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Fake award scam sees resurgence in Madison

By: Phil Levin Email
By: Phil Levin Email

POSTED Wednesday, October 9, 2013 --- 10:15 p.m.
Reporter: Phil Levin

Scammers searching for businesses willing to accept awards without asking too many questions are again picking targets in Madison.

In the last week various companies report receiving emails offering award plaques or statues signifying "best of" statuses. The practice is a often a scam, one NBC 15 began investigating nearly a year ago, finding some of companies earned the Better Business Bureau's worst "F" rating.

Clara Nydam is CEO at Career Momentum, Inc. in Madison. The company helps clients find jobs. She recently received an award offer from The Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce but quickly discovered it was likely a scam based on research online.

"I hadn't applied for any award and I had never been interviewed for an award, so how would this organization know anything about me?" she said.

The company lists a Washington, D.C. phone number but the local BBB has been unable to contact anyone from the business. NBC 15 called every phone extension, emailed all the addresses listed on their website and sent the company a fax but did not receive any response.

POSTED November 30, 2012
Reporter: Phil Levin

An awards company with an eye for quick cash is conning local businesses into buying meaningless trophies.

A website calling itself the US Commerce Association is sending businesses across the country emails awarding "Best of..." honors in their local industry. The note promises to send a crystal statue or plaque if the business provides up to $100.

"It seemed very legit," said Peace of Mind Nannies Owner Ashley Jacobs. "It said Sun Prairie, and so I just assumed that it was something from the local area."

Jacobs started her business two years ago, and admits she was surprised to win an award so soon despite working hard to build her reputation. She tried contacting USCA, never heard back, so she never sent any money.

But Jacob's service is just one of several local businesses victimized by the scam. A local photography studio also received several emails and blogged about their award. A local dentist claims to have won twice. An outdoor store even uploaded a drawing of a crystal statue, but never ordered the real thing.

The Better Business Bureau is now investigating the company from offices across the country. USCA earned an 'F' ranking, the bureau's lowest designation. Nearly identical websites are offering awards to businesses nationwide.

"It turns out one person owns all the domains of all the different web sites and each of them have been customized for each market," said Better Business Bureau Regional Director Kimberly Hazen from her office in Madison. "I've got them in Memphis, Los Angeles, New York, D.C."

Hazen says even the bureau couldn't contact the company, but notes several complaints filed by businesses.

Bachmanns Pools & Spas was issued an "award" in 2011, but Fred Bachmann tells NBC 15 there may be even more similar scams. He says he receives award emails every couple months, and no longer even bothers to check their validity because the industry is so diluted. Bachmann says he used to maintain a Wall of Fame in his store with 27 years of accolades, but took it down earlier this year because scams are causing his legitimate achievements to lose meaning.

Jacobs spent the day interviewing nanny candidates for hours, and says she checks the references and backgrounds of her candidates and clients. Happy her diligence saved her from sending a check, she is still upset someone is even trying the scam.

"It is very disheartening that people aren't honest and genuine anymore and that they have to scam people to make a living."

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