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April 26, 2007

Victoria Strauss -- Beware Who's Who Schemes

I've been planning on doing this post for some time, but putting it off because it involved a lot of research. What tipped me over the line? The other day my husband, Rob, got a solicitation from Cambridge Who's Who.

"It is my pleasure," the letter from Editor in Chief Jennifer A. Gonzalez begins, "to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion into [sic] the 2007/2008 Cambridge Who's Who Among Executives and Professionals "Honors Edition" of the Registry." This is a major honor, Jen explains, because the Registry will include biographies of "our country's most accomplished professionals," many of whom regard inclusion as "the single highest mark of achievement." There's an application form that Rob can fill out and send back if he's the snail mail type, or if he's electronically inclined he can apply online. Just in case it occurs to him to wonder whether there's a catch, Jen hastens to reassure him: "There is no cost to be included in the Registry."

Rob lives with me (and Writer Beware), so the first words out of his mouth were "This is a scam, right?" Unfortunately, many people are much less suspicious.

There are legitimate Who's Who publishers--A & C Black in the UK, Marquis in the USA. They research the people they include, and while they'd love it if you bought the book, that's not the main reason for their existence. Cambridge and its ilk, on the other hand, are all about the hard sell. Similar to the vanity poetry anthologizers, Who's Who schemes lure customers by presenting themselves as a no-cost opportunity, but make their money by persuading people to buy books and/or memberships--often at costs exceeding $1,000. They claim to be selective, but in reality they harvest names just as junk mailers or spammers do, randomly and without regard to credentials--which means that their networking value, often touted to justify the enormous membership or purchase fee, is negligible. The bigger ones attempt to tailor their solicitations--Rob is in insurance, so he got the Executives and Professionals letter. A woman might get an invitation to the Executive and Professional Women registry. There's a solicitation for people in education. There's one for scientists. There's one for healthcare professionals. Here's an especially disgusting one targeted to people with religious affiliations.

The Who's Who gambit is a long-running, recognized telephone sales scheme about which there are a number of official warnings. There's a dizzying number of different Whos--many of which, I would guess, are run by the same people, though they're pretty good at making themselves seem separate. Here are just a few examples:

- United Who's Who (which has an unsatisfactory record with the Florida BBB for failing to respond to complaints)
- International Who's Who Historical Society (ditto)
- American Who's Who Association, which has a number of different schemes
- Premier Who's Who (formerly Prestige Who's Who, also d/b/a America's Who's Who)
- Emerald Who's Who
- Madison Who's Who (this one also has an unsatisfactory BBB record)
- Global Register's Who's Who (formerly National Register's Who's Who).

Frequently, the Whos are short-lived. Doctors' Who's Who and Nationwide Who's Who are now only Internet memories, but Google either of them and, as with the rest, you'll see people who list them as a professional credential. Ditto for Enterprise Who's Who--which suggests one reason for the schemes' short shelf life in the legacy of complaints it has left behind.

Back to Cambridge Who's Who. It's half of a two-headed hydra made up of Cambridge Who's Who (which previously did business as Manchester Who's Who and Empire Who's Who--according to a press release on Cambridge's website, these two have "merged" to become Cambridge) and Metropolitan Who's Who. Cambridge and Metropolitan do business separately, and have different websites, URL registry information, and mailing addresses. But their logo designs and their solicitation letters are identical (compare Manchester-now-Cambridge's letter with Metropolitan's)--as are their hard-sell telephone tactics.

People who answer the solicitations from Cambridge and Metropolitan report very similar experiences. (These links represent a fraction of the online discussions and complaints about Cambridge in particular.) A representative of the company phones them, congratulates them on the honor of their inclusion in the registry database, and conducts a lengthy interview, with many questions about careers, professional accomplishments, etc. Once the victim has been softened up by this process, the phone solicitor lowers the boom. The victim--who, remember, is under the impression from the initial solicitation letter that no costs are involved--is told that there are two levels of membership--a cheaper junior membership (currently close to $800) and a more expensive lifetime membership (currently nearly $1,000). This money, the victim is assured, isn't for inclusion in the database; it's for access to the database--which surely they're going to want to have, since the registry is a fantastic networking opportunity. To sweeten the deal, there are extras--gift certificates, airline ticket vouchers, a handsome award certificate, a media kit. If the victim expresses doubt about the cost, the solicitor says something like "You know what? Because I really don't want you to miss out on this fabulous opportunity, I'm going to offer you a lower rate! You'll only have to pay what a charity organization pays!" More hard sell tactics ensue. If the victim continues to resist, the solicitor hangs up on him or her--just like those magazine-sales scams where the people rudely blow you off the instant they realize you aren't going to fall for their line of bullshit.

I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to learn that Cambridge and one of its predecessors, Empire, have poor records with the Better Business Bureau (Manchester has no separate record). Empire's BBB report shows 57 complaints over the past 36 months, most involving (surprise, surprise) selling and refund practices. Cambridge's BBB report shows a stunning 150 complaints over the past 36 months, again involving selling and refund practices, and also billing and credit disputes. The bulk of the complaints--123 out of 150--have been made in the past 12 months.

