2.3 - The Awards' Scam

Bhavin Jankharia

2.3 - The Awards’ Scam

Background: This was posted in August 1999. It's been 24 years since and nothing has changed.

"The way to a man's money is through his vanity"

Adapted from "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach"

I received a fax on the 23rd of July. I have reproduced it below verbatim.

"As you are already aware, the Institute of Economic Studies (IES) is non-profit registered body managed by Board of Management, consisting of prominent industrialist and leading economists of the country having a large number of Membership throughout the country. As part of its activities, the IES holds Conferences, Seminars, Symposia, Meetings, etc, from time to time.

You will be pleased to know that the Institute is holding a seminar on 'National Integration & Economic Development" on 29th July 1999 at New Delhi. The conference will be attended by the companies from asian countries, distinguished speakers, economists & delegates from the various countries.

The main highlight of the conference will be presentation of Awards to those person and companies who have done best in their respective fields. Institute of Economic Studies has great pleasure in conferring the Excellence Award and Gold Medal on your goodself for your services in the field of ......

As the time is very short we will feel it grateful if you confirm that you will be receiving the awards on the 29th of July in person. You are requested to send us your brief Bio Data along with the profile of your company which will help us in making the citation to be be read out at the time of presentation.

Yours sincerely,"

For a brief moment, I was elated. I had been chosen for a national award, by the "Institute of Economic Studies". Wow! Unfortunately, after a few minutes of feeling on top of the world, my ever-questioning, analytical mind took over. Why was an economics institute trying to give me a national award for services in a field with which the institute had no connection? I read the letter again. The grammatical errors, the "goodself" language, all stuck out. The letter was signed by the executive director and the letterhead carried his home telephone and mobile numbers. No respectable organization does this. I came back to earth.

I called up an economist friend of mine. She said that she had never heard of this institute. I called a banker friend of mine who asked a couple of his friends. No one had heard of this institute.

I then sent this fax back, playing along.

"Thank you for your fax of 23rd July. I am honoured at the award that your goodself is bestowing on my humble self. I will forever remain in your debt for your kind consideration. Please let me know what I have to do at the earliest.
With regards"

The director himself called me on the 25th.
"I received your fax yesterday. You will have to be in Delhi for two days. On the first day we will read out the award and on the second day we will actually give the citation."
"Will you send me a ticket?" I asked innocently.
"No, I am sorry, we don't do that. But hospitality will be taken care of."
"Can you send me a brochure of the conference".
"I will fax it to you."
"And the other details...the hotel where I will be staying, the venue of the conference, etc..."
"I will fax everything right away. Oh, and there is a small administrative charge, the details of which I will also fax right away."

The fax came in the afternoon. No conference details, no brochures, no hotel details. Just a form asking for some basic information, such as name and address, etc. and this line,
"As desired by you, we are enclosing a draft/banker's cheque for Rs 20,000 only as the Registration fee, in favour of the Institute of Economic Studies."
(Rs 20,000 is approximately 450USD - one USD = Rs 43)

I laughed to myself. This was a terrific con. Even if this institute (probably a one-man institute) managed to rope in about 100 suckers, he would make Rs 20 lakhs (45000 USD). If he actually held a conference, he might spend Rs 2 lakhs or so on organizational expenses, but he would still walk away with Rs 18 odd lakhs. And with two to three such conferences a year...

A few years ago, I remember getting a letter from the American Biographical Institute, telling me that I had been chosen "Man of the Year", as I was a recognized leader in my field. My name would be included in their new volume. All I had to do was send about 200$ to get a plaque and a copy of the book. I would have fallen it but for the fact that the letter was addressed to me as "Mrs....". What they had done was to get a mailing list from somewhere and post form letters. I realized however some months later how people do get conned by these awards when my association newsletter carried an item about one of my senior colleagues having received the ABI's "Man of the Year" award.

Giving awards seems to be a great way of making money. Create an organization with an official sounding name. Minimum staff. Organize a conference. Give awards. Charge for expenses. Walk away with the booty.

There probably are enough people out there willing to pay for grand-sounding awards. The more I think of it, the more attractive the profession of an "awarder" sounds. And it is a win-win situation. The "awardee" gets a rise in self-esteem and pride, the "awarder" makes his money and everyone's happy. Who knows, one day I might just start the "Best Men from Matunga for the Year" awards.... or maybe start some Web awards with a fancy logo....

Addendum: Nothing has changed. Such institutes still exist and I still keep getting letters that bestow titles and awards on me. Virtually all these organizations are headquartered in Delhi. A good number of those letters still address me as “Mrs…”

Man From Matunga Chronicles