Better Business Bureau


The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is an American consumer protection agency. It is not a U.S. government agency, and it has no authority, but it is the most popular resource for consumers who want to determine the credibility and history of a company or file complaints against businesses.

The BBB keeps files on many American businesses. Files include basic information about the company, including full name, alternate names, street address, website address, principal(s), business classification, number of employees, and consumer complaints.

Consumers are allowed to file complaints at the BBB. This information allows other potential consumers to discover the number and the nature of the complaints before they decide whether or not they want to have anything to do with the firm.

Because the BBB is essentially the only widely known and respected large, national, non-government consumer protection agency, it is the default place for consumers to check out businesses. It is often the first place and the only place where they can and do go to find out if a company is legitimate.

It is easy to jump to conclusions about a company based on a BBB record. Many times the BBB record for a firm in the modeling industry is a decent guide, but it is certainly not the final authority on which companies are scams, and which are not.

Unfortunately, there are modeling companies which look as if they are flying below the BBB radar.

This is not because the BBB is a scam. It is probably because of a lack of knowledge, research, and understanding by specific individuals at the BBB as opposed to the BBB organization itself.

Each BBB has its own leadership, and this leadership, and whoever works at the BBB has to deal with all businesses and all industries. They are generalists, not specialists. They do not all study the modeling industry. Therefore they may not be familiar with the laws regarding modeling in their state, and they may not know all the different scams out there.

One example of the lack of understanding of some BBB offices is the classifications they assign to specific modeling or scouting firms. There are many BBB records for firms in the modeling industry, and a significant number of the records incorrectly assigned a business classification which was either misleading or inaccurate.

The significance of this classification issue cannot be dismissed. An incorrect classification can make a scam company look legitimate, or as if it is greater than it really is, or something it is not.

For example, several BBB branches listed one firm as a modeling agency. But it was not a modeling agency. It did not claim to be a modeling agency, and, in fact, the company itself denied it was an agency.

In some states you need to have a license to be a modeling and talent agency. There it is illegal to operate like a modeling agency if you are not licensed and bonded.

A license obviously gives a business credibility. BBB information can also give a business credibility. So comments and classifications by the BBB which are inaccurate can cause consumers to be misled and get scammed.

This can happen, for example, when a BBB office classifies a modeling business as a modeling agency when it isn't a modeling agency.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a U.S. government consumer protection agency, but, unlike the BBB, it has authority. It can prosecute modeling agencies, and it has successfully done this.

Even though the FTC is a U.S. government agency, and the BBB is not, the FTC does include a link to the BBB website on its website.

It was one of only two listed "Non-Government Sites Relating to Consumer Protection Issues." After posting a disclaimer about the accuracy of information, etc., it introduced the BBB website:

This site, operated by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, contains consumer and business information on topics such as Scam Alerts and Advisories, Truth and Accuracy in Advertising, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Charity Monitoring and Donor Education, Consumer and Business Education, and Marketplace Complaints and Inquiries. The server also features a directory listing addresses and phone numbers for BBB offices in the U.S. and Canada.

Even though the BBB is not a U.S. government agency and it has no authority, its database is networked with the FTC and law enforcement agencies.

In other words, the FTC can access, and in fact has previously accessed BBB files. They did this before they prosecuted three scam modeling and talent agencies in Virginia. Indeed the BBB files precipitated the launch of the FTC investigation.

BBB information, like everything else, should be considered in context, not on its own. The question to ask of a modeling company is: Does the BBB record support the claims of other sources and news reports?

News reports often cite BBB records when a company appears to be a scam, but the BBB itself does not cite news reports. They may be aware of news reports about a modeling firm, but they do not meet their standards, and so news reports are not included in the BBB files.

Reporters sometimes cite not only BBB records to report the number of complaints, but also interview and quote BBB presidents. Their comments are often cautious but also very useful, and provide valuable interpretation of the data.

BBB records and BBB presidents' comments can be very useful accessed directly or read through a news report, but the BBB records themselves often seem oversimplified, providing little or limited information.

For example, a BBB record for one company may only say it has an unsatisfactory record or x number of complaints, but it does not include any comments from the complainants, nor any letters which spell out their grievances. It is usually just a brief summary.

The big thing to look for in BBB records is "a pattern of complaints." A pattern of complaints indicates a policy of the company and the position of its leadership. It is also a strong clue to the company running a scam. A scam, after all, is a policy of the company and the position of its leadership.

Especially look for a pattern of complaints in a BBB record if you want to file a class-action lawsuit against a modeling scam business. It shows there are a number of people victimised in the same way who were pissed off enough to file a complaint with the BBB, and could be interested in taking it up a level by joining a class-action lawsuit.