Metropolitan's BBB report is currently being updated. When I viewed it in February (when I first began thinking about doing this post), it cited complaint patterns similar to Cambridge's. Some of the content of that report is reproduced by blogger T.J. at his dogscatskidslife blog.

Another thing Cambridge and Metropolitan share: a very poor reaction to criticism. The hydra really, really doesn't like it when people say bad things about it. When the Southern Conservative blog featured a satirical post about a solicitation letter from Metropolitan Who's Who, a threat of legal action quickly followed from one Cyndi Jeffers of Metropolitan (she also contacted people at the blogger's job). Blogger Shawn Olsen, whose description of his experience with Manchester Who's Who is linked in above, is being pursued by a lawyer hired by Manchester/Cambridge, who threatens a defamation lawsuit and demands $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages. These two bloggers appear not to be the only ones who've experienced this kind of harassment.

So here's my long-distance gift to all of you: a little dose of the good ol' Writer Beware suspicion that Rob has absorbed by proximity. "Money flows to the writer" is a good maxim to live by--but in cases of unexpected invitations, so is what Groucho Marx said: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." If you hear from a Who--and don't assume it will be one of those I've highlighted in this post, because I wouldn't be surprised if Cambridge, at least, were thinking it might be time for a name change--don't hesitate. Toss the letter straight into the recycling bin. That is, unless you want to make fun of it on your blog.

624 comments :

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Gaby Ruvolo said...

This calls for a reality show, "Who's Who".
Thanks for the warning, yikes almost got snagged.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this extremely well-researched article. I received my "appointment" to Cambridge Who's Who. They are very slick. I was told to log onto www.myname.mycww.org to fill in my phone numbers and email address.

The funny thing is I just graduated from college with honors and I was the Salutatorian at graduation. I thought my program director had nominated me. My mother had been in the Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, so it seemed reasonable that I would follow her.

My ego was promptly checked as I got that weird, uneasy feeling that so many people have described. I Googled them and your blog came up among many, many others.

Please keep this post up and thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I just received the letter today, and I must say I was rather confused. It was for the "Registery of Executive and Professional Women", and I've been in the Army for 4 years and gone to war twice. I wouldn't consider myself to be "Executive". Professional, yes. But generally soldiers aren't really picked for these things... Weird. So, thankfully I googled it and found myself here. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ok, I am a recent victim of this scam... ;-( Called my CC and they told me that I had to wait for the charge to appear and then dispite it... I don't see this going well. Any suggestions on how to get my money back?

Anonymous said...

I worked for Madison Who's Who for about 6 weeks and believe me, there is no prestige for being included into this publication. We were told during training not to care about the customer, only about getting their credit card numbers. Everyone that we called was to be accepted into the publication; the purpose of the qualifying interview was to get the customer to like us, so they would want to buy from us. Some of the people I called were unemployed for years, uneducated, even high school students. The publication is targeted to C-level executives and professionals but most of the C-level executives were smart enough not to purchase a membership. I am so glad I left that hellhole and hope they go out of business!

Anonymous said...

Cambridge is still sending e-mail invitations summer 2011...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this information. Looked fishy to me. Still given the proliferation of bad schools, ridiculous certificates being required for everything including toe nail polishing, perhaps I will beef up my resume by adding this tidbit: I have been "Selected" for Who's Who's Cambridge etcetera, bluggety, blug blug. I am sure to impress all those employers out there who go for smoke and mirrors. Yup. Think I will add it. Gosh, hope they don't research your website.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Victoria Strauss for posting this. I just spent 30 minutes on the phone with a very persuasive "associate." and I foolishly did purchase a very basic membership. I've tried to call them back and suddenly "there is no one available to take my call" and although it was only 3:15 when I called they are closed for the day. I called my bank and they will dispute the charge but it doesn't look good at this moment.

Anonymous said...

I was also solicited by Cambridge in 2008. Glad I didn't pay the fee to be listed!!! Thanks for getting the word out.

Anonymous said...

Hello, This person Jennifer Gonzalez is still at Cambridge Who's Who and they are STILL operating the same scam. I unfortunately lost $788 to them in November 2011 I have yet to have it refunded.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, one of my clients who is a foreigner, was cheated by Cambridge Who's Who.
I wonder why there is no lawyer who is interested in representing them?

Is it because the damage is hard to prove unlike product liability case?

What is the most threatening letter to recover the damage?

Anonymous said...

Thanks a million for this post. I am just getting started with my own business and got a call from a marketing maven. This was some Worldwide Who's Who. Luckily I didn't buckle under the pressure of all the 'well just for you I can do this..' It's really disgusting that people are doing this sort of thing when the last thing a fledgling entrepreneur needs is to get ripped off!! Think about it, why would you use a product or service from some stranger you connected with on the internet if you could get a recommendation from a trusted friend? Just craziness!

Amber said...

Ugh, I just filled out their online form (only because I thought it might be associated with the REAL Who's Who that I was in in College). I bit because they said there was no cost to be included (just like the REAL one) and expected to be asked to pay for the publication later which I would probably refuse.
Now having Googled this scam, I feel like an idiot for not having acted on my skepticism first.
Well, all they have is my work phone number so... no harm- no foul, right? (I hope.)

