November 19, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver
In need of a good laugh in these depressing times? Read on.
Make a list of the insurance companies that we see advertised all the time and then type BBB – it hardly matters which name you enter.
A Better Business Bureau profile will pop-up, almost guaranteed to show an “A” or “A+” regardless of the number of complaints filed against it.
So, how is this possible? A correct answer to these True/False questions about the Better Business Bureau is instructive.
(A) When the BBB awards an “A” grade, this means that the business is more trustworthy than one receiving a lower grade or no rating at all. T/F
(B) Customer reviews are seriously considered before a letter grade is assigned. T/F
(C) The BBB vets all applicants with background, lawsuit, criminal history, and credit checks. T/F
(D) The BBB is a governmental agency with the power to civily file suit against crooked companies and, in extreme cases, to shut a business down. T/F
The correct answer? False to each question. That’s right. What many people have thought about the BBB is wrong. It is a business — a highly profitable business that claims to be non-profit — yet has no official governmental standing.
BBB in the Press
Spending a few minutes learning about its colorful — and morally questionable conduct — should be a real eye-opener.
Google: “BBB Sham, Pay to Play, Conflict of Interest, Extortion.” “CNN Investigates the Better Business Bureau”, “Slammed by the Government A-Rated by the Better Business Bureau.”
You will find that it awards glowing grades to companies whose business model is theft.
So, is the BBB morally bankrupt?
“Sanjay’s” Timeshare Experience
After moving to the United States in 2005 to begin his university teaching career in the Midwest, while on vacation in Phoenix, Arizona, “We were bamboozled into purchasing a timeshare for $75,000, with maintenance fees of $495 a year. We used it but were always targeted to buy more points, so much so that we are now in the timeshare hole for about $24,000!
“When yearly maintenance climbed to $1,600, the timeshare was no longer economically justifiable. As you can stay at nice resorts from $150 to $300 a night, people need to realize that owning a timeshare is a rip-off. We wanted to be free of the ever-increasing maintenance fees.”
And that’s what was promised on Dec. 27, 2020.
“We were in a sales room, and our salesman, ‘Dean’ right in front of the managers on the floor, said that if we paid $11,000, this would get us out of the annual maintenance fees.” We paid at once.
Sanjay and his wife were lied to.
Instead, they acquired more points and maintenance rose to $2,100! “Everything was the exact opposite of what we were told. I wanted my $11,000 returned!”
Thereafter, phone calls, letters, all to no avail. And, the company’s position? “Our contract specifies that no verbal representations can vary its terms. As there is nothing in the contact dealing with your claims, you are responsible for the maintenance fees.”
Finding my articles on timeshare industry scams, we spoke, and I wrote the company, asking for an explanation.
“With Dean making these fraudulent claims in the presence of management, your contractual defense does not hold water. Would you please contact me to discuss the matter?”
“Within 24 hours of receiving your email, Dennis, they were singing another tune, and agreed to my request. If I had not contacted you, nothing would have happened!
“We still own the timeshare, and are on the hook for maintenance fees, which makes owning it tremendously uneconomical. It is a no-win purchase of ever-increasing fees. You can pay far less for a wonderful vacation and should steer clear of timeshares. They are not an investment. For a one week’s annual vacation the average resort member pays $15,000 plus yearly maintenance. It is a losing proposition.”
What Grade Does the BBB Give this timeshare company?
As Sanjay signed a non-disclosure agreement to protect him, I have agreed to not reveal the company’s name. But I can tell you this: Out of a 5-star BBB rating system, customers give it a 1.12. There were over 980 complaints in the last three years, and 300 last year. Theft by management of owner points is a common complaint.
Despite all that, the BBB gives them an A- and states, “Customer reviews are not used in the calculation of ratings.” Later their website tells you, “Ratings represent the BBB’s opinion of how the business is likely to interact with its customers … including complaints!”
Really? What is the practical difference between a negative review and a negative complaint? What prevents the BBB from being honest with the public and using both in a determination of the grade assigned?
I emailed their national spokesperson, Katherine Hutt:
“If you read the many shocking negative comments, perhaps you will be able to tell me why this company has not received an “F” grade along with a warning to stay away from them?
“They are not alone in making Al Capone look like Mother Theresa, and yet the BBB seems to thrive on awarding positive grades across the board to the timeshare industry, despite thousands of horrible owner experiences and complaints!
“Kate, I really wonder how you morally can remain working for an organization that actively misleads the public.”
I am still waiting for her response.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.