Before she became president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga earlier this year, Michele Mason led BBB chapters in Alabama, Florida and Georgia over the past 25 years.
"We are here to try to help companies make sure that they are following ethical and legal guidelines, and the ones we focus a lot of our attention on is to help protect consumers," Mason says.
Mason says she and her husband often visited Chattanooga when she headed the BBB in Huntsville, Alabama, for 19 years. In Huntsville, Mason expanded the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama to cover 13 counties with four satellite offices. Within the next two years, Mason hopes to add satellite offices in Dalton and Rome, Georgia, to serve the 10 Northwest Georgia counties served by the BBB based in Chattanooga. The local BBB has one satellite office in Cleveland, Tennessee.
"Our focus is to try to continue to educate consumers and help the BBB to be more visible in the community to build our support because the more support we have the more we can do for the community," Mason says.
The local chapter is supported by nearly 2,000 business members and promotes ethics and marketplace trust through its ratings, advice and award programs. During her career, Mason has earned four BBB national awards for exposing fraud.
In Huntsville, the BBB investigated a business selling greenhouses that claimed buyers would make $25,000 a year from their homes growing organic tomatoes. To make the promised returns, people had to spend $10,000 on greenhouses and equipment and few earned anywhere close to the promised returns before the owner shut down the business. He was ultimately indicted by the Alabama Securities Commission for stock fraud on a related investment scheme.
Also in Huntsville, Mason alerted consumers to a company that promised to clean household air ducts for only $99. Once workers were in someone's house, they would frequently try to convince them they had mold problems and needed expensive mold removal services. That probe caught the attention of NBC News, which aired a Dateline segment in which NBC consumer reporter Chris Hansen interviewed Mason about the scam.
"It's very rewarding to be able to help people on a daily basis to be better-educated consumers and to be able to know more about the businesses that they deal with," she says.