Nov 15

The Broken Business Bureau

Whenever Ed and I are approached by what Catharine ‘Goose” Cody would call a ‘sketchy’ new business prospect, we do one of two things: run a Dun & Bradstreet report on their financial stability and check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Well, after viewing an unbelievable ABC 20/20 expose on the scams being perpetrated by the Better Business Bureau, I think we’ll just stick with D&B in the future.


According to 20/20, the BBB routinely assigns a mediocre grade to an otherwise superb business (see examples of Wolfgang Puck and the Ritz Carlton on the video) in order to extort money from them. They’ll only agree to improve the ratings if a business agrees to pay a fee to become an official member of the BBB. Talk about a  shakedown.


There are some jaw-dropping examples of such small businesses as Liz’s Antique Hardware being told by a BBB telemarketer they’ll have a ‘C’ rating improved if they pay $400 to do so. Liz gives the BBB her credit card information and, voila, she gets an A rating.


It gets worse. To prove how disreputable the Better Business Bureau has become, some computer hackers recently paid hundreds of dollars to create accounts for a fictitious ‘skinhead’ organization as well as the notorious terrorist group, Hamas. Because they paid their up-front fees, though, both received A ratings from the BBB! I wonder what grade the BBB would assign to al Qaeda? With bin Laden’s deep pockets, I’d have to believe he’d cop an A +.


To add further insult to injury, the president of the BBB comes across very badly in his televised interview. He’s clearly been media trained, but only up to a point. While he admits fault, he doesn’t suggest any disciplinary action for the offending employees. Nor does he say he will fix whatever’s broken in the BBB system. Nor, does he assure it will never happen again. Comforting, no? If nothing else, the BBB should fire its PR firm.


Since it’s a non-profit organization, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the Better Business Bureau may have broken several laws. Not only are they forcing businesses large and small to pay for membership (and assigning quality grades based upon payment), but BBB executives are pulling down some serious personal bank as well. The CEO of the Los Angeles office earns a cool $400k annually. That’s nice work if you can get it.


It’s no wonder we Americans are at sea. We simply can’t trust anyone anymore. Our political leaders lie to us. Our religious leaders can agree on only one thing: that theirs is the one true religion. And, our sports and entertainment heroes are a complete mess (i.e. Tiger, Lance, Lindsay and Mel, to name just a few). And, now, one of the last remaining bastions of objectivity, credibility and consumer protection, the Better Business Bureau, turns out to be a complete scam.


It’s enough to make a blogger head to the nearest pub and order up a couple of pale ales with a chaser.