Phishing for Awards


“Congratulations! I am pleased to advise that you have received a nomination in the Design Agency Awards 2017 category. If you wish to accept your nomination please reply with: I ACCEPT MY NOMINATION”.

There is no surer sign of summer than the flood of unsolicited award nominations filling your email inbox. These relatively well-tailored messages—highlighting your name, company, sometimes a project of yours—are a great self-esteem boost and you find yourself wanting to believe it’s true. However, the senders count on this positivity to cloud your better judgment, and soon you’re paying a nominal fee or providing your valuable information for the award.

So how do you ascertain if this nomination in your inbox is legit? Follow these steps:

Who nominated you for this award?

The first question to ask yourself is “did I, or someone on my behalf, submit a nomination for this award?”. If the answer is no, the nomination is probably not legitimate.

How’s their grammar?

Syntax is a great illuminator of authenticity. Does the message body switch from the past to present tense within a single sentence? Are different font sizes and colours used to emphasize certain words? Is there inappropriate use of a semicolon?

If the answer is yes to any of the above—especially semicolons—be skeptical.

Research the awarding body

This is where it may get a bit tricky. These organizations are very adept at search engine optimization and actively work to bury any negative information about them on search engines, social media, and their websites. After all, any reasonable person will do at least a cursory search of them on Google or Twitter, and upon not immediately finding any disqualifying information they feel more secure as award winners and are less motivated to dig deeper. Please dig deeper.

Research their website. While the user interface and design of their website may appear fine, search for tangible evidence of their services and employees. If they have a phone number call them up and ask about your nomination. As for social media, If they have a disproportionately large number of followers on Twitter, plug their handle into an audit and see how many are bots.

If you’re still in doubt, ask Reddit.

How many award categories do they offer?

If the organization contacting you offers awards in hundreds of categories, you are likely dealing with an awards farm. These are established pay-to-play models where essentially everyone goes home as an award-winning agency.

Keep in mind, however, that the industry and potential clients recognize the difference between an award of merit and a participation ribbon.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Everybody wants to be recognized for their accomplishments and some less-than-honest organizations take advantage of this for their own gain. If you want to be truly recognized for your accomplishments, put yourself out there in your own professional or local community. The recognition will feel much better when it is earned.