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Tell your friends and family that you have some type of consumer complaint. We bet that at least half of them will tell you to contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for resolution. But can the BBB really help consumers?

Yes and No. Many consumers report feeling frustrated that they did not receive the help they expected from the BBB. Why? Some consumers are surprised to learn that the Better Business Bureau was unable to force a company to take action, often from an erroneous perception that the BBB is a government agency. It is not.

NCCC has long held a position against relying solely on a particular organization, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), in favor of more traditional consumer protection avenues, such as the Consumer Protection Division of the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. The BBB does offer consumers a medium with which to communicate with a business and voice their concerns via a third party, but they are ultimately unable to force a business to do anything. Moreover, not all businesses have BBB accreditation, which can cost many hundreds of dollars per year. Businesses without this accreditation are less likely to communicate with consumers through the BBB versus those who have a paid membership.

Satisfactory membership in the BBB generally involves the paying of a membership fee and responding to consumer complaints in a timely manner. There are no stipulations that a business do anything to resolve a complaint. Some consumers report that responses from companies through the BBB are often short and do nothing to address their issues. Of course, every situation is different. Some consumers have successfully arbitrated through the BBB.

"Consumers are welcome to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau," says Brian Reitter, NCCC Vice President. "Consumers should be cautioned, however, that the Better Business Bureau can in no way obligate a business to do anything. While a consumer sits around hoping for a response from a company, a response that might never come, that consumer could have already contacted the North Carolina Attorney General or begun legal proceedings."

Letters written on behalf of the North Carolina Attorney General's Office generally receive satisfactory resolutions to consumer complaints very quickly. In cases where the business does not respond or is engaging in illegal acts, the Attorney General, as the chief law enforcement officer in the state, can step in and take legal action on the consumer's behalf. The BBB cannot.

Sometimes you can see that a company has an "A" rating with the BBB, but that doesn't mean the company is trustworthy. It simply means that the company has responded to the BBB about complaints, not necessarily that the complaints were resolved completely to the consumer's satisfaction. Compare it to taking a test in school and getting a perfect score just for turning it in, even if none of your answers or "responses" are correct.

Please note that we are not discouraging consumers from using the BBB. While the BBB cannot force a company to do anything, the BBB does offer consumers valuable insight into companies and can sometimes resolve issues through arbitration.

"The BBB can give a consumer an indication of the company by complaint statistics, which might make a consumer think twice about a certain company," continues Reitter. "We recommend consumers not ignore other avenues and explore all options available to them before so much time has expired that they are unable to take further action. In cases where a consumer decides to use BBB complaint resolution, the consumer should also explore other complaint avenues available."

Reitter further cautions that a perfect BBB score and no complaints is not an indication of a perfect company. "It could mean that no one has yet chosen to complain about the business."

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