The ABC News investigation also showed how two small Los Angeles businesses, with an ABC News producer and camera present, were told by BBB telemarketers that their C grades could be raised to an A plus if they paid to join the BBB. Terri Hartman, the manager of Liz's Antique Hardware, says she was told only a payment could change her grade, which was based on one old complaint that had already been resolved. After Hartman paid the $565 membership fee the next business day her C grade was replaced with an A plus and the one complaint was wiped off the record.
"The only way I was going to get that A was to give her my credit card number," said Hartman. "I feel it's not on the up and up and I feel that the Better Business Bureau deserves a C minus based on their own rating system."
In another case, Carmen Tellez, the owner of a company that provides clowns for parties, says she was also told she had to pay to raise her C minus grade, based on a two-year old complaint that she said had already been resolved. The C minus became an A plus the very next day after she provided her credit card for the $395 membership charge.
"If I'm paying for a grade, how is the customer supposed to trust the Better Business Bureau?" asked Tellez.
Mitchell declined to be interviewed for the 20/20 report and was unable to be reached for comment on the National BBB's decision to investigate his chapter. At the time of the 20/20 report, the head of the national BBB, Steve Cox, characterized the L.A. examples documented by ABC News as "anomalies" and said they were simply mistakes made by sales representatives. "That's an inaccurate statement that business people are able to buy A's," Cox said. "We have more than 500,000 non-accredited businesses who have A ratings," Cox added.