Q&A:

Southern Nevada Better Business Bureau: ‘As times get tougher, people complain’

CEO of the Las Vegas Better Business Bureau George Cartwright

VEGAS INC coverage

George Cartwright has worked on real estate deals, casino projects and media buyouts. Over more than a decade of business dealings, he has been exposed to companies of various types and owners from many backgrounds.

Cartwright says that experience makes him ideally suited for one particular job — his new one as president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada.

The bureau collects consumer complaints, tries to mediate disputes and issues letter-grade ratings for companies. The group doesn’t have police powers, but it does send information about suspected fraud to law enforcement.

The 44-year-old Cartwright, who took the helm of the Better Business Bureau in July, was born in Southern California and moved to Las Vegas in 1975. He spent the bulk of his professional life with The Greenspun Corporation, owner of VEGAS INC, working first in its development division, American Nevada Company, then moving on to deals that included a joint venture with Station Casinos to develop Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, as well as the acquisitions of SkyMall magazine and KTUD VegasTV.

Cartwright left Greenspun in spring 2011 as vice president of corporate development. He also worked as an operations consultant to a winery and vineyard in Temecula, Calif., and did a stint with a homebuilder.

How did you end up joining the Better Business Bureau?

I saw a posting for it. They were looking for a new CEO. I thought, what a great fit for somebody like myself who has seen a lot of businesses, who has been in town for a long time and who wants to continue to be in this town and contribute as much as I can.

I applied and went through a pretty arduous selection process. It took a few months.

How will your previous work experience help you in this job?

I have seen everything from the smallest companies trying to get funding to large, multimillion-dollar companies and everything in between. I know the complexities that are associated with trying to get a business off the ground with growing pains.

Not anybody can join the Better Business Bureau. We do a whole background check on the owners, their businesses, licensing, advertising. It’s a process.

How many members do you have?

About 2,000 right now and growing.

The Better Business Bureau earns the bulk of its revenue from member companies, which pay to be accredited, if they pass the bureau’s standards test. What is the cost to join as an accredited member?

It depends on the size of a company’s workforce, but it ranges anywhere from $400 to $4,000 per year.

Do you rate companies that are not accredited members?

Absolutely. And we collect complaints on any company. But being a member shows to the public and to other business that you operate at a higher level of practice. There’s a lot of value in that.

The Better Business Bureau does not have police powers, but you do cooperate with law enforcement on possible fraud cases. Can you explain how that works in Southern Nevada?

There are some companies and industries we really keep a look out for — moving companies, credit repair companies, business-grant writers. When we see these and other business that, for instance, charge an upfront fee without performing any services, that’s a red flag.

So when we get a rash of complaints, we work with the authorities — the police, FBI, state attorney general — and provide as much information as we can. We have a very close working relationship with all of those agencies.

How do you know which complaints to send to law enforcement? I’m sure you get plenty that do not involve actual fraud.

It’s usually when we get a high volume of complaints. There’s a company now where we’ve seen 200 complaints over the past three weeks. When those start building up, it really starts adding validity that there’s something fishy going on. We let the authorities know what we’re seeing, and then we turn it over to them.

To your point, we have no police or governmental power, but we are a pretty powerful third party that can help provide a lot of information.

When the bureau works with the police, are you sending them cases they haven’t heard about? Or are you supplementing information about a company they already know about?

It could be all of the above. Sometimes they know about it, but they look to us because we get specific information from consumers who are mad, and rightfully so. They’ve been bilked out of money.

What are the most common complaints you see here in Southern Nevada and the most common companies, services and products about which people complain?

Internet shopping sites, travel agencies and business consultants, just to name a few. Conversely, it’s also a very valuable resource for companies. We get about 70,000 inquiries per month from people looking for products or services.

A lot of people think that the Better Business Bureau is just a consumer advocacy group. They think that if you have a complaint against a company, you just call the BBB. And that’s really just a small percentage of what we do.

Has the volume of complaints gone up or down since the recession?

It definitely has gone up. As times get tougher, people complain. And some companies get less scrupulous, so we have seen an increase.

What process does the Better Business Bureau follow after getting a complaint?

Let’s say you have a complaint against a tree service company. You say he didn’t complete half the trees he said he would, but he says he did. If the company is an accredited member, we’ll bring it in and try to mediate the differences, see if it was just miscommunication or something else. Before you go and launch a lawsuit against someone, we provide a sensible alternative to try and hammer out the issue.

And then what?

We hear from both sides. We present all the evidence we have and try to come up with a resolution. A lot of times it is just miscommunication between the two sides or something wasn’t explained as it should have been.

If it gets to a point where we realize there cannot be a resolution, then we mark the file as unresolved. If you search a company on our website, you can see how many complaints it has, how many have been resolved and how many are unresolved.

Do you also get complaints from business owners who say they’re being targeted with fraud?

Absolutely. It’s not just consumers who file complaints. We hear from business owners, as well.

What do they complain about?

Merchant services, credit card payments and other services they need to support their own businesses.

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