Wednesday, February 21, 2007 targets BBB

I don’t do much hard news on here. Usually I’m more along the lines of discussing Brittany shaving her head, or the 3-ring circus that the Death of Anna Nicole Smith has become. But with the cable news channels covering these stories 24/7 it’s time for someone to tell you what’s going on and how it might work.

Due to my status as a reporter for the website (formerly USA Voice, but more on that) I was invited this week to take part in a conference call about a breaking news story that they wanted everyone on staff to take part in. Keep in mind I’m a movie critic, not a hard news reporter. But since the site recently and without warning changed their name, and since I haven’t heard anything about a paycheck the morbid curiosity overcame me and I dialed in.

The story: Aggressive sales practices at the Better Business Bureau.

As I was informed by a senior writer at the “Voice” on the conference call, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been engaging in unfair and aggressive sales practices. As it was made clear on the call the BBB is not a government entity, they are simply a private not-for-profit organization that provides a branded affirmation of other businesses. They also take complaints about businesses from upset consumers.

However where we were told the BBB uses aggressive sales techniques. The BBB requires a business to be established for one year before eligibility. At that point the business is eligible for membership in the BBB. However the writer telling us this had a case study where a business was set up with no advertisement or clients and after their one year limit the BBB called saying that people were asking about the business and they should join the BBB to enhance their reputation.

It was again made very clear several times that the BBB is NOT part of the government and has no real power to impose punishment on any offending business.

The assignment given to the reporters was this: Apply for jobs with the BBB, take their sales training and document any underhanded practices that they employ while garnering sales.

This is all good and noble and very much the spirit of watchdog journalism. But what would be the motivation of an upstart online newspaper to bring down an American establishment that has been protecting consumers for nearly 100 years?

I have only been with the paper for less than two months. I had my orientation in late December to reduce paperwork, in the form of a 2006 10-99 form, I was not “hired” until after the first of the year.

Even though they have my address I have not seen a check arrive in the mail yet. Personally this doesn’t bother me since I’ve only posted half-a-dozen articles and I probably don’t have that much of a readership. If pay is based on web hits and they have a minimum account balance before you get a check, like Google’s Add Sense I can see why they'd delay sending out checks. But there was no explanation to that effect.

I also have reports of someone else who wrote for the paper for six months without a paycheck, and my own editor friend has not seen a check in two months despite active editorial work.

Now, with compensation scarce and a vendetta against the BBB it is very easy to speculate that disgruntled reporters are reporting the paper to the BBB in hopes of getting some restitution.

This, in my opinion, would explain the recent and unannounced change of the paper’s name from USA Voice to World Voice News. By changing the name of the business it is possible to interpret this legally as a new and different business and thus if the BBB were to file a class action lawsuit the offending business is no longer in existence.

Finally a simple search of the BBB website provides some interesting information on USA Voice/World Voice News including the following statements:

The Bureau has received multiple inquiries from the public and is contacting the
firm about complaint correspondence as well. Consumers report being asked for
personal information, including Social Security numbers, in order to set up an employment link with the firm. Further contact was not provided, however, and consumers report concerns that their information may be sold and mis-used.

The Bureau has requested basic information from this company. The Bureau has not received a response. According to information that was provided by the firm, it is connected with Instant Human Resources. A separate report is available on that firm.

Read the full report here

So there you go, hard news, or hard headed people in the news business. I honestly don’t think the readership of World Voice News is enough to hurt the institution of the Better Business Bureau. Then again I Believe it was Mark Twain who once said, “Don’t get into an argument with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.”

I wonder if digital ink holds the same weight?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Andy. As you may have noticed worldvoice is no more. It served its purpose, raking in personal info from hundreds of thousands people that responded to their unsolicited mass mailings, like you did. The online paper was just a front for this phishing-like data mining operation. There were some stories exposing them in the Washington Post and the LA Times. Of course the crooks wouldn't dare to sue them. However, they do harrass individual bloggers and awareness sites with cease and desist letters and suits, to wear m out financially. On the site you'll find thousands of currently used domains. I would not be surprized if you got mail from several of these "companies". Did you?