Business owners are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from their competitors, and awards and recognition from a third-party are a great way for a company to stand out.

Rather than acknowledging outstanding companies, some "awards" are all about making money. BBB warns business owners to be on the lookout for vanity award scams.

All too frequently, vanity pitches for "Who's Who" type publications, biographies or nominations for awards or special memberships have a catch to them. In some cases, honorees who receive such emails, letters and calls are not chosen by a select committee, as they are often told, but are plucked off mailing lists or have had their email addresses harvested from websites.

A little flattery can go a long way. While there are many legitimate awards given out every year that business owners can be proud of, many of these offers come from bogus organizations. Businesses should be skeptical when solicited about receiving any type of award, particularly if there is a cost involved.

BBBs nationwide have documented reports that local businesses have received emails claiming the company has won the "Best of…" award for businesses in their community.

To distinguish a reputable biographical directory or business award from those of little or no value, your BBB offers the following advice:

n Do your homework. BBB Business reviews are available for free at and provide information on the company's track record, including the number of complaints the business has received and whether attempts were made to resolve any problems.

n Keep an eye out for red flags. Some signs of a scam include receiving an award that you didn't apply for and if the award website lacks phone numbers, an address and other basic details on the organization giving the award. Some of these "award" companies are nothing more than an attempt to obtain personal information from victims and their businesses which may used to commit identity theft or to create fake emails which pretend to come from the executive.

n Don't be afraid to ask questions. An organization offering a reputable award will not hesitate to answer in-depth questions about their program including how many businesses are honored every year, how honorees are chosen and exactly why specific businesses were chosen. Also ask about cost. Some of these offers can cost a business owner anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

n Know what you're paying for. While having to spend money in order to receive an award can be a red flag, it isn't always the sign of a scam. In some cases businesses must pay a fee in order to submit an entry to an awards program. If the company is to be honored at a gala event, there are usually sponsorship opportunities — such as purchasing a table for attendees — to help offset the cost of the event.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer or business owner, go to To report a fraud or scam, call the BBB Hotline at 903-581-8373.