Let’s fight vanity scams together

Let's fight vanity scams together

I’ve been intrigued by the legs Awards for sale: Not a rewarding experience has had since I posted it on July 22nd, just under a month ago.

The Ballard Agency received an award from the U.S. Local Business Association that was clearly a deceptive marketing tactic similar to the phony domain name and Yellow Pages bills that are sent in hopes your A/P department will pay them in error.

To date, there have been 22 comments from people that received an email notification of the award, thought something was fishy, then pulled up the blog post after doing a Google search.

Tim Brosnan from the Centre Stage summed up what it was like to receive the award well:

A quick visit to the USLBA Web site dispelled any excitement I might have felt about our professional theater in Greenville, SC winning a national award.

Who else in Greenville had won awards?
No answer.

What’s the history of the USLBA?
No answer.

Who runs it?
No answer.

Is there a phone number to call?
No.

Now what do we do?
Buy a plaque.

What’s the plaque cost?
Enter all your contact information to find out.

Now I have a new term to toss around at cocktail parties: “vanity scam.”

“Vanity scam” is my favorite phrase of the week.

A few takeaways:

  • Social media powers word of mouth and illuminates questionable marketing and business practices. The #1 response when Googling “US Local Business Association” is the USLBA, but #2 is my blog post. It takes seconds to reveal the truth.
  • Just because a business doesn’t participate in social media, doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about it. The USLBA hasn’t weighed in to defend their actions yet. The conversation is happening without them.
  • Together, we can make a difference.

Please share any vanity scams or other questionable marketing practices you come across. Whenever possible, I’ll post them, and we’ll do some good—together.

Where have you seen questionable marketing practices such as false advertising, bait and switch, vanity scams and such?

Comment below to share your story.

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Join the discussion 52 Comments

  • There is nowhere to hide anymore. You can’t deceive an audience that is educated beyond shout marketing and is savvy to marketing ploys of the past… Enter the new age of the educated consumer empowered by social media.

    Great post my friend!

    Charles Heflin
    Twitter @CharlesHeflin

  • Marlin says:

    We received the notice today that we won the “2008 Best of Holmesville Award in the Floor Waxing Polishing & Cleaning category”, after finding this website I confirmed my suspicion that it was not legit, what I find amusing about this is that not only is their no other company that fit’s this category within this town, the town we are in is so small, we probably only work in it a few times a year (we don’t even have a stoplight). I guess it’s not to hard to be the best when you don’t have any competition!

  • Shirley says:

    What is hilarious is how many companies are putting out news releases patting themselves on the back for receiving this award! Apparently, they didn’t do their homework. Pat Several has a similar scam going. They give you an award….but you have to spend 20 thousand plus on their video explaining why you got the award. Amazing.

  • Tom Potts says:

    We received the Award notice for Best Bed and Breakfast in Luray this morning and smelled a scam immediately. One quick look at the web site added to the smell. Then I found this blog’s posting. I keep an address in my address book for just such emails and already forwarded the Award Notice to this fraud reporting address: http://www.enforcement@sec.gov Make sure you “forward” the email as that is the only avenue investigators can use to track down the server doing the scam. The SEC is probably way too busy to worry about such small fish in the greater web-based, scam river of life, but I feel good knowing that I took a swing at the scammer.

  • We are AMAZED to announce the we too have received the Best of Westminster Award for Pet Services 2008! I will be forwarding their original email to http://www.enforcement@sec.gov. Thank you for the info!

  • Rick says:

    We got the email today and I did a search to get info to blog about it myself. Glad someone else is spreading the word already!

  • We also forwarded our “Notification” to the SEC.GOV. Additionally I notified the USLBA (or whatever they are) that I have done so.

    We must stand up to this SPAM. Look at the time it takes from a business day to react/act on it.

    I may not be worth a lot, but my time is!

  • Jan says:

    What is the correct email address to report this to? You have a combo of a website and email address posted.
    I got hit today, Oct. 17, 2008 so they must have sent out a ton of spam. I’m a one person operation that doesn’t do much marketing at all!

  • Crow Meris says:

    We received the same spam/scam this morning.
    Amazing – we are a nonprofit organization offered an award for “Marketing”.