Alyssa said...

I realize this is an old post but I felt I needed to comment... I used to work for this company in 2004/2005 back when it was still Manchester Who's Who. I'm not proud of it- it was my first job out of college and I needed to find something. It seemed legit when I interviewed and trained. It wasn't until I got on the phones that I realized what a scam I was a part of. We had a list of rebuttals/arguments for every excuse someone had to not make a purchase- and we were required to learn it and snap back anytime they had an excuse- from "I can't afford it" to "I'll think about it" To "let me check with my spouse first." We made commission- and I didn't make a lot of sales because I just wasn't good at being pushy or lying to people.
The original president of the company was arrested for cheating on his MBA exams! Jennifer was there back then too- if its the same Jennifer (they all change their last names and I was told to do the same on the phones) and she was a nasty b*tch too. Everyone that worked there was horrible. I tried to stick it out for about 4 months because I was 22 and needed money and didn't know what else to do! Oh- and they changed their name to avoid getting sued. I have tried to get the news to investigate them. I think I should try again.

Anonymous said...

Too bad I feel hook. line and sinker in the amount of 1700.00 where last call was you are now life-time member and will not be asked for money again. I was not thinking, excited about a book I wrote. About a business I started and very busy, thinking wow this will get me out there and kick all off, in my business endeavors For years had seen there ads, so thought legit, but I was fooled badly. Today another one called wanting another 995.00 to finish out the my being on VIP website, which last person said was included with last payment. Again, it is they give you no time with excuse so many are wanting to be part of this awesome deal. Today, I have learned more about dealing with those who say now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Writer and repliers,
Please DO NOT link directly to the fraudulent site of who’s who. You are giving them Google credibility by that. They now have Google PR 5 because such links. I found this site by a link back from the fraudulent site.

TomStone said...

here is a suggestion to everyone who has been a victim of the Who's Who scam. go to the FTC website and file a complaint through the FTC assistant. In there, you can mention the amount of money that was exchanged. Maybe the government can shut them down if enough people send in complaints. https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov

Anonymous said...

National Register's Who's Who is yet again another SCAM so professionals BEWARE..if you google this particular "who's who" there are hundreds of sites of people posting this supposed high honor...so I'm guessing they still have no clue they've been scammed..I guess because they received a plaque or certificate they never questioned this company but I promise you they are nothing but a scam. All telephone numbers listed for this company are either fax numbers or no longer in service and almost every site gives a different owner name or business location (address) and if you click onthe www.nationalregisterswhoswho.com site it literally comes up as a white page..blank..nothing..SCAM!!!!

The Eye in the sky said...

Hello Victoria,

I am a past employee of Cambridge Who's Who/World Wide Who's Who....they not only scam citizens but they also scam their employees. They take money out of our paychecks, decide who get's so called "good" leads and really decide on who is going to be able to feed their families for the week. This company makes me sick to my stomach. I got sucked into this company not really understanding what they did to innocent people. I wasn't there for long because I hated it with a passion. If you want more details please do not hesitate to email me. I have a list of employees that would be more than happy to just tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

As my mother once said, "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is."

Where have people's bullshit meters gone?

Why are people so gullible.
I guess its raising kids to believe the best in people but we do them no favours raising them this way.

Anonymous said...

A new one I got today was one for "2013 Professional On The Move Magazine." I love the "quote" at the top of their webpage; it's totally unattributed. They have a whole magazine for names but they can't figure out how to add one for that quote.

Who falls for this nonsense? I got one of those American High School Who Who in the 80's and even as a kid I knew it was a scam. Mostly because I knew I was a nobody.

Anonymous said...

all i have to say is that they make it sound so good
they praised me on everything that i have done
they should had said welcome to never never land
by the way the price for never never land is $900.00 plus
i should had known that this was a scam just to get money out of me
i have to say thank you to all the scam web sites that have this magazine name and script
you saved me from making a very large mistake
if i want to put my accomplishments out to the world to see i can write a free blog just saying

Anonymous said...

There is a new Whos Who thing called the Whos Who of Distinguished Alumni. The original ad connected to my own University, and I thought it was from them when I said I was interested. I then got a salesman on the phone. His process followed the path described by others in these comments, up to the credit card moment, when I immediately smelt a rat. I too wanted time to reflect and investigate, and I too got 'we can't go back and forth, we need the decision now, it's a once off opportunity', and I declined the life membership, and the 5 year one, but I am ashamed to say that I signed up for the one year - $259. I still can't believe I did that, and I immediately tried to cancel my card payment, but it had already gone through. I have been sent a log in password, but it hasn't worked yet. So, distinguished alumni, be warned and refuse. They are very good at the smooth selling that so often emerges from the USA, and is one of the worst aspects of that wonderful country. I remain anonymous, please.

Former employee said...

Marquis Who's Who was bought out by Randy Narod, the owner of Cambridge Who's Who/Worldwide Branding and is now part of the Cambridge group and is employing the same questionable business practices. When I left it seemed like they weren't even publishing anymore books. Their just selling memberships in an online registry.

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