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Better Business Bureau celebrates 100 years

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The Better Business Bureau is celebrating 100 years of promoting business and mediating disputes between its members and real customers like you. But balancing the two can be tricky. The BBB gets kudos for much of its work, but it also has its critics.

Fred Elsberry, who runs the Atlanta BBB office, says working for business and consumers is a constant balancing act.
 
"We aren't a consumer organization. We're not all-business organization. Our interest is the marketplace," said Elsberry.

It's a marketplace that has been fueled by a lot of innovation and more than its share of exploitation.  So, 100 years ago in Minneapolis the Better Business Bureau opened shop to help keep businesses honest.

"At the turn of the 20th century, advertising was kind of where the Internet is today -- everybody recognized it as a very powerful marketing tool, but they also recognized that there was room for abuse," said Elsberry.

The idea spread until everywhere in the country was represented. Today, the BBB still keeps an eye on ads.

"We're looking for puffery, superlative, underselling, over selling advertisements and we'll go back to the company and ask them to prove it," said Lanada Green of the BBB in Atlanta.

They're always chatting with customers who feel they've been swindled.  Recent targets include military men and women overseas.

Dottie Collina is a 29-year BBB vet who says she's proudest of The Military Line -- a free resource for military families.  

"Which was established a few years to especially focus on the military and how they are often victims of frauds and scams, especially payday loans," said Collina.

To many, the BBB is a consumer watchdog.  But there is criticism by some business owners that the non-profit runs a pay-for-play scheme, where high grades are given to businesses who pay for membership while non-members get poor marks.

Unfair, says Fred Elsberry. The national BBB says it resolved a million complaints last year and handed out plenty of failing grades to paying, accredited businesses.

"It's my responsibility to be sure that everything that we do here at the Better Business Bureau is designed to reinforce our neutrality in the marketplace," said Elsberry.

One of the early motivators for getting an organization going was a former Coke president Sam Candler Dobbs.  Coke products at the time had an early competitor called Pluto Water that made outrageous health claims that simply couldn't be true and so Dobbs pushed - on a national scale - for truth in advertising.

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