BBB: An Engine of Defense


By Archana Mehta

A BBB historical document showcases the organization’s efforts to protect consumers during and after World War II.

The early 1940s marked a profound period of history in the United States. It was wartime, and the uncertainty of World War II created fear in Americans. Swindlers sought to take advantage of their anxiety.

While the age of propaganda was already booming, according to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) historical document by Tom E. Davis (1987), a new form of marketing— scare advertising — was exploiting the fears of Americans. Outlandish and disjointed claims and scams of all types were common, and many consumers didn’t know whom to trust.

Sand was even billed as a way to extinguish bombs, Davis wrote.

BBB sensed that during this period Americans needed assurances that their money would be protected.

In July 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set up the War Relief Control Board (Executive Order No. 9205, 1942). The intent was to regulate war relief charities collecting welfare funds and establish standards for solicitation. However, the U.S. government had limited resources to investigate all the charities that were popping up. According to Davis, after the executive order was signed, BBB jumped into action to augment the overburdened government’s investigations.

Many Americans held war savings bonds after the war ended. Davis wrote that there was concern that disreputable advertising tactics would reignite to swindle bondholders, so BBB began a campaign using the slogan “Before You Invest, Investigate.”

Following the declaration of peace, BBB began its acclaimed War Savings Protection Program, aimed at keeping the hard-earned money of service members and wartime workers out of the hands of crooks. BBB led a collaboration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the Office of Price Administration that protected an estimated $130 billion in wartime investments, Davis wrote.

After the war, BBB’s efforts made their way to Europe. Davis described how BBB pointed its messages at western Germany to ensure that requests for relief donations came from reputable organizations and not groups trying to take advantage of a defeated population.

According to Davis, because of this shift in focus from national to international work, in 1947 the National Association of Better Business Bureaus became the Association of Better Business Bureaus.

Davis, T. E. (1987). An idea becomes an institution: The history of the Better Business Bureaus [booklet]. Arlington, VA: Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Exec. Order No. 9205, 3 C.F.R. 1,186-1,187 (1942).
Archana Mehta is the Founder and CEO of AM Strategies, a marketing and communications firm based in Washington, D.C. She has spent the last 15 years helping companies with everything from marketing strategies to content development to product launches. In her “spare” time, she enjoys taking her toddler twins on adventures around the country.

Images from and Pinterest