How Better Business Bureaus Work

By: Dave Roos

File a Complaint with a BBB

­If you're dissatisfied with a business transaction, whether the company is accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or not, you can file a complaint through your local BBB. The BBB recommends that a consumer try to resolve his or her complaint directly with the local business before filing a complaint. But if that fails, the BBB promises to do its best to help both sides come to a quick and fair resolution. BBBs claim to resolve 70 percent of the complaints they receive.

Better Business Bureaus are most effective at resolving a complaint when it falls into one of the following categories:


  • Misleading or false advertising
  • Deceptive sales practices
  • Failure to deliver goods or services
  • Failure to honor a warrantee or guarantee
  • Billing problems
  • Misuse of personal information
  • Failure to follow through with oral or written promises

[source: The Better Business Bureau of The Southland, Inc.]

Better Business Bureaus won't get involved in certain kinds of disputes, particularly those involving legal issues. Some complaints that Better Business Bureaus generally refuse to process are:

  • Employment practices
  • Discrimination or violation of Constitutional rights
  • The quality of health care or legal services
  • Debt collection
  • Cases that had previously involved litigation 

[source: Council of Better Business Bureaus] ­


When a Better Business Bureau receives a consumer complaint, it may decide the complaint is unfair or excessive and refuse to forward it to the company. It also may close a complaint if it decides that a business has done its best to resolve an issue, even though the consumer remains unsatisfied.

A Better Business Bureau is a private entity, not a government agency. Therefore it has no legal power to force anyone to comply with its complaint resolution process. The only reason a company responds to a Better Business Bureau is to maintain a good reliability report. If a business doesn't appreciate the value of these reports, it may choose to ignore the complaint altogether.

­You can file a complaint with your local BBB over the phone or in writing, but the recommended way is to use the online complaint system. Every local BBB Web site has an online complaint form. When filling out the online complaint form, you'll be asked for information about yourself and details about your grievance -- BBBs don't accept anonymous complaints.

If the complaint meets BBB guidelines, it will be forwarded to the business within one to five days. Each BBB has its own timeline, but generally the business is given a fixed time period to respond, and the consumer is notified of the response. The consumer then has 10 days to make a rebuttal. If not, the case is closed.

For particularly complex complaints, Better Business Bureaus offer dispute resolution services -- for a fee -- that can include mediation and binding third-party arbitration.­

Better Business Bureaus offer a separate complaint system for car warranty and lemon law disputes called "BBB Auto Line." Certain car manufacturers have signed up for the program, which enables the BBB to act as a mediator to facilitate speedy resolutions of warranty disputes. If an agreement can't be reached through a mediated conference call, then the BBB will arrange for an informal settlement hearing.

Finally, let's look at some of the biggest complaints against BBBs themselves.