mother passed away, Henley had to sell her house. But the buyer discovered tons of mouse droppings, requiring him to reduce his price by $3,000 so she could have the pests eliminated.
Henley provided me with the documentation as well as the response he received from the BBB regarding the complaint against an accredited pest control business with the highest A+ rating.
They told him they could not help him because he either did not provide specific enough documentation or because they could not find the business. He wrote a letter to the president of the BBB complaining about the way his complaint was treated but did not receive a response.
I talked with BBB vice president Paula Fleming, who insisted that her agency never received Henley’s letter and the real problem was that Henley did not give enough specific information about his complaint to take action.
Well, I told her that if she actually read the documents I sent her, she would see that Henley did provide specifics about his complaint, and Henley said the BBB never contacted him for additional information.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s office says it is still investigating the Connecticut BBB chapter, which convinced him to attend a ceremony where a company that was ripping off customers was honored with the chapter’s highest award – the Torch Award.
“Our review into certain ratings and award policies … remains ongoing,” Blumenthal said in a written statement.
“The Connecticut BBB committed to an internal review of its standards, which it expected to conduct this summer, specifically concerning the terms of its Torch Award policies and rating criteria. My office will review the outcome and results of that review to determine whether any further action is necessary,” the statement said.
- Better Business Bureau Agrees To Make Minor Changes
- Canada BBB Also Accused Of Biased Ratings Based On Membership
- Better Business Bureau To Investigate Los Angeles BBB Chapter
- Better Business Bureau Gives HAMAS Terrorist Organization Accreditation And A- Rating
- BBB chapters – under pressure – adopt controversial letter grading
- BBB Admits It Was Suckered Into Giving “HAMAS” An A- Rating For $425