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I was a high school student the first time I found out I was important.
Okay, I was still a total dweeb with my nose perpetually stuck in a book. But there, in black and white, was my name. I was somebody.
My name was listed in a directory called Who’s Who Among American High School Students. I have no idea how I even ended up in the book. I do remember that we bought a copy (of course, we did!).
Yes, it was a vanity ploy. But they also had us believing that being listed in the book might help us with college acceptance and scholarships.
Really, though, it was all about being seen. This was before the Internet and social media. Literally, nobody knew your name unless they went to school with you or met you somehow.
Who’s Who Among American High School Students is no longer in print –– at least not in its original form. Anyone can start a Who’s Who book, though, so it might only be a matter of time before the high school version returns.
What are Who’s Who in America Scams?
In 1898, Chicago publisher Albert Nelson Marquis set out to create a U.S. version of a London handbook. The original Who’s Who had been published in 1848 and listed only a handful of names.
When Marquis’ version debuted, it profiled 8,602 notable Americans. Marquis long maintained strict criteria for being included. Athletes weren’t even listed until 1927.
Prior to his 1943 death, Marquis sold controlling interest to two prominent Chicago publishers, who worked alongside Marquis for the remainder of his life. But the directory has continued long after Marquis’ death.
Who’s Who in America is still considered a reputable chronicle of influential Americans, although it’s debatable whether being listed has any real benefits.
But the term Who’s Who is in the public domain, which means anyone can develop a product using that name. For that reason, a wide range of Who’s Who directories now exist, and with them come scams.
Types of Who’s Who in America Scams
In 2023, you can get information on anyone with just a few keystrokes. You can even use voice search and avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
But Who’s Who in America can still serve as a feather in your cap –– if that is, you’re looking for that kind of feather.
It’s important to look specifically for the Marquis branding, though. And to know about the following scams so you can avoid them.
1. Selection Email Scams
What is it? You have been selected! You receive a message that congratulates you. The email may have Marquis branding and copyright at the bottom. Marquis has confirmed this is a scam. The email includes a link, and malware may be downloaded to your device.
How to spot it: Marquis does not make cold calls in search of people to profile. Names are either chosen by staff or submitted by previous biography subjects or professional organizations. There is no fee to be included, and you’ll have to submit an application before the listing is finalized.
How to avoid it: Ignore any email claiming you’ve been chosen for a Who’s Who listing. If you are chosen, you’ll receive a letter via direct mail. You may receive an email request to review your listing, but you won’t be asked to pay. If you have questions about a message claiming to be from Marquis, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or (844) 394-6946.
Photo by Tara Winstead
2. Nomination Email Scams
What is it? With this scam, you’re notified not that you’ve been selected but that you’ve been nominated. To be considered, you’ll just need to submit a short bio for the listing. Oh, and you’ll also need to pay a little money to pay for a copy of the directory with your name in it. You may provide your payment information and even get a copy of the publication, but it won’t be the official Who’s Who.
How to spot it: Marquis does not send out nomination letters, and you won’t be asked for money to purchase the directory. If you want to see the price point and availability of official Who’s Who directories, feel free to browse the directory shop on the Marquis website. This will also help you quickly spot imitation directories.
How to avoid it: If you receive a “congratulations” email, don’t click on any links, even if it has Marquis branding. You can reach out to Marquis if you think the nomination might be legitimate. Remember, Marquis biographies are chosen based on nominations from organizations, those who have been profiled before, and staff members.
3. Shipping Scams
What is it? Once you’ve been profiled in a Marquis, Who’s Who directory, there’s another scam that could target you. Fraudsters have been going through the directory and reaching out to those included with a money grab. The goal is to get credit card numbers, according to Marquis’ CEO.
How to spot it: If you’re a former Marquis listee, you’ve seen more than a few messages from headquarters. Yes, scammers are good at mimicking the look and feel, but chances are, something will be off. Are there typos? More importantly, is the message asking you to buy something?
How to avoid it: Never click links in messages, even if they appear to be from Marquis. If the message is urging you to purchase something, go to the Marquis site to find it. Contact Marquis if you have questions about a message you’ve received. Also, watch for messages about scams from Marquis. When a new one crops up, they’ll blast a warning to those who might be affected.
4. Imitation Publication Scams
What is it? Who’s Who in America now produces a collection of publications each year. Titles include Who’s Who of Professional Women, Who’s Who in Finance and Business, and Who’s Who in American Education. But the term “who’s who” is in the public domain, so anyone can create a directory (or send emails claiming to be collecting entries for one). That has led to more than a few directories designed solely to make money or collect information. These “publishers” reach out to people, offering a listing and providing a link.
How to spot it: Looking at the featured publications on the Marquis homepage, you can get a feel for how directories normally look. This could help you quickly identify phonies. But scammers could use the exact format of Marquis’ publications, so the next step is to look at the money grab. If you’re selected for an official Who’s Who listing, you’ll have the opportunity to buy, but it’s not a requirement to be listed.
How to avoid it: Never provide credit card numbers or personally identifiable information (PII), and avoid clicking links in messages from unfamiliar senders. Contact Marquis if you have questions about an email claiming you’re eligible for a Who’s Who listing.
5. Multi-Product Scams
What is it? With this scam, you’re encouraged to purchase a directory with your listing and a whole suite of products you can buy. Usually, these are marketed as some sort of premium package. (platinum or gold, for instance). They’ll include products like commemorative plaques and handbound journals. Some offers even promise media outreach to get the word out about your listing. Of course, those come at a price, as well.
How to spot it: Marquis doesn’t try to upsell listees on vanity products or media outreach. While the directory itself might get media coverage, individual listees are on their own if they want to get the word out. Any products Marquis sells are OPTIONAL TO PURCHASE and not sold as part of any listing announcement.
