This article appeared originally in the March 2011 Levitt Letter.
Last year, consumers made 65 million inquiries with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to determine which companies are reliable. AARP magazine reports that “Over the past two years, the BBB has been dealing with a new kind of complaint: that its own practices are slipshod, biased, and deceptive.” Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is Latin for “Who will guard the guards themselves?”
“The Better Business Bureau doesn’t have the staff to properly evaluate businesses,” says George Gombossy, editor and publisher of CTWatchdog.com, a consumer website in Connecticut.
Below are excerpts from a transcript of a November 12, 2010 20/20 news report that you can read and watch online by Googling “better business bureau 20/20.”
The Better Business Bureau, one of the country’s best known consumer watchdog groups, is being accused by business owners of running a “pay for play” scheme in which A-plus ratings are awarded to those who pay membership fees, and F ratings used to punish those who don’t.
To prove the point, a group of Los Angeles business owners paid $425 to the Better Business Bureau and were able to obtain an A-minus grade for a nonexistent company called Hamas, named after the Middle Eastern terror group.
“Right now, this rating system is really unworthy of consumer trust or confidence,” said then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in an interview for ABC News’s 20/20.
As reported by an anonymous blogger, the BBB also awarded an A-minus rating to a nonexistent sushi restaurant in Santa Ana, California and an A-plus to a skinhead, neo-Nazi website called Stormfront.
Each listing cost $425. “They ran the credit card, and within 12 hours they were an approved, accredited member,” said the anonymous blogger, who runs a site called bbbroundup.com.
As part of the ABC News investigation, a producer with a camera was present while two small business owners in Los Angeles were told by Better Business Bureau telemarketers that their grades of C could be raised to A-plus if they paid $395 membership fees.
“I think the Better Business Bureau changed course and lost its way by adopting a system of pay to play that maybe enhanced its revenues but also greatly diminished its credibility and honesty,” said Attorney General Blumenthal, now a United States Senator from Connecticut.
My own experiences force me to conclude that such negative reports have been a long time coming. Such corruption is a sign of times when it has never been better to be as wise as a serpent. (Matt. 10:16)