BBB to Small Businesses: Don’t Believe Every Award You Receive

Chicago, IL, January 29, 2009 -Small business owners are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from their competitors; awards and recognition from a third-party are a great way for a company to differentiate itself from the competition. Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois warns, some “awards” are all about making money – rather than acknowledging outstanding companies – and small business owners need to be on the lookout for vanity award scams.

All too frequently vanity pitches for “Who’s Who”-type publications, biographies or nominations for awards or special memberships have a catch to them. In some cases, honorees who receive such e-mails, letters and calls are not chosen by a select committee, as they are often told, but are plucked off mailing lists or have had their e-mail addresses harvested from Web sites.

“There are many legitimate awards given out every year-such as local and national BBB Torch Awards-that small business owners can be proud of,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “But some awards, which seem to have merely pulled recipients out of the phone book, offer praise that is ultimately empty and not worth the plaque the company’s name is etched on.”

To distinguish a reputable biographical directory or business award from those of little or no value, BBB offers the following advice:

Always check the organization out with BBB first.
BBB Reliability Reports are available for free at www.bbb.org and provide information on the number of complaints the business has received, as well as its record in resolving any problems.

Keep an eye out for red flags.
Some signs of a scam include receiving an award that you didn’t apply for and if the award Web site lacks phone numbers, a physicaladdress and other basic details on the organization giving the award.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
An organization offering a reputable award will not hesitate to answer in-depth questions about their program including how many businesses are honored every year, how honorees are chosen and exactly why specific businesses were chosen.

Know what you’re paying for.
With less than scrupulous awards schemes, the company is typically trying to make money by peddling books or plaques. While having to spend money in order to receive an award can be a red flag, it isn’t always the sign of a scam. In some cases businesses must pay a fee in order to submit an entry to an awards program. If the company is to be honored at a gala event, there are usually sponsorship opportunities-such as purchasing a table for attendees-to help offset the cost of the event.

For more small business advice you can trust, and more information about the BBB International Torch Award program go to www.bbb.org.


As a private, non-profit organization, the purpose of the Better Business Bureau is to promote an ethical marketplace. BBBs help resolve buyer/seller complaints by means of conciliation, mediation and arbitration. BBBs also review advertising claims, online business practices and charitable organizations. BBBs develop and issue reports on businesses and nonprofit organizations and encourage people to check out a company or charity before making a purchase or donation.