What do Walmart, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Financial Warranty have in common? They don’t pay thousands of dollars a year to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
While many people view the BBB as a consumer watchdog or even a government agency, it’s actually just a company like Yelp that charges a fee for membership and “accreditation”. Many of the companies who pay the BBB and have A- or higher ratings have been ruled flat-out scams and were shut down by the government, but still kept their high BBB grade. Some have already been required to pay multimillion dollar penalties. And others have recently been rocked by big government lawsuits. Some even have founders or former CEOs facing years behind bars. Meanwhile, respected Fortune 500 companies, like Microsoft and Starbucks, don’t pay the organization’s membership fees and are among the BBB’s lowest-rated companies.
Military Credit Services of Norfolk, Virginia, for example, recently settled government charges that it went after service members with illegal debt collection lawsuits. The BBB clearly acknowledges on its website that the company’s settlement – which required Military Credit Services and two other companies to refund $2.7 million to thousands of borrowers hit with these lawsuits – has been factored into the company’s grade. But even with this black mark Military Credit Services, a paying BBB member, still boasts an A-. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who prosecuted the case against Military Credit Services along with federal regulators, says that he thinks the BBB “may want to take a second look” at the company’s high rating.
So, why doesn’t Financial Warranty pay the Better Business Bureau? “[The BBB isn’t] here to protect the consumer,” said Missouri resident Joel Brotherton, whose complaint about an electrical company was thrown out after the business told the BBB it was planning to sue Brotherton over a payment dispute. “They’re here to protect the businesses who pay their dues.”