  • Frank Scheer says:

    We received also vanity spam from the USLBA – we are a german firm running our business from berlin : )

  • Our European office received notification of the USLBA Award for Buffalo, NY! Fortunately, they forwarded it to me. I smelled something fishy and found this post, the BBB comments and the comments here. I will be forwarding the email to the SEC also. What shocks me is how many companies have posted their Award press release. I guess if you don’t have anything else to say about your company … It’s similar to a VP at our firm who was all excited to have been selected for Who’s Who in U.S. Business. I was asked to follow up but quietly through the notification in the trash.

  • centran says:

    Received this scam and the owner bought the plaque. I really wish I would asked about these things. So far the scams we have fell for are; Signed up for monthly shipments of receipt tape; YP.com listing; Poster Compliance Center; and now the USLBA vanity scam.
    We are even hanging the plaque and listing the “achievement” on our website!!! yeah, for us!

  • mark hester says:

    We recieved our notice today…I did a little research and low and behold it was as i had suspected….another deceptive marketing scam…so sad they are allowed to do this…Bewair if you are ever required to pay for an award of any type…

  • AnKo says:

    Here’s what it costs for start:
    First, I would like to congratulate you on your selection as a 2008 New York Award Winner.

    As an Award recipient, there is no requirement to join the USLBA. We simply ask each award recipient to pay for the cost of their plaque. The revenue generated by the USLBA through the Award Program helps to pay for operational support, marketing and partnership programs for local businesses across America.

    Here are the two pricing options:

    8″x10″ Award Plaque ($79.94 each)
    10.5″x13″ Award Plaque ($99.94 each)

    The second page of the Order Form shows the pricing and shipping options. Simply click on the link below and follow the instructions for pricing and to receive your award:
    New York 2008 – Travel Consultants

    Sincerely,

    Ashley Carter
    Selection Committee Chair
    U.S. Local Business Association

  • AnKo says:

    Thank you for the blogs like that! Just to answer the question on how much they ask for plague my previous comment exploring the topic. Was very curious ion pricing…

  • Stacy says:

    We received the same reward. The fun part is we lost our business in a fire last year. Obviously they don’t know we have no place to hang $100 plaque. Glad your blog was here! I’ll forward the email onto the fraud email above. Thanks for a place we can all chime in.

    I have also been hit by the yellow pages and copy machine toner phone calls/fake bills. Make sure your employees who answer the phone are aware – they usually try to get them to say they have authority to authorize a purchase or to give them the numbers of the copy/adding/credit card machines so they can send out proper supplies.

  • Corinne says:

    Thank you so much for this blog and for all the comments. My company (The PoliteChild) was notified today of our “win.” First thing that made me wonder — in the email our company name was spelled as two words.

    While it’s nice to be recognized for the impact we’re trying to make on education, students and teachers, I’d prefer it to be legit. I can pay for recognition any day!

    Thanks again for providing this resource for people like me!

  • That is scary… thanks for the heads up.
    At the same time, what a smart way to scam people: i can see how it would work since so many people are after recognition which is, in essence, the basis of the American Dream.

  • Thanks for this post. I see these award scams all the time. You are right to compare them with the fake Yellow Pages ads.

    The marketing value for awards in any industry is located in credibility. Typically, awards offer very little value unless the award means something to your customer. Why waste your customer’s precious attention span to educate them on the value of your awards?

    When evaluating awards to pursue, here are some criteria to consider:

    – Who in your industry knows what it takes to win that award?
    – What does that award actually say about the prestige, culture, successful past projects of companies who win it?
    – Is the award competitive? Juried by industry peers? Difficult to win? Or (as in kindergarten) does everyone get a prize as long as they participate?
    – If your customer researched the award, would you be proud of what they’d find?

  • Nic says:

    We received our awards email today! I posted it to our blog. I hate having to do so many background checks just reading my emails. At least the multi-night big-top scams from yahoo.uk have slowed a bit. Only took a few emails back and forth from one to put them all in the auto email to spam tracking folder. What will they come up with next?

  • Thanks for the blog. Highly suspicious, my research quickly led to you rather than the USLBA site…..what a waste of my time.

  • Kim says:

    My company, too, received a “Best of” award. How did I know it was a scam? Because it was for the “Pipe & Boiler Covering Contractors” category. We are a plumbing company. HELLO, McFly!!! What is a pipe & boiler covering contractor anyway?? Needless to say, I didn’t fall for it. But, I did want to check to see if they were a legit business. So, I googled them, and low-and-behold, I found several website references about the USLBA’s efforts to scam businesses. I don’t know why they haven’t been stopped yet!?!?!

