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Minnesota Opinion: Beware of business 'vanity awards' from nowhere

A scam is going around again that local business should be aware of. Businesses are notified that they've won a "best of" award for the city they're located in. Sounds good, right? Who doesn't like to win an award? However, to receive the award, ...

A scam is going around again that local business should be aware of.

Businesses are notified that they've won a "best of" award for the city they're located in. Sounds good, right? Who doesn't like to win an award?

However, to receive the award, business owners are told they must make a payment to purchase their plaque or award.

Such awards are called vanity awards, and entities that offer them are nebulous at best, and entirely fraudulent in most cases, according to the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB).

The BBB sent out a warning about the questionable practice last week.

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"Recognition is appreciated by all business owners, but it's important to be able to identify a real award from one conjured out of thin air," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "If someone came up to you on the street and told you that you'd won an award but would need to pay them cash to receive it, you'd run far away. That's what we're advising business owners to do in this case."

(Many newspapers have) received about a half-dozen "news releases" in the last few months saying that a local business has won a "2016 Best of Award" in that business' particular industry - real estate, attorney, etc.

Simply put, it's a crock.

According to the BBB:

The notice of the award, received via email, directs the business owner to a website where a plaque or crystal award honoring them could be purchased for $150 and $200, respectively - plus shipping charges.

The website, which lists the business behind the awards as simply Award Program, is fairly generic and lists no physical address for the entity which purports to offer these awards. An Internet search revealed the website is registered to a Chicago entity called Award System. The physical address listed for them appears to be that of a virtual office - space which can be leased or rented by anyone, anywhere.

BBB recommends the following tips to avoid a vanity award scheme:

• Check the company's BBB Business Review at bbb.org to ensure the offer is legitimate.

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• Learn everything you can about the award's origination. If it is coming from a mystery company, chances are they simply want your money.

• If you didn't apply for an award, the award is likely not legitimate.

• Be aware that most awards don't come with associated costs for the recipient. If there is a fee for receiving a certificate or plaque it is likely a scam.

• 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. Businesses and organizations that offer legitimate awards will be willing to provide detailed information on why a specific company received the award.

• If the announcement for the award leads to a website, do not enter any personal information on that site unless you are positive of the company's legitimacy and the award's validity.

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