A Cambridge-based craftsman was almost duped by a fraudulent scheme that offered him a dubious honor for a hefty fee. He shared his story with CBS Boston to warn other business owners about this potential trap.
How the scam works
Kevin Richard is the owner of Cambridge Craftsman, a company that makes high-end sheds, porches, and custom wood designs. His work is impressive and artistic, and he takes pride in his craftsmanship.
One day, he received an email from HonorLocal.com, claiming that he was named “Best Shed Maker of Cambridge”. The email congratulated him and offered him a plaque to display in his business for $150, or a media package for $1,500. The email also included a press release to make it look official.
“It’s plausible! I should win an award for shed building,” laughs Richard. “Then, I start thinking about it.”
He noticed that the email sender had a very generic name, like Jenny Smith, and that the website link did not work. He also realized that he had never heard of HonorLocal.com before, and that there was no evidence of any voting process or criteria for the award.
He decided to do some research and found out that the whole thing was a scam. He reported it to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and warned other business owners on social media.
What is a vanity scam?
The BBB calls this type of fraud a vanity scam. It is a fake award that mimics legitimate honors like “Best of Boston”, but is designed to get money and personal information from unsuspecting victims.
“We all seek recognition, and unfortunately people have been scammed by this for many years,” said Paula Fleming, spokesperson for BBB New England. “Last year it was brought up, and unfortunately a lot of Boston women were targeted. They were nominated and asked to pay an upfront fee to make it into a runner up, and people were paying the fee.”
According to the BBB’s Scam Tracker, there have been 1,300 reports of scams involving the word “award” since 2015. The scammers use various names and domains to lure people in, such as BestBusinesses.org, BestofCity.net, or TopChoiceAwards.com.
How to avoid falling for the scam
The BBB advises business owners to be wary of any unsolicited emails or calls that offer them an award or recognition. They should ask questions like who is giving the award, who is voting, and what are the benefits of accepting it.
They should also do some background checks on the organization and the website, such as looking for reviews, complaints, or contact information. If the website does not work or has no content, that is a red flag.
“There are legitimate awards out there, and some do have a small fee. You have to do some due diligence to navigate to see if this is a scam,” adds Fleming.
The BBB also recommends reporting any suspicious emails or calls to them or to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They also encourage business owners to share their experiences with others to raise awareness and prevent more victims.
Richard is glad he did not fall for the scam, and hopes his story will help others avoid it too.
“I’m sure they automate it in a way that scales it up to get hits, and prey on the fragile ego of people like me,” jokes Richard.