  • Steve Smith says:

    Today our network of health centers was the proud recipient of a USLBA “Best Of” Award. Impressively it was for the one practice/site that I have done almost no promotion of!

    My healthy skepticism kept me from wasting anymore time than it took to read the email, and then Google “USLBA2008.net”, finding your blog posting. Thanks for debunking this “vanity scammer” (a nice addition to the lexicon).

    I will follow the poster’s example of forwarding their email to the SEC.

    I do wish we had a larger “bat” to swing back at these smarmy opportunists…

    All the best,

    Steve Smith
    Marketing Manager

  • Andrew Brott says:

    We just received such an email. Only took a couple of seconds to determine that it was a scam. We won the award for the best Computer Support in Crooked River. Problem is, it’s Crooked River Ranch! And it is mainly a large subdivision that I happen to live in. So I do computer support for many of the retirees that live here. This blog saved me $75 +!

    Andrew Brott
    Owner

  • Don Bliss says:

    I’m SHOCKED at the skepticism I find here!

    We are grateful to have received this prestigious award email today. We ARE the best (and, only) Scientific Apparatus & Instruments vendor in our county’s yellow pages.

    We’re certain we were selected for this honor because our local customers (never had one) speak so highly of us. The USLBA must have heard of us through their extensive research: “Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category.”

    I’m pretty sure their “various sources” consisted solely of our listing in the yellow pages. (We got that only because there are no listings for “Tools for Catheter Manufacturing”, and our business phone includes a free listing.)

    I followed some of their business links. Did you know that Washington Mutual makes medical devices? Me, neither. I thought all they made was predatory loans.

    Got to cut it off here, so I can reply to another email that’s offering penis enlargement. (How on earth did they find out it’s so small?)

    Thanks for making the world a better place!

  • David says:

    They’ve now moved on to the religious community. Our church just received the award for “Best Place of Worship” in Tupelo, MS. I’m sure some of our friends in other denomonations and religions would beg to differ!

    Thanks for putting this information out there for those of us who are searching for help on scams like this.

  • Brian Huse says:

    Thanks to everyone who shared a comment. That probably helps keep this blog so high on the Google list which made it easy for me to quickly determine that the U.S. Local Business Association is bogus. I think Don Bliss puts everything nicely into perspective and his comments exceed my ability for cleverness so I’ll just put up this quick post in hopes it helps to keep this blog site high on Google search results.

  • Scott says:

    I’m proud to announce that I just received the 2008 Best of Clinton Award in the Athletic Organizations category.

    I’d like to thank my parents, who instilled in me a strong sense of excellence in the category of Athletic Organizations.

    Also, I should thank the U.S. Local Business Association for this award. Without this highly prestigious organization, how would we ever be commended for our hard work. And at only $100 for a plaque, I feel that is a small price to pay for manufactured pride.

    Finally, I’d like to thank my wife, who has always believed that I could win this award. She has supported me through thin and thin. All of those years of sacrifice are paying off now. We’re walking away with a USLBA Award, baby!

    I’M THE KING OF THE WORLD!!!!

  • Kevin says:

    I was shocked to receive the announcement today that we had been selected for the 2008 Best of Lincoln Award in the “Telecommunications Consultants” category. Not shocked about the award mind you, but shocked to discover that we are Telecommunications Consultants. Who knew?! To add further to my surprise, I read that the award was based on apparently exhaustive research by the USLBA, revealing our “exceptional marketing success” in our “local community.” How cool is that? Particularly since we don’t market in our local community.

    But imagine my disappointment at seeing the image of the plaque that was included with the announcement… the category read:

    TELECOMMUNICATIO
    NS CONSULTANTS

    Morons… they’re everywhere!

    Kidding aside, it smacked of “scam” from the start, but I was genuinely gratified to find this blog as the second link when I Googled USLBA. Thanks for this blog and helping to confirm my suspicion. I will join the effort and forward the offending email to the SEC.

    USLBA… Useless Scams from Lame Brained A-holes.