How to avoid it: Go straight to the source if you’re thinking about buying something from Marquis. Products are available for sale on the Marquis website, MarquisWhosWho.com. Any other company promising to be “the real Who’s Who” is an imitation. Only trust Marquis, and even then, make sure any communication is legitimate and not a scammer trying to pass as Marquis.
6. Business Directory Scams
What is it? It’s worth mentioning the business side of the Who’s Who racket. With this scam, someone reaches out to you, promising exposure in the form of a listing in some sort of directory. It might use the Who’s Who name or a similar concept. Some go by the old Yellow Pages naming. Whatever the case, you’re promised a “free” listing or asked to renew a previous listing (that you may or may not have requested). Scammers sometimes tell the person who answers the phone, “We’re renewing your entry for this year’s edition and just want to verify your information.” If the person who answers confirms that information, this is seen as authorization, and your business receives a bill. If you call to contest the bill, you may be threatened with legal action or harm to your credit unless you pay.
How to spot it: This one can be tough to spot. If you pay a receptionist service or have others in your business answer the phone, it can be easy to confirm information. It’s best to train everyone associated with your business to ask questions about requests like this. Any requests to “verify information” should be treated with caution.
How to avoid it: Read up on phone scams and adjust your business practices to ensure you’re reducing your risk. If someone calls about a directory, ask for information about the directory and demand any fees be stated upfront. Better yet, refuse to discuss requests like these via phone and instead require it be put in writing.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Avoiding Who’s Who Scams
Scammers can find us, even when we think we’re doing everything to avoid them.
But there are some things you can do to stay safe from Who’s Who in America scams.
1. Know the Real Thing
One publisher is responsible for the Who’s Who universe of guides: Marquis.
Other companies will say they’re the real thing, but if they aren’t Marquis, they aren’t the real thing.
MarquisWhosWho.com is the BEST RESOURCE TO CONSULT if you’ve gotten an email about Who’s Who directories. You can compare branding, take a look at the format and design of the real guides, and access contact information. If you have any questions about a message or call you’ve received, reach out.
2. Don’t Pay To Be Honored
Remember, there is no charge to be listed in official Who’s Who directories and they vet potential listees.
You can buy your own copy –– and you’ll likely want to –– but it’s not mandatory.
The biggest sign you’re being scammed is that the person contacting you tries to get you to pay. Even if you’re told that no fee is required, if the message pushes the directory or asks for a credit card number, it’s a sign you’re being scammed.
If you’re published in the Marquis directory and want to purchase it, ensure you get it directly from MarquisWhosWho.com.
3. Consider Participation Carefully
By now, you’ve probably figured out that we do not favor sharing personal information with strangers.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Who’s Who does.
If you’re Oprah or Prince Harry, your birthdate, birthplace, family member names, and education are public records.
For the rest of us, though, keeping that information hidden is part of protecting our identities.
Yes, a determined scammer can probably track down some, if not all, of that information. But the Who’s Who guides pack tens of thousands of names, birthdates, and other vital information in each edition.
It’s no wonder scammers have used the book to try to squeeze money out of people.
While it could be an honor to be included, consider whether it’s worth the risk.
And definitely steer clear of any guide that’s not published by Marquis…or anyone else reaching out in search of information like your birthdate and home address.
4. Be Careful with Links
Links in messages can take you straight to Troublesville.
Scammers can set up a realistic-looking website that makes you feel comfortable entering information like your name, Social Security number, or credit card information.
But links can also seem innocent when they really aren’t.
One-click can install malware on your device, and that malware can gather information. It might even monitor every keystroke and send the information to scammers, who then use it to commit fraud.
If you receive a message about a Who’s Who directory and you’re encouraged to click a link, it’s likely a scam. Instead of clicking, go straight to the source. Call Marquis’ customer service number or shoot them an email to see if the message is legit.
You’ve Been Scammed? Now What?
If you gave money or information to a Who’s Who impersonator, there are some things you can do to reduce damages.
1. Reverse the Charges
In many cases, fraud can be reversed.
If you paid money to a scammer using a credit card, you probably can dispute the charges.
The same goes for payment methods like PayPal.
My bank lets me dispute a charge directly on the website. But I could also call customer service or go to a local branch.
There’s something gratifying about turning things back around on a scammer, especially if it’s a business. Do you know chargebacks come with fees, and a company can even lose its payment processing account after too many chargebacks?
Go get ‘em!
One last note, though:
If you gave your credit card number (or bank account information) to a scammer, you’ll need to let your bank/card issuer know. The scammer could continue to use that information for financial fraud.
Image by Kris
2. Consider Identity Theft Protection
One thing that sets Who’s Who fraud apart from other scams is the information they want.
If you gave your birthdate, birthplace, mother’s maiden name, and other info., the scammer could use it for identity theft.
3. Report It
Like other types of fraud, Who’s Who scams need to be investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. You can report it here.
But there’s one more step to take with these scams. Reach out to Marquis and let them know what happened. Forward any messages. If the scammer contacted you by phone, be detailed about what was said.
If it’s an ongoing issue, Marquis may be able to warn members and help prevent future fraud.
Marquis has been publishing Who’s Who guides for more than a century. That history gives the directory legitimacy.
Unfortunately, scammers pose as Who’s Who publishers, and they’re all too eager to separate you from your money and steal your identity.
By knowing about Marquis and having their website as a resource, we can hopefully steer clear of those scams and participate in the legitimate Who’s Who guide (or not) if we ever have the opportunity.
Other Scams You Should Know and Avoid:
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