Whether you are looking for a reliable service provider or trying to choose the best product among a field of options, you may be inclined to look to the Better Business Bureau to help you choose. A new report from CNN Money explains why that might be a bad idea.
Recall Failures: Stove manufacturer Electrolux failed to issue recalls for ovens it knew malfunctioned causing flames to shout out of them, causing facial burns. The company paid a $750,000 fine to the Department of Justice on May 2014. BBB Rating: A+
Discriminatory Lending: Provident Funding Associates, a mortgage broker, charged African-American and Latino borrowers higher interest rates and fees based on their race. They faced a lawsuit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Justice. The company paid $9 million in damages to borrowers. BBB Rating: A+
Abusive Collections Practices: Drive Time harassed borrowers and their friends and families with excessive phone calls at inappropriate times, and even at work. It also sent false information to credit bureaus. The lender paid $8 million in civil penalties and provided free credit reports to affected borrowers. BBB Rating: A-
What did all these companies have in common that let them maintain their high ratings? For one, they are all paying members. In 2013, the BBB had nearly 400,000 paying members, resulting in nearly $200 million in revenue. “Accreditation” is something that companies can purchase through membership fees.
The Better Business Bureau is a non-profit company with a set of internal criteria that it uses to rate companies – both members and non-members. But even when the BBB issues “red flags” against a company, it can still maintain a high rating based on long-time membership. Companies can also receive higher ratings for addressing complaints through the BBB system than for any other factor – including not having any complaints at all.
At the same time, government lawsuits and penalties may have such a small impact that a company can maintain an A rating while paying regulators thousands of dollars in fines. Consumer protection lawsuits rank even lower: they aren’t a factor at all.
The Better Business Bureau isn’t a consumer protection agency. Instead, it is in the business of offering paid endorsements to companies, even in the face of regulatory penalties. Don’t get fooled by their ratings. Make sure you know whether any review is paid for before you put your money on the line.
Dani K. Liblang is a consumer protection attorney at The Liblang Law Firm, P.C. She represents consumers against businesses that would take advantage of them. If you have been injured by a product defect or are facing harassing debt collections, contact The Liblang Law Firm, P.C., today for a free consultation.