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Can You Trust the Better Business Bureau?

The BBB has been serving consumers since 1912, but the rating system has been called 'seriously flawed.' Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Published
Woman Problem Solving

You've probably seen the small blue logo on the websites of businesses you frequent. The minimalist-style torch — sometimes with an accompanying letter grade — signifies that the business in question has been rated and reviewed by the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit with a vision of "an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other."

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But can the BBB be trusted by consumers?

Its accreditation system seems to favor businesses willing and able to shell out big bucks for a good grade. And multiple controversies surround the BBB's rating system, plus its complaint submission process doesn't always provide results. With so many glaring issues, the faith consumers once held in the BBB may have reached its breaking point.

How Does a Business Become BBB Accredited?

The BBB uses its own accreditation standards, which are built on the BBB Standards for Trust. These eight principles "summarize important elements of creating and maintaining trust in business."

The accreditation standards serve as a baseline code for all businesses that apply to become accredited. Some of the qualifiers include establishing and maintaining a positive track record in a business's local marketplace, advertising honestly, maintaining transparency, and — perhaps most importantly — addressing consumer complaints "quickly, professionally, and in good faith."

Being a BBB-accredited business can cost companies more than $10,000 a year.

After a business submits an application to become accredited, the BBB investigates to ensure the company meets their standards and grades each one that applies. However, being an accredited business with the BBB comes at a cost... literally.

Businesses wanting to display that blue torch on their websites and marketing materials must pay an annual fee. Small businesses with up to 100 employees generally have to pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per year; larger companies could pay upwards of $10,000 annually.

How Do BBB Complaints Work?

If you feel you've been maligned by a particular business, you can submit a complaint to the BBB. The organization handles "disputes that relate to marketplace issues experienced with the services or products a business provides." These complaints do not include disputes or disagreements between employers and employees, discrimination issues, complaints against government agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service, or matters that have been brought to court.

SEE ALSO: What to Do When Your Food Is Recalled

After you file your complaint with the BBB, "everything you submit will be forwarded to the business within two business days," according to the nonprofit. The business then has 14 days to respond to your complaint. If a response isn't received, the BBB will make a second request. According to the BBB online complaint system, complaints are usually mediated and closed within 30 business days.

On the surface, this process seems simple enough: the unhappy consumer files a formal complaint with the BBB, and they receive a response (and hopefully a solution to) the problem after about a month. However, the system isn't as straightforward as it seems.

Are BBB Ratings Reliable?

A 2015 investigative report from CNNMoney found more than 100 businesses that were not as credible as their BBB ratings of A- or higher made them seem. In fact, many of them were being investigated by the government for fraudulent or other illegal behavior at the time of the reporting.

The report suggests accredited members of the BBB are at a significant advantage, even if their businesses aren't trusted by their customer base. Additionally, the rating system seems to be "seriously flawed."

A 2015 report found that some businesses with high BBB ratings were being investigated for fraud or other illegal behavior.

What does this mean, exactly? Essentially, accredited businesses have it easier when it comes to resolving complaints from consumers. A caveat of maintaining BBB accreditation (as well as a high grade) is that businesses resolve any complaints in a timely manner — but it doesn't mean the "resolution" is real.

The CNNMoney report found that members of the BBB were able to close complaints with "generic letters and responses that consumers say clearly don't address their problem." However, nonmembers — especially small businesses — with decent grades were sometimes left with drastic drops in their ratings after complaints went unnoticed. Even more telling, the report found that official complaints filed with the BBB had little to no effect on an accredited company's grade.

What Are the Best BBB Alternatives?

Fortunately for consumers, a number of alternative resources are available. Potential customers looking for ratings and reviews of a business can always turn to online rating sites like Yelp, Angie's List or Google Reviews.

While businesses can elect to pay for advertising on websites like Yelp, the reviews left on these sites are written by other consumers and aren't determined by an outside organization like the BBB.

Online rating sites like Yelp, Angie's List, and Google Reviews can be good alternatives to the BBB.

However, if a concrete verification of trustworthiness is important to you, companies like Trust Guard — through its Business Verified service — offer an alternative seal of approval for businesses. Unlike the BBB, Trust Guard handles disputes in private, has set pricing for its services, and doesn't have time restrictions for businesses setting up their account. (The BBB requires that companies be in business for at least six months before they can become accredited.)

At the end of the day, your time may be better suited to checking a business's online reviews, even if they have a high grade from the BBB. While you should take every Yelp or Google review with a grain of salt, reading hopefully honest feedback from fellow consumers may help you more than trusting a BBB grade that could potentially be misleading.

