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: