Here's how the email starts:
"I am pleased to announce that Knowledge For Development LLC has been selected for the 2009 Best of Arlington Award in the Computer Operator Training category by the US Commerce Association."
And then there's a nice image of the award plaque. Wow! Awards are nice, aren't they? Except this one might be embarrassing to display.
Step one: Read with both eyes open to spot the red flags all over it
* The message was sent using an email address only posted on my website.
* The sender doesn't seem to know my name.
* My company, Knowledge for Development, LLC, although technically still registered, hasn't been operating for several years.
* Since when would any of my activities qualify as "Computer Operator Training"?
Step two: What's the US Commerce Association anyway?
They do have a simple website. I won't even point you to it. Anyone can have a website.
Step three: What are other people saying about it?
The following article was found just one item below the US Commerce Association website in a simple Google search:
All That Glitters? US Commerce Association Awards to Biz May Not Be What They Seem
I didn't go beyond that. I don't want to know how much they wanted to charge me to send me the award plaque. That's essentially what they are in the business of, selling you vanity awards. They're just not very upfront about it.
A few months back, we received in the mail a very fancy package addressed to "The Parents of ______." They had my daughter's name and even the name of one of her teachers who had supposedly recommended her for a prestigious and highly selective -- not to mention expensive -- leadership program. That took me a little longer to spot because my daughter happens to be a straight "A" student and a teacher did indeed recommend her for the program. The program's website was very similar to what I found at the US Commerce Association site. Other sites talking about the program were providing conflicting information about whether it was a fraud or not. Some parents seem to think it had been a great learning opportunity for their kids. Sometimes it's not a straightforward fraud but you are getting manipulated into buying something you would not have bought if you had not been told how great you (or your kids) were.
In any case, you were paying a high price for the program and you were inclined not to look at the price because your kid had been selected and not sending them would be to deprive them of a great opportunity they had earned. I explained the whole thing to my daughter and we agreed the money would be better spent on some other great opportunity she could pick herself. I also suggested to my daughter that she should keep the fancy mailing package as a reminder that all that glitters isn't gold. Great lesson for her!