Better Business Bureau: BBB warns Madison Award Program tied to US Commerce Association vanity awards

CONTACT: Susan Bach, Director of Communications
PHONE: 414- 847- 6085
FAX: 414-302- 0355
E-MAIL: [email protected]

Milwaukee, Wis., November 28, 2012 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is alerting small businesses and consumers to be wary of a new vanity awards program linked to the notorious US Commerce Association.

The program, operating locally as the Madison Award Program, notifies businesses via emails that they have been selected to receive a Best of Madison Award for their “exceptional marketing success.” The award program honors “the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Madison area.” The BBB believes the program’s actual purpose is to persuade businesses to spend $80 to $180 for an award plaque or hand-polished crystal trophy.

The emailed press releases announcing the awards are virtually identical to releases sent by the US Commerce Association, a Los Angeles-based business with a history of soliciting businesses for awards. The US Commerce Association has an “F” rating with the BBB, the lowest possible.

The new awards program uses the website http://www.awardprogram.org (or local.awardprogram.org) and customizes the name of each award, depending on the recipient’s location. An aromatherapy business in Boca Raton, Fla., recently was notified it had received a 2012 Best of Boca Raton Award in the “cosmetics category.” A car wash business in Minneapolis recently was awarded a 2012 Best of Minneapolis Award in the “automobile washes category.”

Randall Hoth, Wisconsin BBB president/CEO, said the awards are potentially misleading to both businesses and consumers, who may not know how the awardees are chosen.

“Strong, ethical businesses should refrain from publicizing these awards on their websites or on other marketing materials,” he said. “It could backfire on them if customers look at these awards with skepticism and cynicism.”

An Internet search found several businesses publicizing the awards on their websites. Among them:

A Goodyear, Ariz., minister who was named a winner of the 2012 Best of Goodyear Award in the “psychics & mediums” category.

A West Haven, Conn., martial arts academy that was selected for the 2012 Best of West Haven Award in the “martial arts training” category.

A Chattanooga, Tenn., comedy club that was selected for a 2012 Best of Chattanooga Award in the “nightlife” category.

An Atlanta magic business that was named recipient of a 2012 Best of Atlanta Award in the “corporate entertainment” category.

Several Madison area businesses, including a funeral home, a nanny service and a family service organization.

Frank Moceri, a retired Internal Revenue Service agent who runs a St. Louis area tax business, said he had been solicited by the program, which he described as a “ridiculous scam.” The email directed him to a website with a personalized press release and offered him a chance to purchase what he called “a very expensive customized vanity award.” He declined the offer.

In addition to their near-identical news releases, the BBB found other connections between the Madison Award Program and the US Commerce Association. Much of the website content is the same for both businesses. Also, several news releases from the US Commerce Association were from a person identified as Kelly McCartney, the name used to register the website awardprogram.org in May 2012.

Attempts to contact representatives of the company were unsuccessful.

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 they simply want 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 Business Reviews by going to http://www.bbb.org or by calling 608-268-2221 or 800-273-1002.

For more information or further inquiries, please contact the Wisconsin BBB at http://www.wisconsin.bbb.org or 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin).

About BBB

For 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2011, consumers turned to BBB more than 100 million times for Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at http://www.bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 115 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation.