The Ancient Problem of Truth

The major concern of Better Business Bureaus, from their inception until today, has been an ongoing issue of business ethics, which was clearly stated by Cicero more than 2000 years ago when he wrote to his son, Marcus:

"All things should be laid bare so that the buyer may not be in any way ignorant of anything the seller knows."

Apparently, even then there was recognition of "truth in advertising." However, advertising as a formal activity first appeared in the United States in 1704 with an offer for patent medicine in the Boston NewsLetter.

From that date until 1880, no restraints on advertisers existed except as individual personal ethics dictated. However, the media did feel the effects of non-believability of advertising, and the first public acknowledgment of media responsibility in the public interest appeared in the Farm Journal for October, 1880.

"We believe, through careful inquiry, that advertisements in this paper are signed by trustworthy persons, and to prove our faith by works we will make good to subscribers any loss sustained by trusting advertisers who prove to be deliberate swindlers. Rogues shall not ply their trade at the expense of our readers, who are our friends, through the medium of these columns. Let this be understood by everybody now and henceforth."

Responsible business sensed the tremendous value of advertising in the movement of goods and services, but so did hordes of fly-by-night operators. Activities of those who used the mails to perpetrate their frauds upon the public were so numerous and so blatant that in 1872 Congress empowered the Post Office Department to take action against them.

In the Beginning

The first BBBs that were established in the early 1900s were originally called ‘Vigilance Committees” or Advertising Clubs. Their goal was to correct advertising abuses. In response to marketplace demands, BBBs quickly expanded to monitor business performance and provide consumers with vital information to void the pitfalls in the marketplace.


BBBs are committed to the belief that the majority of marketplace problems can be corrected through voluntary self-regulation. We support the cause of consumers and hold businesses accountable to the highest standards of honesty in their advertising and selling.

There are 128 BBBs in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico that directly help nearly 20 million consumers and businesses each year. True to their faith in the virtues of the private sector, we are nonprofit organizations that are financed almost exclusively by accredited business dues—dues paid for by businesses and professional firms in local communities.

American government and business leaders from the past to the present day have proudly acknowledged that BBB has rightly "earned the confidence and gratitude of the American public."


BBB Accredited Business LogoBBB Accredited Business 

BBB Accredited Businesses are businesses and firms which meet accreditation standards, agree to follow the highest principles of business ethics and voluntary self-regulation, and have accepted an invitation from us to join. BBB Accredited Businesses are undergo a thorough background check subject to the same scrutiny we give all businesses. Staunchly neutral, we provide reports on a business' background and consumer complaint history, if any. These reports cover accredited and non-accredited businesses alike.

As a rule, a BBB Accredited Business report will contain:

General Background: Information about the length of time a business has been in business and known to the BBB;

Complaint History: A summary of the business' complaint history and other experience in the marketplace; and/or

Pertinent Information: Information developed through special BBB investigations and relevant government actions.

BBBs also report a business' accreditation status in the BBB or participation in BBB programs. 

Complaint Handling 

Usual Steps To Follow

  1. Consumers should first contact the business and attempt to resolve the complaint. If there is no satisfactory resolution, consumers can submit the complaint to us or file it electronically using our online complaint form.
  2. We present the complaint to the business involved. Because the majority of businesses seriously consider customer satisfaction to be good business, complaints are generally resolved in short order and the matter is closed.
  3. Despite extensive efforts, some complaints cannot be resolved through initial contacts with a business. In such cases, we may offer a dispute settlement process such as mediation or arbitration.

In some situations, we may be unable to obtain cooperation from a business. When there is a pattern of unanswered or unresolved complaints, this becomes a part of that business' BBB record and is reported to any persons who inquires about that business. An unsatisfactory report will lead to termination of a business' accreditation status if applicable. In extreme cases, we may refer the file on a business to a law enforcement agency to determine if legal action is warranted.


HandshakeDispute Resolution 

BBBs help to resolve buyer/seller disputes with businesses by means of conciliation, mediation, and arbitration, as appropriate.

We may offer the following dispute resolution options:

Conciliation: We help the customer and business communicate so they can resolve their dispute informally;

Mediation: A professionally-trained mediator meets with the parties and guides them in working out their own mutually-agreeable solutions; or

Arbitration: The parties state their views at an arbitration hearing, offer evidence, and let an impartial third party from our pool of certified arbitrators make the decision that will end the dispute.

Many businesses sign pre-commitment pledges with us to arbitrate disputes. These pledges offer interested businesses the opportunity to commit in advance to resolve any disputes not settled through conciliation. We draw upon the experience of over 2,000 BBB-trained arbitrators, mediators, and staff to resolve buyer/seller disputes.



Although we greatly help consumers and businesses through information and business self-regulation, we are not a government agency, nor do we have law enforcement powers.

  • We cannot force a business to do what the customer wants, although most businesses work with us to ensure customer satisfaction;
  • We do not have legal authority, although we can inform you of applicable laws and refer you to legal assistance;
  • We cannot help either party involved in a dispute break a legal contract; however, we will attempt to assist if misrepresentation or fraud is involved;
  • We do not make recommendations or endorsements, but can provide you with a list of BBB Accredited Businesses that have pledged to follow BBB standards;
  • We do not appraise items or pass judgment on the price charged for merchandise, the operating efficiency of devices, or the length of time merchandise should last; however, we can process complaints regarding misrepresentation in these areas.


How BBBs Help You 

As a private, non-profit organization, our purpose is to promote an ethical marketplace. We do so by providing the following information and services to consumers and businesses:

  • Business Reports: Information on a business’ performance in the marketplace, which can alert you to a history of unanswered or unresolved complaints, law enforcement actions, and advertising violations;
  • Charity Reports: Information on charities and other soliciting nonprofits that seek public donations;
  • Dispute Resolution: Help in resolving a complaint against a business, using conciliation, mediation and arbitration services when appropriate;
  • Consumer Information Clearinghouse: Brochures, books, public library videos, and Internet advisories on many important topics to assist consumers and businesses in making wise purchasing decisions;
  • Business Ethics Promotion: Promoting truthful, accurate advertising and selling practices, both online and off-line, by monitoring advertising and seeking appropriate corrections;
  • Fighting Fraud: Alerting consumers and law enforcement agencies about current marketplace scams and frauds.