Beware of business award schemeLocal businesses that get an e-mail saying they’ve won an award from the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA) should be forewarned: The award may not be what it appears to be.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
Local businesses that get an e-mail saying they’ve won an award from the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA) should be forewarned:
The award may not be what it appears to be.
In fact, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the award program is nothing but a widespread scheme to try to get businesses to fork over money for a plaque.
The Echo Press has received news releases stating that local businesses have won a “Best of Alexandria” award from the USCA. The businesses, however, didn’t apply for the award or submit information to the USCA that could be used for criteria.
Business owners have also been contacted directly via e-mail from the USCA stating that they’ve won an award. The businesses are asked to link to the group’s website to obtain a plaque commemorating the award.
The fact that there’s a charge for the plaque – one particular size was $179 – is not part of the e-mail notice.
The BBB warns businesses to be cautious before dealing with groups that are not transparent in their approaches and to be sure recognition is not an attempt to obtain access to a company’s information or to elicit funds by an entity that may be misrepresenting itself.
According to the BBB, the USCA has been sending out news releases in recent months to businesses nationwide, telling them they have been selected as “outstanding local businesses” and offering them an opportunity to buy one or more awards to mark the honor.
On its website, the USCA says its purpose is to “promote local businesses through public relations, marketing and advertising.”
The awards, the website says, identify companies that it believes have achieved “exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category.”
Other than the material on its website, there seems to be little publicly available about the USCA, according to the BBB.
The site says its offices are in Washington, D.C., and a representative of the BBB that covers the area said that office has begun receiving inquiries about the association in the past several weeks.
A recently updated BBB report says that the association’s website is a match to the website of an association with a similar name – U.S. Local Business Association.
Both groups identify Ashley Carter as chair of the associations’ selection committees. And both groups report virtually identical award programs, the BBB says.
Neither site lists a phone number that people can call for more information. The site says only e-mail correspondence can be used in order for the association to abide by its bylaws of documenting conversations with businesses that are winners or under consideration for an award. This, the site says, allows the association “to remain neutral and maintain the integrity of its selection process.”
The Washington, D.C. area BBB office gives the U.S. Local Business Association an “F” grade and warns that persons contacted about awards must be sure the recognition is not, “in fact, an attempt to obtain access to a company’s information or to elicit funds by an entity that may not be what it represents itself as being.”
The BBB offers several tips to avoid losing money in a “vanity award” program:
•Learn everything you can about who is giving the award. If it is coming from a mystery company, chances are it simply wants your money.
•If you didn’t apply for an award or the group cannot tell you how you were nominated, chances are the award is not legitimate.
•Most legitimate awards do not come with costs for the recipient. If there is a cost, scrutinize it even more closely.
•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.
•Check BBB reliability reports at www.bbb.org or by calling (509) 455-4200 or 1-800-356-1007.
Some of the information in this story appeared in the December 2 issue of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Echo Press are both owned by Forum Communications Company.