Best of [Fill-in-the-Blank] Award

This scam targets small business owners in a particularly cruel way.

Stuff like this really pisses me off.

Today, among my usual crop of penis enhancement, prescription drug, and wristwatch spam, I got this gem from “Board of Review” with the subject “Flying M Air Receives 2011 Best of Wickenburg Award”:

Fake AwardI am pleased to announce that Flying M Air has been selected for the 2011 Best of Wickenburg Award in the Helicopter Charter & Tours category by the US Commerce Association (USCA).

I’m sure that your selection as a 2011 Award Winner is a reflection of the hard work of not only yourself, but of many people that have supported your business and contributed to the subsequent success of your organization. Congratulations on your selection to such an elite group of small businesses.

In recognition of your achievement, a special 2011 Best of Wickenburg Award has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Flying M Air by following the simple steps on the 2011 Best of Wickenburg Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to access the order form:

The USCA “Best of Local Business” Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USCA identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

Also, a copy of the press release publicizing the selection of Flying M Air is posted on the USCA website. USCA hereby grants Flying M Air a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, distribute, and display this press release in any media formats and through any media channels.

In order to provide you with the best possible service, you have been assigned an award code that can be used on our website for quick access to your award information and press release. If you have any questions or comments, please include this code with your correspondence.

Your Award Code is: C86-MHP4-XXX

To place your order over the phone – please call us at: 646-355-XXXX and select option 1.


Kelly McCartney
Board of Review
US Commerce Association

The intended recipient of this notification is the Marketing Director for Flying M Air. If you have received this email in error please forward it to the intended recipient. If you do not wish to receive further advertisements from USCA, please mail a written request to: US Commerce Association, 5042 Wilshire Blvd #13854, Los Angeles, CA 90036 or simply click to opt-out.

Dig the groovy award image. Obviously, someone at the Board of Review knows how to use Photoshop.

This is a scam. No matter how legitimate the Web site for the “US Commerce Association” looks, the site exists solely to sell this idiotic award to businesses so desperate for recognition that they’ll believe and buy anything.

How do I know this? Well, explain to me how my company can be “best” of anything in a town where it doesn’t even operate anymore? A town where it was the only helicopter operator ever based there?

Indeed, the only traces of my business in Wickenburg are the sign on my hangar, my FAA-required files, and my mailing address. Even my helicopter is there less than half the year. I haven’t done a tour out of Wickenburg in over a year. My business is licensed in Phoenix.

I especially like the line “I’m sure that your selection as a 2011 Award Winner is a reflection of the hard work of not only yourself, but of many people that have supported your business and contributed to the subsequent success of your organization.” Local support for my business? In Wickenburg? I cannot tell you how many times I was screwed over by the local Chamber of Commerce and people at Town Hall every time I tried to do something to grow my business or help the community. From participation at the annual Fly-In event to the construction of an office on the airport premises, the town has fought me tooth and nail, showing me just how much they didn’t want me or my business in town. Even when I got the contract for the airport FBO back in 2002, they tried to tell me how to run my business — even going so far as to tell me what I could and couldn’t blog about. Can you say censorship? And when I did a golf ball drop without pay to help raise money for football uniforms, the person who hired me had the nerve to ridicule me behind my back at a Rotary meeting because it took us two tries to get the balls near the cup.

I got the hint. I only wish I’d gotten it sooner; I’m doing much better now that I’ve left Wickenburg’s bullshit behind.

And that line only proves how unreal this whole award is. It’s not based on anything. It’s fiction, written for gullible people who want to believe it’s true.

Yet across the country, thousands of other small business owners have probably received virtually identical email messages this morning. Many of them are struggling for survival in a tough economy. Some of them will seize upon this award as a chance to differentiate themselves from their competition. Many of them won’t even question the likelihood of this being real —they’ll take it on face value, buy the award (or maybe several of them to place in strategic places around the office), and feel like they’ve actually achieved something. Meanwhile, nothing will change except their bank account balances; they’ll continue to struggle, just like before. And the money that they spent on that award could probably have been used for better purposes, like paying suppliers and employees.

So yes, this morning’s scam pissed me off. It reminded me not only of my bad decision to move to and set up shop in Wickenburg, but the desperation of small business owners in general, and the slimy bastards that prey upon them.

You want an award like this? Go to a trophy shop and have one made. It’ll be just as legitimate as this one — and a hell of a lot cheaper.

13 thoughts on “Best of [Fill-in-the-Blank] Award

  1. Thanks for sharing this experience. The plaque does look very authentic as you say.

    These awards remind me of the scam that the newspaper I used to work for used to do. They create a pseudo contest, “Best of ”fill-in the blank biz” or Reader’s favorite “fill-in-the blanks” then send their reps around to sell a giant banner that they print in-house for dirt cheap but mark up for 500% or more.

    • Same idea, I’m sure.

      It’s like those “special issues” of magazines or newspaper supplements. They did a local “winery issue” here recently. Got wineries to submit wines, did a blind tasting, created dozens of awards. Then tried to sell the wineries advertising space in the special issue in advance of the awards ceremony. Fortunately, you didn’t have to buy an ad to get an award and the awards were actually legitimate. But I saw the primary goal of the competition as advertising revenue.

      Another twist on this happened to me some years ago. After voicing dissatisfaction with my HAI (Helicopters Association International) membership because they absolutely ignore small businesses like mine, they contacted me to tell me they were doing a feature story in their member magazine about small business owners and wanted to feature me. I answered a bunch of questions, sent photos, etc. But then, before the issue went to press, when they realized I hadn’t renewed my membership, they told me they couldn’t include me unless my dues — $600 per year! — were current. I told them I wasn’t paying and they pulled me from the magazine. No big deal for me — not only was the publication a complete rag and waste of paper, but my potential customers don’t read it so what good is it to me?

  2. It’s just like the Who’s Who Among People Who Paid To Be In This Book scam.

    I get stuff in the mail on a regular basis that I’ve received an award for something or the other related to printing newspapers. Only we don’t do our own printing, it’s outsourced to another company. It’s all a scam.

    OR the phone calls from eastern India where someone tells me that I’ve been chosen to be the top result on “search engines like Google, Yahoo and others.”

    OR the phone calls I get from a TTY services that want to buy ads using stolen credit cards.

  3. oh my goodness. thanks for posting this info. i just received an email from usca and wanted to search the web to see if it was a scam. i appreciate you taking the time to let others know about this. it really makes me sick that they would target small business owners. what kind of people sit down and come up with an idea like this?? so crazy. karma…..

  4. I just open their Email and was “what the #*$&”! I dont even show up on the first page of Goggle there.
    We I searched the address, i saw your blod, what passion, tell me, what you really feel about Wickenburg; or worse these scumballs.

    I’m glad there are other principled people in our world, THANKS!

  5. Our company just got one exactly like that. Thank you for posting this!! My boss asked me to verify if the award was legit.

What do you think?