  • Rev. Dan says:

    Well, obviously our church is the BEST church of worship in Puyallup, Washington! (According to the USLBA. Are they a religious critic organization?) What’s funny is that we’ve been putting a lot of effort into helping our community in many ways and their scam said the award is based on “service to customers and community.” I TOO SMELLED A SCAM so I Googled and found this page. THANKS. I’m humbled that I’m not as proud as I would have been had I accepted this prestigeous award. PS: for just $19.95 +s&h I can help anyone avoid scams like this! 😉
    Pastor Dan

  • B Lucier says:

    1. We received this e-mail recently:
    “I am pleased to announce that Modern Homebrew Emporium has been selected for the 2008 Best of Cambridge Award in the Homebrewing Equipment & Supplies category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA). ”

    This is nice, I suppose, but meaningless, as we are the ONLY homebrew store in Cambridge. As I read on, however, I my nose detected odors of seafood:

    “In recognition of your achievement, a 2008 Best of Cambridge Award plaque has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Modern Homebrew Emporium by following the simple steps on the 2008 Best of Cambridge Award order form. ”

    Here’s part of their news release, referenced in the e-mail (the remainder can be found) at https://www.uslba2008.net/P9NVG8U4 :

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Modern Homebrew Emporium Receives 2008 Best of Cambridge Award

    U.S. Local Business Association’s Award Plaque Honors the Achievement

    WASHINGTON D.C., December 3, 2008 — Modern Homebrew Emporium has been selected for the 2008 Best of Cambridge Award in the Homebrewing Equipment & Supplies category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA)….[END OF NEWS RELEASE QUOTE]

    2. A Spokane Better Business Bureau warning was the second hit (the USBLA website being the first, of course): http://spokane.bbb.org/WWWRoot/SitePage.aspx?site=70&id=f8f28945-b02b-46f1-a1cb-7d8810908369&art=5195

    3. The next hit was for a Boston Audio-Visual company that apparently has accepted the validity of the award. Several more companies’ sites showed the press release; I wonder if they bought the plaque.

    This raises the question: would companies tout this “award” knowing it’s bogus just to puff themselves up, and become, in essence, accomplices? After all, they don’t need to buy the plaque, so it doesn’t cost them anything. How many businesses cynically post the PR in their site, knowing it’s meaningless?

  • Morwen says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that I almost fell for this, and very glad to find this blog via Google. Adding this to keep the blog high on the google results.

  • Roger says:

    We are the proud recipients of our city’s “Best of Timing Devices” award. In fact we are so thrilled (based entirely on the hilarious laughter wafting our of our CEO and VP’s offices) that I think I’ll go to the “Best of Office Supplies” store in our city and buy a 3″ x 5″ frame, print out the picture of our plaque and display it proudly in our rest rooms, just as a reminder of the great job we’re doing.

  • Justin says:

    After I ignored the first email notification I received, I was sent this one – “Earlier this year, I sent a notification email to you recognizing that Quality Termite & Pest Control had been selected for the 2008 Best of Topeka Award in the Pest Control category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA).”

    It seems that they are as desperate as the Big Three and the UAW to get something they do not deserve. I wonder if they should start sending these notifications to government agencies. I’d bet they would make a lot more money than from us ad-savvy “privateers”.

  • Hilary says:

    I just got a “Second Notice.” My email is clearly listed as the webmaster (not director, information, PR or anything useful) for a non-profit to whom marketing does not apply, in a town with a population in the double digits. “Best of Friendsville 2008” is hysterical on its own, let along with a subcategory. Thanks for this blog!

  • Steve W says:

    I just got one to info@my company name.com…. googled it and came to this blog, darn i thought i would get a cool award, oh well, i guess i have to actually earn one know

  • Dan A. says:

    Yes, we received this same deceptive marketing. Fortunately, I did the on-line research before being sucked in to spending the $100 for the “vanity sucker” award. On the flip side, I also took some time to review their website and was rewarded for my effort by discovering that there’s some pretty cool generic / basic and well organized information on their website that I can use as a resource in the following areas: marketing, management, hiring and employees, product protection and business location searches. Although I paid for nothing, I feel I was justly rewarded for my “time lost” to the deceptive advertising by gaining access to this information. Someone took a lot of time to organize and put it there, unless this too, was merely copied and posted from another author or source?

  • Jim Correnti says:

    I’d like to thank the USLBA for honoring my deck building company with the 2008 Best of Hampton Award in the Deck Construction category. My competitors are green with envy. I will work harder throughout the year to prove that I deserve this award. In the meantime, if one of my decks is missing a floorboard I’m sure the plaque will fit in nicely. Thank you again!

