BBB warns to be aware of vanity award scams

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Business owners are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from their competitors, and awards and recognition from a third-party are a great way for a company to stand out.

Rather than acknowledging outstanding companies, some “awards” are all about making money. BBB warns business owners to be on the lookout for vanity award scams.

All too frequently vanity pitches for “Who’s Who”- type publications, biographies or nominations for awards or special memberships have a catch to them.

In some cases, honorees who receive such e-mails, letters and calls are not chosen by a select committee, as they are often told, but are plucked off mailing lists or have had their e-mail addresses harvested from Web sites.

Many of these vanity award schemes involve businesses receiving awards not based on merit, but rather for the sole intent of purchasing the plaque or certificate for an inflated price.

One telltale sign of a vanity award is that you receive an unexpected e-mail or letter saying you or your business has just won an award, even though you never entered anything and you’ve never heard of the organization bestowing the award.

BBBs nationwide have documented reports that local businesses have received e-mails claiming the company has won the “Best of…” award for businesses in their community.

To distinguish a reputable biographical directory or business award from those of little or no value, your BBB offers the following advice:

Do your homework.

BBB Business reviews are available for free at bbb.org and provide information on the company’s track record including the number of complaints the business has received as well as whether attempts were made to resolve any problems.

Keep an eye out for red flags.

Some signs of a scam include receiving an award that you didn’t apply for and if the award Web site lacks phone numbers, an address and other basic details on the organization giving the award. Some of these “award” companies are nothing more than an attempt to obtain personal information from victims and their businesses which may be used to commit identity theft or to create fake emails which pretend to come from the executive.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ask specific questions about how your company or organization was chosen for an award and find out how many similar awards are given each year. Get details. Businesses and organizations which offer legitimate awards will usually be willing to provide detailed information on why a specific company received the award. Also ask about cost. Some of these offers can cost a business owner anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

So where should you look for legitimate opportunities?

Industry/trade organizations

Legitimate business organizations

Your college alumni association

Local/regional media

Your competitors’ websites or advertising. What awards have they recently won? If the award is legitimate, consider entering the next time the contest is held.

For additional resources on how to build a better business and to find out how to network with other businesses, go to bbb.org.

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