This is probably legal, but it still feels like a scam

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You know I love writing about illegal scams, how they work, and how to avoid them. Recently I was approached by something that seems to have all the characteristics of a scam, but it’s most likely legal.

citys best awards


Just this past week, I received this message, which was submitted via the Contact form on my website:

legal scam


The subject is 2021 City’s Best Award Nomination.

The text of the message is:

Hello! I wasn’t sure which email to send this to. I’m happy to let you know that you won the 2021 City’s Best Award! We work with one business in each major city throughout the US. Here is the link to claim the award (all of the details are here too)… email me after you claim it so that I can get all of the award collateral over to you. Congrats again! The link is:

Wow, isn’t that amazing? Not really.

Let’s examine this “notification” piece by piece.

“Will” (whoever that is) sent me this message that I have won the 2021 City’s Best Award. Isn’t it interesting that they don’t actually say the name of my city? That’s because this same email goes out to hundreds or thousands of business owners, and it doesn’t matter what city I’m in. When you’re sending out an email to many thousands of recipients, it’s much more time-consuming to customize each one with the name of the city. So they opted to just leave it generic. It’s a show of their laziness really.

It also says that they only choose ONE business in each major city throughout the US. Now, this is confusing to me in a couple of ways.

First, this is not saying one business in each category. That would actually make a bit more sense – like the City’s Best Computer Repair service, the City’s Best Restaurant, the City’s Best Hair Salon, and so on. But no – they’re claiming they only choose ONE single business to give this award to. Again, this is just laziness. It would be a lot more work to categorize each business and customize the award for each category. Without the categories, they can just send out the same cookie-cutter email to every business owner in their list of thousands.

Second, it’s pretty clear that they don’t really deal with one business “in each major city throughout the US”. My city is Safety Harbor, Florida. With a population of around 17,000, it is by no means “major”. Again, this is just nonsense text. They don’t care what city I’m in or how big it is. They just want to get their message out to as many business owners as possible.

And why would they do this? What’s the objective of this scheme? To find out, we would need to visit the website – (I’m intentionally not linking to the site because I don’t want to give them any search engine optimization).

Here’s what comes with this amazing “award” that I’m being offered:

1. Business listing ranked #1 on our website!

Which means nothing, since no one visits their website except other business owners who have fallen for this fake “award”.

2. Website badge for your website!

This means I can put the “award” on my website, so that people can click on it and go directly to my business listing on the awards website. If someone is already on my site, why would I want to put a link on there that takes them to some other website? Really stupid.

3. Social graphics to spread the word!

So I get 100% generic digital images to post on Facebook, to advertise to people that I fell for this nonsense.

4. Award certificate for your office!

And I can also show all of my in-person clients that I got suckered into this too! And note this – they are not going to send me a certificate by mail. They are going to give me a link to some digital image which I have to print myself. More laziness on their part.

5. Professionally-written press release!

No doubt this is a template that reads exactly the same for every one of the “winners” of this award. And do they send out the press release to the news media? Nope – they just give it to me, and then I have to distribute it myself.

And for all of that, I just have to “Claim my Award” – and pay the $299 annual fee. Ah, now we see where this was all going, right? They want to give me all the meaningless junk listed above, and for that I have to pay not just $299 now, but $299 every year. Wait a minute, how do they know I’ll still be the best business in my city a year from now? Well, their website says that they’ll check in with me in a year, and if nothing about my business has changed, I’ll get the same award again. And every year after that – if I keep paying the $299.

So you can see why they have the incentive to send this out to as many business owners as possible – regardless of the type of business, or what city it is, or how big the city is. What if they just get a 3% conversion rate? That means if they send out a thousand emails, 30 people will claim their so-called “award” and this place just made $8970. And I can guarantee you they’re sending out a LOT more than a thousand emails.

And why is something like this profitable? It comes down to one word: ego. Who doesn’t want to feel like they own the best business in their city? So some people see that “award” and kind of willfully ignore all the parts of this that feel fake.

And, unfortunately, what’s happening here is most likely not breaking any laws. I mean, they tell you what you’re getting, and they tell you the price, and you agree to the price, and they give you that stuff. Yes, the initial message is pretty misleading, but who’s going to complain? The people who fall for it and pay the $299 don’t even know it’s all worthless, and those who know it’s all junk just delete the message and move on.

When someone sends them $299, I would estimate probably $260 of that is pure profit. You almost have to respect them for coming up with something like this, right? Something that feels very much like a scam, but doesn’t really break any laws.

Just make sure you’re not one of the few who fall for it.

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