  • dtslw says:

    One of my clients recently got this scam award from us local business association. While I talked them out of buying the plaque, they still printed out the press release and blown-up image of the award for fun and hung it around the office.

    Now the hilarious part is 3 other companies in my area won the same award in the same city for the same year.

  • lisa says:

    Thanks for helping bring this scam to light. We received the exact email for our tattoo shop. Our hilarity is in being recognized as a best of class hair salon however the only thing we do with hair is shave the area to prep for a tattoo.

    Hey Responsible Marketing Blog keep up the good work!

  • Eduardo says:

    Thank you for posting this information!! This absolutely stunk from the get-go. Our company frequently receives these types of bogus emails. It was very nice to simply google the signature and find the information quickly.

    Sincerely,
    The fan club for Ashley Carter to off herself

  • mja2112 says:

    Just got one today and found your post about it- funny thing the letter says we won the award for safety equipment- we don’t even sell safety equipment!!!!
    thanks for posting this- you have done a great service for all of us honest people.

    mja

  • Frank Napoli says:

    Here’s the same scam with a slight change — the scammers have changed the name of the company to “U.S. Commerce Association.”

    My church (St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic) won the award for the Best of Hyattsville (MD)!

    USCA’s website is identical to USLBA’s site so I guess the same folks are running both (or the copy-cat scammers just copied the other site!)

    I was concerned that visiting the websites might infect users’ PCs with malware — have any of you had that happen?

    Rgrds…Frank

  • Ben C. says:

    Another one tagged!

    We received our award this morning! It was for Denver Gynecologist of the year. After the initial elation of the staff, we checked it out and now we are posting to beware of such nonsense. Good luck.

  • Roxanne says:

    We also received this it just looked like a scam so I immediately searched and found this.

    Beware use your common sense!

  • The email we got congratulating us on our “award” the name listed for the award itself was not even our company name but instead my maiden name (which I haven’t used for 10 years) and the catagory was for something we do not even do. I sent them an email back saying that there was some mistake and letting them know we sell office supplies. Here was the email I got back in reply:
    “First, I would like to congratulate you on your selection as a 2009 Best of Campbell Award Winner.
    We switched to a new software system for this year’s award notifications and there have been some database problems. The category you were selected in should have been “Office Supplies”. I apologize for the mistake. Our system has been updated and you can now view the corrected award. As an Award recipient, there is no membership requirement. We simply ask each award recipient to pay for the cost of their awards. The revenue generated by the Best of Campbell Award Program helps to pay for operational support, marketing and partnership programs for local businesses.
    There are various award types, packages and shipping options. Simply click on the link below and follow the instructions for pricing and to receive your award:
    Best of Campbell 2009 – Office Supplies
    Sincerely,
    Ashley Carter
    Selection Committee Chair
    P.S. In addition to displaying the award plaque at your place of business, most organizations incorporate their selection into their marketing materials. Studies show that customers are strongly influenced by third-party validations. In addition, we will post your organization on our website as a 2009 Award Winner and link back to your website; allowing new customers to find you.”

    Database problems, revenue supports partnership programs for local businesses…Pretty slick…not really.

  • Alexis says:

    They are now going by the Small Business Commerce Association. It’s a pretty good example of a phishing scam and a few of those that fell for it still seem proud of their award. I guess the lie is true if you believe in it hard enough.

  • Adrian Little says:

    seems this is still going on – we are a “three time winner” because I fell for the scam twice before!!!!!

    For the third consecutive year, I am pleased to announce that Merlin Petroleum Co., Inc. has been selected for the 2010 Best of Westport Award in the Petroleum Products category by the US Local Business Association (USLBA).

    Nationwide, only 1 in 120 (less than 1%) 2010 Award recipients qualified as Three-Time Award Winners. I’m sure that your selection as a 2010 Award Winner is a reflection of the hard work of not only yourself, but of many people that have supported your business and contributed to the subsequent success of your organization. Congratulations on your selection to such an elite group of small businesses. In recognition of your achievement, a special 2010 Best of Westport Award has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Merlin Petroleum Co., Inc. by following the simple steps on the 2010 Best of Westport Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to access the order form:
    http://www.uslbaaward.com/ACZX-LWE2-FTQ

    The USLBA “Best of Local Business” Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USLBA identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These

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  • Txmarman38 says:

    I also knew it was a scam…Who  pays for an award???? scam. new name same scam…
     Kelly McCartneyAward Committee Houston Award Program 

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