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Posted: 3:38 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

BBB owns up to mistake after accepting money in exchange for a top rating

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It seems a few times each week, Clark hears from people who tell him they either checked the Better Business Bureau when they were considering a business or filed a complaint with the BBB about an errant enterprise.

The BBB is the oldest institution working for consumer protection in the United States. They believe in capitalism and want it to be self-policing, not controlled by the government.

There have been some ugly stories recently that the BBB was selling a good rating to anybody who would pay them money. In one ABC News report, the BBB gave an impostor posing as an affiliate of an al-Qaeda organization an A- rating in exchange for a price. 

As a result of all the bad publicity, the BBB now has seen they need to behave. "For nearly 100 years, the BBB has stood for public trust, and we are taking these steps to maintain that trust," the company's chief executive told The Los Angeles Times.

 The BBB will now review and change its procedures so you can't just buy a good rating, and they've also apologized for the al-Qaeda snafu.

Clark still believes the BBB is a good organization. But one word of warning. The BBB is not a comprehensive, exhaustive rating on any given business; it's more like Swiss cheese. If a business has a significant number of unresolved complaints, that tells Clark you should eliminate them from your shortlist. But if there are no complaints, that doesn't necessarily mean they are OK. You should use the BBB to veto an organization, not as a way to approve using them.

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