Milwaukee, Wis. - March 30, 2010 – April Fool’s Day came early this year for the employees of Welsch Heating & Cooling Company. The Maryland Heights, Mo., business recently received an e-mail informing it that it had won a prestigious 2009 “Best of Business” award from the Small Business Commerce Association. The problem, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), is that the only qualification for the award is paying for it.
Butch Welsch, owner and president of the heating and cooling firm, said he was suspicious of the e-mail from the start. “I didn’t think a random e-mail would be the way we would be notified of an award,” he said. “It seemed very phony.”
The BBB said the fake award is yet another example of a widespread “vanity awards” scam that has been trying to hook businesses for years by selling them inscribed plaques and trophies that cost $50 to $100 each. Several months ago, the BBB alerted businesses about the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Commerce Association. Like the U.S. Commerce Association, San Francisco-based Small Business Commerce Association appears to have no real standing as a business organization. It seems to exist solely to get businesses to buy its products.
“People enjoy pulling innocent pranks on each other on April 1,” said BBB President and CEO Randall Hoth, “but it isn’t funny when people go into business with the year-round intent of deceiving others to enrich themselves.”
The BBB says a variety of businesses make money by offering products that depend on trickery and deception. The businesses range from vanity awards programs to businesses that help customers mislead or deceive prospective employers and others. Among them:
- Fake diploma, transcript and resume companies. Many of these businesses maintain that the fakes are for “novelty” purposes only, but it is clear that the materials can be used to mislead the public and employers. “Is your lack of a degree holding you back from career advancement?” asked a recent e-mail received in the BBB offices. “Call us right now for your customized diploma.” The website fakeresume.com offers tips on “the best way to get fake references.” It offers a booklet that tells you “how to get college transcripts from any university with any GPA (Grade Point Average) you want!” The cost of the book: $49.95.
- Fake clergy document companies. The Internet is filled with companies offering packages for the man or woman who wants to be a minister but doesn’t want to be burdened with studies or the high cost of education. One site, ordination.com, offers everything from an official looking clergy parking pass to packets of baptism and marriage certificates – for a fee.
- Fake driver’s licenses and birth certificate companies. Want to add three years to your age, or shave 10 years off? The Internet has businesses ready to help. ”We stock fake birth certificates, fake cosmetology certificates, fake business certificates . . . and more!” says a site called diplomacompany.com. Another site, theidshop.com, boasts on its website “No one can touch the quality of our fake Ids.”
The BBB suggests that consumers be wary of any offers to obtain degrees or diplomas based on “life experience,” or that require very little or no work. Consumers also should be suspicious of anyone offering to grant them a degree or diploma within a few days, weeks or months. Also, be warned that many potential employers verify education-related degrees and certificates and the use of an illegitimate degree could result in losing a job.
Using a fake ID to defraud can be prosecuted criminally.
Always check a company’s Reliability Report at www.bbb.org or by calling 414-847-6000. Make sure the college or university you are enrolling in is accredited from one of the six regional accreditation boards. The U.S. Department of Education has a searchable database of accredited post-secondary schools at: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation.