BBB names worst companies in the region

An online gaming site accused of shorting players, a bridal shop that left dozens of brides without dresses and a contractor who allegedly bilked $100,000 from homeowners have made the Better Business Bureau's midyear list of the Charlotte area's worst companies.

The list, released Thursday, names the six companies with the most unanswered complaints this year, which has earned them the worst possible rating with the BBB.

“The main purpose is to be able to show consumers that there are companies they need to be warned about … in vastly different types of businesses,” said Tom Bartholomy, president of the BBB of Southern Piedmont. “You need to be aware that there are some companies that are very good and some that aren't.”

Consumers this year have filed nearly 7,500 complaints against businesses in North Carolina and South Carolina, up from 7,068 the first half of 2007, and almost 20 percent have not been resolved in a timely manner or at all, according to the BBB, a nonprofit member organization that monitors area companies.

A complaint is considered resolved when both sides are satisfied.

Red flags for consumers include multiple business names and requests for full payments up front, Bartholomy said.

Three companies on the list are Web-based, and two are repeat offenders, which Bartholomy said is unusual because “usually, if a company makes the list, either they work to get off it or they go out of business.”

These companies made the list:

NetWinner, a Charlotte Internet gaming company that awards points that consumers can exchange for money or prizes. Customers allege the company changed its prize structure, making the points they had already accumulated useless. The company said it revamped its site because users were cheating to rack up large numbers of points.

The company has 58 unanswered complaints and 92 pending complaints this year, with 229 total since it opened about two years ago.

“We got a lot of feedback in a very short period, and it takes time to handle each one with the attention it requires,” Matt Coapman, vice president of business development for NetWinner, said in an e-mailed statement.

Bartholomy said the BBB has gotten a better response from NetWinner than other companies on the list, saying its leaders have met with BBB officials to work out customers' issues.

Place Settings, a Matthews Internet company that sells china, crystal and other gifts. The repeat offender has 49 unanswered complaints and 11 pending this year, with 265 over the past three years. Although company officials have told the Better Business Bureau they're no longer in business, the bureau is still receiving complaints, Bartholomy said. A phone number listed for the company was not in service.

La Bella Sposa, a south Charlotte bridal shop that closed last month, leaving brides without dresses – some worth thousands of dollars. The company, which is under investigation by multiple government agencies, has 42 unanswered complaints, one pending and 45 over the past three years. The shop's owners, Shannon and Brian Starcher of Waxhaw, are staying out of town and have been advised not to talk about the case, their attorney has told the Observer.

Computer City, also known as Deals Direct, a Charlotte Internet company that sells electronics. Consumers nationwide have complained that the merchandise they received was not the brand-name merchandise they bought.

Customers have been unable to reach the company, exchange the items or get a refund, though the company is still in business. Between the two business names – both repeat offenders – the company has 14 unanswered complaints and one pending complaint this year, and 34 over the past three years. No one answered the phone at the number listed for the company Thursday.

Rolland Elliott Studios, a Charlotte photography company. Consumers allege Elliott did not fulfill contractual agreements. The studio has eight unanswered complaints and five pending this year, and 25 over the past three years.

Reached at his office Thursday, Elliott said he has been busy. While he has resolved most of the complaints with customers, Elliott said he hasn't followed up with the BBB but plans to do that in the future.

Weir Builders, a home improvement company in Shelby, which also does business as Crete Magic, Sun Masters and Weir Grafix. Owner Lawrence Sam Weir Jr. was arrested in Lincoln County last month and had a warrant out in Mecklenburg County for failure to perform work after being paid.

Complaints allege he scammed 25 homeowners in the Carolinas of more than $100,000. His company has six unanswered complaints and three pending complaints this year, and 14 over three years. Weir, who is out on bail, did not return phone calls Thursday.