PhotoThe Better Business Bureau is generally regarded as a rather benign, even stuffy, non-profit that provides somewhat predictable ratings of businesses. But a Southern California law firm uses stronger language in a $200 million lawsuit, calling the BBB a "Mafia-like racket" that uses "blackmail" and "coercion" to set its "bogus ratings."

The Brookstone Law Firm of Newport Beach claims the BBB "heavily favors" firms that pay to join its accreditation program, and that BBB ratings are "intentionally biased and inconsistent," according to Courthouse News Service.

Brookstone says the BBB gave it an 'F' rating and revoked its "accreditation" after it refused to submit to BBB's "shakedown." The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names the Better Business Bureau of the Southland and the Council of Better Business Bureaus, headquarted in Arlington, Va.

Brookstone describes itself as "a consumer advocacy law firm that focuses on real estate litigation, business law, criminal law, entertainment law, and intellectual property law" and alleges that the BBB downgraded its rating because it files mass joinder lawsuits, a practice some regard as controversial.

Mass joinders

PhotoA mass joinder suit is similar to a class action but instead of being a single claim brought on behalf of an entire class of clients, a mass joinder is a series of individual claims. Proponents say mass joinders serve consumers by spreading the cost of legal representation.

But  in a Sept. 25, 2011, article, the Los Angeles Times quoted the St. Louis Better Business Bureau as saying that mass joinders "can be just another way to separate desperate borrowers from their money -- as much as $5,000 or more in upfront fees."

The St. Louis BBB had warned consumers about mass mailings from law firms that offered mass joinder suits as a way to force lenders to modify the mortgages of troubled homeowners. The BBB warning implied the suits were little more than scams.

Brookstone claims the Connecticut attorney general agrees with its analysis of the BBB.

"In or around November 2010, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal criticized the BBB's letter-grade rating system as 'potentially harmful and misleading to consumers' following an extensive investigation," Brookstone says in its complaint. "Blumenthal stated: 'I find no reasonable basis for tying rating points to a membership fee -- in essence, creating what could be viewed as a 'pay to play' system, rather than a transparent and equitable 'rating' system.'"

Also that year, ABC News reported that a man had received an A+ rating for his business after paying the BBB's membership fee, though the businesses he registered with the BBB did not exist, Brookstone claims, according to Courthouse News. 

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Ray Watters
This is not new. The BBB has been known to be this type of organization for some time. I have never believed in their ratings and would never submit a complaint to them.
Diane Burket
The BBB is a worthless organization. Should be shut down.
Collette Carter Lemons
BBB = Big Bad Bullcrap. If you use someone who pays them dues nothing happens. The BBB promotes them and erases the bad reports. They do nothing to help solve an issue. You will get more done slapping the company in the face on face Book. If you are wondering about a company then type "Company+Complaints" or "Company+Reviews" Find out what people really think of them. Then, when you deal with a company - give them a review and not just when they are bad but when they are good too. That gets the names of the good companies out there and incentives to the pud companies to do better. Oh, and if you see where 50 people say they suck and 2 or 3 are arguing that they don't - the 2 or 3 are usually the company pretending to have fans.
Dharmendra Patel
I asked BBB how I can file complain against them for they did not logged my complain for home improvement contractor. happened couple of times when I was building my own house. looks like they favor business who contribute them and not home owners.
Brenda Ann Ware
I filed a complaint with them to help my father resolve an issue and we got absolutely zero results.
Marcia Kushner
I want to know why they use Binding Arbitration for resolution? There is a federal bill, the Arbitration Fairness Act which would make arbitration optional. Once you sign for arbitration you have given up your right to a jury trial. Another Big scam. And in no way is BA cheaper and faster than a jt.
Valerie Vernon
BBB is no value to consumer, the do not rate according to value/service given by a business. Another great American consumer scam!
Denise Jenkins
This is what happens when the people who are "supposed" to guard your back, take money, visits to other countries or what ever the cost of their "soul" they "stab" not guard your back!
Marcia Kushner
My experience with them as a consumer was horrendous.