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The Better Business Bureau has helped Southern Arizonans tell good businesses from bad for more than 60 years. But while it’s been around a long time, there are still some misconceptions about what the group does and how it operates.

“A lot of people think we’re some sort of government agency, but we have no enforcement authority at all,” said Alan Schultz, director of marketing and program development. “The real power that we have is we are an authoritative voice, so if we say that a company is behaving badly, people listen to that.”

What does the BBB do?

The nonprofit certifies companies as trustworthy, handles consumer complaints and alerts about scams and disreputable business practices. The Southern Arizona BBB covers five counties: Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee.

The group keeps and updates a database of more than 33,000 businesses, along with their corresponding information, rating and any complaints filed against them. Anyone can go to tucson.bbb.org and search for a business operating in the area, regardless of whether it’s an accredited business or not.

What is an accredited business?

Companies are not members of the BBB, instead they are called accredited businesses. There are several standards a business has to meet before it is accredited by the group. These requirements include maintaining a positive track record, transparency, being responsive, safeguarding customer privacy and not engaging in false advertising.

Accredited businesses pay dues based on the number of employees, starting at $350 per year for an owner-operated company. The fee covers the right to use the BBB seal to advertise or identify the business. The group is primarily funded this way.

Do companies pay
for a good rating?

Companies cannot pay to improve their rating or to make complaints go away, BBB officials said. Out of the more than 30,000 businesses in the region, only about 3,000 are accredited by the BBB.

“There are many businesses that are not accredited with us that have an A-plus rating, but there are no accredited businesses that have bad ratings. If anyone falls below a B-rating they lose their accreditation,” Schultz said.

An established company can see a drop in its rating if it fails to satisfactorily resolve any valid complaints.

How does the complaint process work?

The complaint must be made in writing. The most common ways for customers to file a grievance is by filling out a form online or visiting the group’s Tucson office, 5151 E. Broadway, No. 100. Consumers can also write or call the BBB at 888-5353 and they will be mailed a complaint form.

The group will send the complaint to the business and ask for a timely response, which it will then forward to the consumer. The BBB will try to mediate and resolve the problems to everyone’s satisfaction and post the process online. Complaints stay up on a company’s rating page for three years.

For accredited businesses, the complaint has to be resolved satisfactorily in order for them to continue to be accredited, Schultz said.

“For non-accredited businesses, sometimes they don’t respond or their response is less than friendly, and we post all that,” he said.

In 2015, the Southern Arizona BBB processed 2,799 complaints.

Can the Better Business Bureau take legal action?

While the group does not have any legal enforcement powers, it is in direct contact with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, said Ryan Foster, communications manager for the BBB.

But if a company is doing something wrong or is scamming consumers, officials said, the authorities tend to work a lot faster when there is public pressure.

“My best defense, at least in my position, is we get out to the media. Once people learn about what’s going on they will stop visiting them or they’ll get out of town and stop operating here,” Foster said.

Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at

lcarrasco@tucson.com

or 807-8029. On Twitter: @lfcarrasco