BBB Small Business Advice: Don’t Believe Every Award You Receive

January 28, 2009

Small 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, Better Business Bureau warns, some “awards” are all about making money – rather than acknowledging outstanding companies – and small 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 local and national BBB Torch Awards—that small 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.

BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington reports that local businesses have been receiving 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. When asked by the Portland Oregonian newspaper how it chooses recipients for its awards, US Local Business Administration representatives would not provide any details. Business owners in other states such as Maryland, Indiana and Arizona also report being contacted by US Local Business Association personnel.

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

Always check the organization out with BBB first.

BBB Reliability Reports are available for free at 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.

With less than scrupulous awards schemes, the company is typically trying to make money by peddling books or plaques. 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 small business advice you can trust, and more information about the BBB International Torch Award program go to


Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: or E-mail: or