Readers, do you trust the BBB? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


DealNews Contributing Writer

Sarah Heikkinen is an upstate New York-based freelance journalist and marketing and social media specialist. She has freelanced for several publications, including Teen Vogue, the Ithaca Times, and The Scofield. She graduated with her Master's in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 2017.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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13 comments
EYost2019
I filed a complaint about ITT Technical University in Oxnard, CA in '03/'04 at the nearest BBB location in Santa Barbara, CA (BBB no longer exists). Being that this was before videos/pics on cameras, etc. I could use to document my exact complaints, my case was considered heresay because I had no proof. My AutoCAD assignments were being completed by the instructor sitting next to me, the math/algebra "instructor" failed to show up to tutoring, students (aka: customers) were complaining and then I pulled out asking for any and all refunds. Admittedly, I was a desperate idiot to get ahead in life and enrolled about 3 years after experiencing a "consultation and tour" that cost me $100 and refundable within a week. After the "consultation and tour", I was called and informed that I was enrolled beginning the next week and had to sign student loan docs (SallieMae). That wasn't possible at the time and 2 counselors berated me as a loser getting my refund. ITT closed it's doors. BBB=TBS.
karans3127
When I go to the BBB I use to expect to find a legitimate review of the business I'm hoping to do business with. Case in point.....ASHRO. They give this business an A+. Saying that it is based on several things, one being customer reviews. So either BBB is making up their reviews or they are blind to customer reviews of this company,for about 90% of them are not bad, but horrible on every level. And this is not the only company I have seen on BBB with a grade that does not match with customer reviews. So are we to now bypass the BBB rating, because I will if they dont improve their findings. In other words, actually get real customer feedback by doing some legwork on that computer that's sitting on that desk.
dcannon715
BBB has now become all about the money they can extract from businesses. My business has been a member since mid 2006 and was accredited until about 3 years ago. I am now being told that they will take legal action if I continue to use "BBB" in paper ads. Last year I removed "BBB Accredited" from paper ads because I was no longer paying the required fees. I have now been informed that "BBB" can not appear on any ads and that only an "online" link to their reviews of my business is allowed. Further, I am told that posting my BBB rating implies and affiliation or endorsement and is deceptive advertising. I would like to get other small business owns to join with me in a suit to force the BBB to continue to allow us to advertise this public information or force BBB to stop rating our businesses or publishing reviews until we are allowed to advertise rating information in any and all advertising.
stewer#1
I would not trust the BBB ever again and would hope anyone reading this would heed my advice. In early 2016 I personally contacted the New York office by phone to check on the credibility of World Patent Marketing. I wish I had taken the name of the lady whom I had spoken to at the time. We discussed World Patent Marketing for a period of 5 to 10 minutes. She assured me WPM was a very reputable AAA+ class organization. I had an invention I wanted help with development, marketing and patenting which they advertised as being experts in that field. After her recommendation I contracted with WPM. After about 2 years and an investment out of my retirement savings of $14,000 - $15,000, the Federal Trade Commission took them down as a scam. Now me and countless others including a Doctor who lost over $300,000 are out of luck. We now await the settlement of a class action suit where we will be lucky to get back pennies on the dollar. I am thinking about some type of litigation against the BBB.
capnsmell
If you have the cash, you'll get an A+ rating from the BBB. It's like a bad April fools joke. Unfortunately, it's unwitting consumers who end up getting hurt by believing the letter grade actually means something.
vannyc
Seems that years maybe decades ago BBB raitings used to mean something. Now it appears their credibility is shot.
srl99
The BBB is a membership organization, businesses pay to be BBB members. Having said that, you might as well try a BBB complaint. I have had at least one instance where it worked out in my favor (and a few where I learned they are a business membership org.)
AbbyRoad417
BBB Accredited business ratings are higher for several reasons, but the primary being, businesses aren't invited to become accredited unless they have a B+ or better. Also non-accredited businesses grades tend to be lower because they do not respond to complaints (one of BBB's grading factors). So either BBB doesn't have the correct info to contact them or the business does not care to respond. Consumer complaints may not be resolved every time but most BBB's work with local agencies and refer customers to the appropriate place if resolution fails. If not, it's just like anywhere, a poor employee. I wish that these investigations, reports, blogs, etc. would learn more about the BBB system before making a decision. And to speak to the accreditation amount, all support received from businesses fund the dispute resolution processes, scam tracking, consumer/business education in each state- hence the non-profit status. I worked there for several years.
CarloMariaCipolla
Can't trust the usurper BBB (not to be confused with Best Business Bureau from Dubai or typo-d Facebook pages) who stole the title from the Business Bureau, formerly known as the Dealing Department, surpassed only by the EBB (Even-Better Business Bureau) and the other EBB (Einstein Bros Bagels) which is deliciously unrelated.

Kidding aside, sampling related forums can be a good way to get an idea about a business and their practices. Oftentimes having more detailed information to share than what an emotional or compelled review may give. It's also interesting to see how a business replies to reviews (both negative or positive) as a litmus test for how they may treat customers of every experience.
smalljobsdenver
I don't believe in the BBB. I was a member and it is not difficult to get accredited. In fact it was super easy. The BBB claims they are a service that protects consumers but nothing is farther from the truth. They are in the business of selling monthly memberships. I left the BBB and closed 2 business accounts over another members account being incorrect. That profile lead me to do business with this contractor under false information. In fact, Denver has the business listed as closed, has the wrong address listed and wrong website. I reported this multiple times and they have not corrected it yet. That was 6 months ago and the company had been closed for almost a full year! Beware trusting the BBB symbol. To add to this... The business owner got out of jail on parole, filed an LLC and then paid the BBB for an a+. A few months later he closed the business and opened another. He then did that again. All of this was missed by the BBB even after a detailed report!
rnphilips
I don't trust them. I've filed complaints and later asked the BBB if the company had any complaints filed against them. BBB said none. With this experience would you trust them?
marlowe101@outlook.com
I have ZERO faith in Google reviews. Yelp seems less subject to "bribes".
runonchad2
You should do can you trust reseller ratings. THAT is a shady company.