Since 1920 the Central Illinois business community has steadfastly supported ethics, integrity and self regulation in the marketplace by supporting and maintaining the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois. This year celebrates the Bureau’s 90th year of service.

What started out as a group of Minnesota business leaders combating a flood of misleading advertising, quickly developed into vigilance committees supporting self regulation in not only advertising, but all business practices. “It was a time when advertising had been corrupted to the point Americans no longer believed any advertisement they saw. There was no regulation on advertising, so you can imagine the outrageous claims that were made” said Bonnie Bakin, President of the Central Illinois BBB.

Soon these committees became the Better Business Bureau. In 1920, Central Illinois joined the cause “…to maintain fair competition and dependability in confidence in all advertising, of whatever nature, disseminated in Peoria, Illinois, and in the merchandise or services offered”. The BBB got work right away on advertisements of snake oil and other potions to cure anything from rickets to insomnia.

It wasn’t long before BBB received complaints from consumers and inquiries from consumers and business wanting to know what information the BBB had. This was the birth of the BBB Reliability Report. The earliest complaint activities in the roaring 20's, were bogus investment schemes including "bucket shops" - fake brokerage houses which took money from investors and never executed trades.

After the stock market crash in 1929, con men left the financial scams behind and moved on to schemes promoting muskrat breeding, rabbit farms and cemetery lots.

In the 1930's, BBB's effectiveness became evident when 53 law suits were filed against 24 BBBs by unscrupulous characters with claims totaling $15 million dollars. Not one penny of those claims was ever paid.

Scams ranging from farfetched to outlandish appeared in the 1940’s. BBB worked hard to discredit claims of ‘official black out mail’ and specialty treated sand to extinguish bombs. “During the war, people were encouraged to buy bonds as a way to fund the war” said Bakin. “After the war the government repaid those bonds with interest so many people had substantial access to large sums of money after the war and were prime targets for con men”. At the end of the war the BBB was enlisted to aid the government is protecting consumer’s war bonds and saving from swindlers.

Through the 1950's whether it was raising chinchillas for fun and profit, or injecting water into carburetors to increase power and save gas, the BBB never lacked opportunities to expose eccentric schemes.

During the 1960's and 70's, the BBB saw the emergence of the consumerism movement. Many non-profit consumer rights and trade groups emerged and often civility took a back seat to splashy law suits as a way to resolve disputes.

In the 1980's, BBB created new programs with industry leaders and consumer groups to serve our ever expanding mission. The National Advertising Division, the Philanthropic Advisory Service (now the Wise Giving Alliance) and our automotive arbitration program called AutoLine.

Just when the BBB thought it had seen it all, came along the world wide web in the 90’s. The internet was a breath of fresh air for all of the old scams and schemes. BBB stayed busy warning consumers about multi level marketing schemes and of course, Nigerian 419 scams.

As information and technology developed, so did the BBB. “The new millennium brought phishing, work at home, advanced fee loan, spyware and disaster relief scams” noted Bakin. Through it all, BBB remains America’s trusted resource for unbiased, factual information consumers and businesses rely on.

Today the BBB continues to promote self regulation, resolve marketplace disputes, investigate shifty solicitations and denouncing misleading advertising. The BBB serving Central Illinois has grown to serve 36 counties and uses the web to deliver educational information on an array of marketplace topics. “90 years of experience, expert advice and unbiased information has made BBB the sage on marketplace issues and that will never change” Bakin said proudly. “The BBB has a lot more work ahead. I see the BBB increasing the use of technology to resolve disputes, track unscrupulous players, expand ethics and consumer education. I see the BBB model expanding to other countries and cultures. I see a truly global place where buyers and sellers meet with trust.”

For more information about the BBB visit www.bbb.org.

The first BBB logo in Central Illinois