While the BBB does not accept news reports for its report because they do not meet the BBB standards, they are open to sources of information beyond the complaints they receive from consumers.

For example, one BBB office introduced a report saying, "The information in this report has either been provided by the company, or has been compiled by the Bureau from other sources."

The BBB has published a document about modeling scams which is often linked from the end of a modeling or talent agency report. It is extremely brief but it does offer solid basic tips: BBB Advises Caution When Dealing With Talent/Modeling Agencies.

Besides this one general BBB document of caution cited widely in BBB files, some BBB offices also include modeling advice below the reports for specific firms, if they have a bad record, or even if they have a good record. The comments are at the discretion of the BBB office and vary from office to office. They reflect the level of insight a specific BBB office has into scams in the modeling industry.

When a new modeling agency opens, or when the BBB first learns about a modeling agency, after complaints or inquiries, apparently what it does is it contacts the agency and asks for basic information about the company for its file.

Until it receives information, the record for the company will say something like: "Basic information has been requested from the company which we have not received to date."

Unfortunately, the BBB does not include the date when it asked its questions, so you don't know if the company has been avoiding the BBB for a long time, or if they just have had no time to answer its questions.

Dispute Resolution

The BBB not only records complaints, it also gets involved in dispute resolution.

Essentially a consumer will contact the BBB and file a complaint.

The complaint will be evaluated by the BBB. Then, if the complaint seems genuine and not trivial, the BBB will present the complaint to the business.

The business will then have a chance to give its side of the story (if there is one), and the BBB will then respond in one or more ways.

They can, for example, record the complaint as a statistic, say it was not answered, was "reasonably explained" to the Bureau, the complaint file was closed as "unresolved," closed as "resolved," or closed as "assumed resolved."

One reader has observed there was a company which had a clean BBB record, but it had complaints at Modeling Scams. How can this be?

Upon further investigation, it turns out there is one firm which has BBB membership but also a pattern of similar complaints from readers on this website. How can that be?

Usually if there is a pattern of complaints about a company in the BBB file, there is also a pattern of complaints about the company in letters on Modeling Scams. There is a red flag at both.

Can a Modeling Business Fly Below the BBB Radar?

The toughest critics of the Better Business Bureau have said you can buy the BBB, you can pay them, buy membership, and control what the record says about your company.

It is true that a company can buy membership. To become a member of the BBB, payment must be made. There are fees; it is not free. The argument is this is a clear and significant conflict of interest, and if you pay, they will keep silent.

But the BBB membership does not cost a lot of money. The success of the BBB is based on its reputation and it is highly unlikely and illogical for it to sacrifice its reputation for the low price of membership. BBB membership offline costs over $300. BBB membership online costs the same amount again.

Still, you have to wonder, how can modeling agencies or businesses in the modeling industry get a BBB membership while people are calling them scams or even huge scams? Either the complainants are wrong or the BBB is wrong. Which is it?

If you give the BBB the benefit of the doubt, that it is ethical, the question is: can a modeling industry business trick the BBB?

To consider the answer to this question you have to take into account what was earlier discussed, the level of knowledge and insight a particular BBB office has about the company in particular and the industry in general.

It is not impossible for a scam business to trick people at a BBB. It may be unlikely, but is not impossible. It stands to reason, afterall, that the people who try to trick consumers would also try to trick the BBB.

There was one modeling business which tricked consumers and then tried to trick the BBB.

A consumer made a complaint about the company's printed advertising. The BBB apparently then asked the company for a copy of its brochure. The company sent a brochure to the BBB. A copy of that brochure was then sent to the complainant, who then highlighted differences between it and the original brochure, and returned the new brochure and the old brochure to the BBB. The firm evidently made a new brochure just for the BBB.

Of course in that case the BBB was not tricked; the point is there are companies which trick consumers and try to trick the BBB. So the question then is do they ever succeed? Have any bogus modeling firms successfully tricked anyone at the BBB?

While the BBB has a searchable database to investigate firms online, the database programming is not intuitive. The files do not show up in search engines. Most all search engines do not accept documents which include a question mark in the web address. All the BBB files include a question mark in their web address.

This is unfortunate planning because most consumers start with search engines, and many may not know the BBB web address, or know about the BBB's searchable database.

Still, in many cases it is possible to create links to BBB files for specific companies, even if they have a question mark in their web address. However, the BBB database search programming for some states does not seem to allow creation of links, requiring a new search each time a consumer wants to review a file.

Nevertheless the ability to search the BBB record of any business online is a tremendous resource for consumers. Conscientious consumers will intuitively guess it is possible to review BBB files online and not be dependent on search engine search results, just as they will guess the web address of the BBB is www.bbb.org.