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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
In West Tennessee, North Mississippi & East Arkansas
Memphis Award Program’s Business Vanity Awards May Have Little Value
November 29, 2012



Fast Facts:

  • Businesses in the area are receiving emails from Memphis Award Program that say they’ve won a “Best of Memphis” award in their industry
  • These emails and awards look to be a mirror image of the efforts by U.S. Commerce Association in previous years, which proved to be phony vanity awards
  • It appears to be a localization of a scheme to get businesses to pay for vanity awards of little or no value

The BBB of the Mid-South is warning businesses and organizations to be cautious of emails from Memphis Award Program. The emails say that you’ve won their 2012 “Best of Memphis” award for your industry and congratulate you for joining “such an elite group of small businesses.” You are then offered the opportunity to purchase a plaque, a crystal award or both at a cost ranging from $79.99 to $199.98. A complimentary digital award image and personalized press release are included in the package.

The awards appear to be part of a widespread scheme designed to get businesses to pay for vanity awards of little or no value. They mirror offers made in the past by U.S. Commerce Association, an organization whose phony vanity awards were the subject of several BBB. In fact, the business address listed for Memphis Award Program is the same address as U.S. Commerce Association’s.

Instead of using the name U.S. Commerce Association everywhere, the scheme has been localized with a city name such as Memphis. BBBs across the nation have issued warnings about these kinds of vanity award schemes since 2008.

Memphis Award Program says that each year they identify companies who have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. “What that really means is that they were able to find your contact information on the Internet,” said BBB president Randy Hutchinson. “There’s no explanation of the nomination process or the criteria for choosing winners.”

Phony vanity awards prey on small businesses who are trying to make their companies stand out in their industry. The program’s website tells business owners that “a select few have been able to benefit from the strategic value of business awards” and that “a business award can be an account executive’s ace-in-the-hole.”

Summerfield Associates received an email last week – the fourth notice, according to the subject line. It reminded them that they had not claimed their award. Dotty Summerfield-Giusti, president, forwarded the email to the BBB, asking if it was a scam. “It just didn’t sound legitimate,” Summerfield-Giusti told the BBB. “I know that The Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Flyer have “Best of” programs that are voted on by readers, but I’d never heard of this one before.”

“From everything we can tell, this is just one more ploy to profit off the universal desire for recognition and approval,” added Hutchinson. “We are advising people to steer clear, unless they want to pay for what appears to be a meaningless office decoration.”

BBB of the Mid-South offers the following tips for businesses to avoid losing money in a “vanity award” program:

  • Learn everything you can about the organization that is giving the award. If it is coming from a mystery company, chances are it is simply a ploy to get your money.
  • Ask specific questions about how your company or organization was chosen for the award. Be wary if you didn’t apply for an award or the group cannot tell you how you were nominated.
  • Find out how many similar awards are given each year. Are there other winners in your city in the same category?
  • Most legitimate awards do not come with costs for the recipient. If there is a cost, scrutinize it even more closely.
  • Check the BBB Business Review on the awarding organization at www.bbb.org or by calling 901.759.1300 or 800.222.8754.