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Inside the Better Business Bureau- it's not a regulatory agency

The BBB takes complaints about businesses and tries to help resolve them but it cannot regulate or enforce laws. (KOMO photo)

Surveys show that most people know about the Better Business Bureau. It's where a lot of people turn to complain about a business, or find out if it's legit. But many people 'don't' know that the BBB cannot enforce consumer laws.

According to it's own websites, Better Business Bureaus date back to the early 1900s. The concept was started, in part, as a way for honest business to distinguish themselves from shady operators and scammers.

A primary objective is to promote good business ethics by urging companies to become accredited, paying members, and agree to the BBB standards of truth, trust, honesty, transparency, and working in good faith to resolve consumer disputes.

But the BBB does not regulate- as many people believe.

"They will think we're a government agency, which we're not." said BBB's Nakedia Washington at the Northwest regional office in Dupont.

"We'll reach out to the business and we ask that they respond to the complaint to address the issues that are being raised, but we can't force a company to do anything."

The BBB rates companies based on their business history, customer complaints and how well they work to resolve disputes. Just because a business is not an accredited BBB member, does not mean they are bad or automatically get a low rating.

The BBB also helps promote it's accredited members.

A new feature on the BBB website allows customer to leave business reviews, good and bad- and gives businesses a chance to respond.

But when businesses won't budge or refuse to even respond to a consumer complaint, the BBB refers then to state and federal regulators who can go after businesses that show a pattern of violations.

The BBB in our area frequently partners with local regulators and consumer groups to spread the word about scams and business practices to avoid.

So think of the BBB as just one tool in your consumer toolbox. It's a great place to start- but as a non-profit agency that helps it's members self-regulate and even market their products or services- the BBB is not set up to crack down on the bad guys.

Who does regulate businesses and enforce consumer protection laws? The state Attorney General, the state Department of Labor and Industries- for contractors, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Other agencies to search when you're verifying companies or have complaints- the state Department of Licensing, the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the state Department of Financial Institutions and the charities division of the Washington Secretary of State in Olympia.

It's important to point out that the BBB not without it's critics. In past years, different branches of the BBB have been the target of lawsuits and complaints that challenged the organization's ability to be impartial and fair given the paid membership business model. The complaints and investigations appear to have subsided substantially over the last 2 years.

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