Arlington, VA. January 17, 2003 - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) system today issued an international alert to advise consumers not to be misled by a web site that is masquerading as a consumer protection agency. The site, www.consumerprotectionagency.us, offers for a fee to file a consumer's complaint with the BBB and various government agencies.
In truth, the site is a business, and it is not affiliated with the BBB. The site includes a form to file a complaint and pay $4.95 by credit card.
"There is no need for consumers to use third parties or to pay a fee in order to file a complaint with the BBB," said Ken Hunter, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Complaints can be mailed directly to BBBs for the price of a postage stamp. Or, anyone can file a complaint online with the BBB, for free, by visiting www.bbb.org and clicking on "File a Complaint."
Consumers who file directly with the BBB have the added assurance of knowing they can easily contact the BBB if they have follow-up questions about the complaint process, Hunter said. By contrast, the consumerprotectionagency.us has no address, phone number or other information posted on the site to enable a consumer to request additional information or assistance from that business.
He predicts that those who pay $4.95 to consumerprotectionagency.us to have their complaint 'filed' with the BBB will likely end up frustrated, if they aren't already. "Consumers have no way of knowing that the web site owner prints out a paper copy of the complaint and mails it to the BBB nearest that consumer's home, which delays our system's ability to be responsive. In fact, the site provides no information about its complaint process for the consumer to consider when deciding whether to use the service."
Last year, the BBB system assisted more than two million consumers with their complaints against businesses, web sites, charities and other organizations.
In addition to the BBB, the consumerprotectionagency.us site indicates it will file complaints with the State Attorney General's office, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs (a government office that was closed several years ago).
BBBs in California, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Washington and other states are fielding inquiries from consumers about the site. Several Bureaus have received packets of complaints filed through this site. The complaints arrive in unmarked packages with no return address or postmark. It appears that this business is attracting the attention of consumers through sponsored links on major search engines. When consumers search by key words, like "Better Business Bureau" or "consumer protection", links to the consumerprotectionagency.us web site appear.
The site is registered to Online Application Corp., Forest Hills, NY. The BBB of Metropolitan New York reports that Online Application Corp. is one of several services of Taxes by CPA, a firm that has an unsatisfactory record with the BBB. Consumers may wish to review the BBB reliability report on the business, which is available through the Bureau Information System (http://search.bbb.org/search.html). The company has been the subject of 43 complaints in the Bureau's three-year reporting period, and although the company has answered the complaints, customers are not always satisfied.
Any complaints about consumerprotectionagency.us may be reported to the BBB using the online complaint form at www.bbb.org, or phoning toll-free 1-877-382-4357.