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Better Business Bureau changes ratings system

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Better Business Bureau, criticized by Connecticut’s attorney general for a system that he called pay for play, said Thursday it’s abandoning a practice that awarded rating points simply because a business was accredited.

The business group also said it will hire an independent third party to help review its accrediting procedure and make other changes.

“For nearly 100 years, the BBB has stood for public trust and we are taking these steps to maintain that trust,” said Steve Cox, president and CEO. “Given the feedback, we feel it is our duty to take immediate steps to address the concerns raised and enhance our ability to help consumers easily and quickly find trustworthy businesses.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he applauds the decision to end the rating system, but remains concerned the group lacks the resources to verify information used for its ratings. As a result, its ratings are “unreliable and suspect,” he said.

“At the very least, the BBB has an ethical — and perhaps legal — obligation to clearly and prominently inform consumers of the severe and significant limitations of its rating system,” he said.

Blumenthal, a Democrat who was elected U.S. senator earlier this month, said he will not prescribe solutions, but said the BBB could reinstate its previous system in which it detailed consumer complaints and how they were resolved.

Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the business group, said it will work with the attorney general’s office to address those concerns.

Blumenthal complained Nov. 12 to the Council of Better Business Bureaus about its letter-grade system. It adopted the method last year in place of the previous satisfactory/unsatisfactory ratings. He said BBB members’ grades include extra points unavailable to nonmembers, which he said is unfair to consumers who assume the companies are being judged equally.

Cox has said that the “core foundation” of the BBB’s value to consumers and businesses has been questioned.

“It has been pointed out that some of our practices have not measured up to the standards consumers and business owners expect from the BBB and for that I want to apologize,” he said. “We can and will do better.”

He did not specify practices that have been criticized. Southwick said the apology refers to “lapses in the vetting process” for accredited businesses, including a rating for Gaza’s terrorist group, Hamas.

The group said it will continue to assign ratings based on a business’s length of time in operation, the number of complaints received by the BBB and other issues.