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 differentiate itself from the competition. Unfortunately, your BBB warns, some “awards” are all about making money – rather than acknowledging outstanding companies – and business owners need 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.
There are many legitimate awards given out every year—such as your local BBB Torch Awards—that business owners can be proud of. But some awards, which seem to have merely pulled recipients out of the phone book, offer praise that is ultimately empty and not worth the plaque the company’s name is etched on.
Right now, BBB is in the midst of accepting nominations for our annual Torch Awards, while reports of awards that can be had for a fee are still circulating. There is no fee to apply for BBB’s Torch Awards and BBB accreditation is not required. However, a business must be located in our service area and have a satisfactory record of experience. Nominations are due by February 27.
But in MD and elsewhere across the country, BBBs have documented reports that local businesses have received e-mails claiming the company has won the “Best of…” award for businesses in their community. Business owners are told that a plaque has been created to mark the honor and is available for $80.00. The company, US Local Business Association, has a Washington, DC, address that appears to be a drop box, and according to their Web site, the only way to contact the company is through Web e-mail. No phone number is listed.
To distinguish a reputable biographical directory or business award from those of little or no value, your BBB offers the following advice:
Always check the organization out with BBB first.
BBB Reliability Reports are available for free at bbb.org and provide information on 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.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
An organization offering a reputable award will not hesitate to answer in-depth questions about their program including how many businesses are honored every year, how honorees are chosen and exactly why specific businesses were chosen.
Know what you’re paying for.
While having to spend money in order to receive an award can be a red flag, it isn’t always the sign of a scam. In some cases businesses must pay a fee in order to submit an entry to an awards program. If the company is to be honored at a gala event, there are usually sponsorship opportunities—such as purchasing a table for attendees—to help offset the cost of the event.
For more business advice you can trust, and for more information about BBB | Greater Maryland’s 2009 Torch Awards for Marketplace Excellence visit www.greatermd.bbb.org/torch-awards .