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award scam 1

Is This a Scam? Part 2: The Award Edition

If you're not careful, nefarious award programs can take your money and leave you nothing to show for it.

This is part two of our series on finding “legit” opportunities. We’ll be discussing award applications that are part of a scam. Be sure to read Part 1: The Podcasting Edition.

I’m a Woman of the Year! Or maybe I’m a Leading Woman in Cybersecurity! (Um… I’m in marketing but I guess you saw my name on the speaker list for the Day of Shecurity last year.) My marketing agency is also a Top Firm in Security! And a Top Firm in Tech. I’m going to be included in a listing of the Top 10 Women in XYZ. Or the Directory of Leading Consultants.

Meanwhile, my clients frequently forward the news of their own award-winning ways. A Lawyer of the Year. A Financial Planner of the Year. A Top Consultant in (Your Industry Here.) Sometimes it’s recognition or inclusion in a list.

Awards can be great for your credibility and visibility, so let’s crack the champagne and party like it’s 2019! Or maybe not.

How do you tell if an award is a scam?

Let’s talk about ways to determine if an award is a reason to call Mom and let her know the big news, an OK thing to have or someone’s way of making a quick buck off you. (And, like most things, there are various points along the continuum.)

Did you apply for the award, or did it appear out of the blue?

Did you apply or did someone you know nominate you? If it’s neither, that’s one of the first signs that this might be a pay-to-play award or that it has some other, more ominous purpose.

Most legitimate awards have an application process. You, a friend, a co-worker or your marketing team fill out an application detailing why you should be the recipient of an award. The application form will include contact information in case you’re named the winner.

Did it appear out of the blue? It might still be real. You might be such a big deal that they found you all on their own. If that’s the case, then you need to figure out if they’re just trying to build their legitimacy from your credibility and industry stature.

Some organizations or media entities create directories of top roles in their industry to try to gather website traffic. Keywords often contain words like “Top, Best or Leading”. A directory or list that contains these words can appear in a Google search above your own name and your own website and redirect people who might be looking for you to a list of people who compete with you.

Are they asking for money?

Running a legitimate award program is labor-intensive. Setting up the application.  Filtering out winners from pretenders. Promoting the application to potential awardees. Persuading judges to spend hours, if not days, reviewing applications. Maybe for multiple rounds of judging. Notifying the winners. Recognizing the winners. Awards programs often have elaborate events or media coverage to announce the winners. Many publications and organizations run legitimate awards programs as major fundraisers. They can sell tickets to the gala events and get sponsors involved. 

Even legitimate awards programs sometimes collect application fees. Fees help keep out time-wasting applications, fund the process and drive membership in an association. (Members either get a free or discounted path to applying for awards.)

Still, that doesn’t excuse the organizations that are just running a scam and making money off an award program. Look at the awards, previous winners and the judges. Is there real industry expertise? Or do you see oddities, like the marketing firm being called a Top Firm in Tech? Are the categories far-ranging and all-encompassing? Do you see marketing side-by-side with cyber-security? Are there awards that seem ripped from the headlines? (I’m considering an awards program for Top NFT Owners and Stakeholders.)

What if they aren’t asking for money?

The better question is, what if they aren’t asking for money now? Are they looking to suck you in and then ask you to pony up? Does your award come with an offer to buy a “promotional package”? Do you need to buy stickers? A special logo? A press release? A banner for your website?

Does the award announcement come with news of what is included? If it does, you can be sure that there is stuff that isn’t included, and you will be getting a solicitation.

What if they aren’t asking you for money?

Another strategy of some organizations is to give an award to a market mover and shaker so that person’s audience or community will buy tickets to a gala event. Or make donations. Understand what you’re getting yourself and your friends into. That award might be a great way for you to support your favorite charity – or it could be undue and unwelcome pressure to support an organization you barely know.

Four signs it might be a legitimate award – not a scam

  1. You know the organization. Maybe you’re a member. Maybe you’d like to be a member. You could be a member. Beware of far-away organizations that suddenly want to give you an award.
  2. You know previous winners. Whether it’s one year or twenty, it’s good when the award program has history and you know previous winners or recognize their names.
  3. While there might be an application fee, it isn’t too onerous or too much for the level of the people involved in the program. (Some programs which recognize up-and-comers and industry superstars will have lower fees for younger and more junior people.)
  4. Maybe there’s a marketing program with fees, but you don’t need to pay to be placed on the listing or become eligible to win the award.
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