Fiscal Cliff Diving in Puerta Vallarta

This is not a new song. In fact it is an old scam with a very slightly different name, and it’s making the rounds again, like flu season. But to understand it, I want to tell you a little story, and don’t worry, it’s short, broken up into bite-sized pieces and there are lots of pictures. What’s not to love?

Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus 1805 by John Flaxman 1755-1826

Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus -John Flaxman, 1805

Here, listen to the ancient tale of the West, of Blind Homer’s recounting in verse of the return from the Trojan war by Ulysses:

We ran away in a fright, but he plucked the beam all besmirched with gore from his eye, and hurled it from him in a frenzy of rage and pain, shouting as he did so to the other Cyclopes who lived on the bleak headlands near him; so they gathered from all quarters round his cave when they heard him crying, and asked what was the matter with him.

‘What ails you, Polyphemus,’ said they, ‘that you make such a noise, breaking the stillness of the night, and preventing us from being able to sleep? Surely no man is carrying off your sheep? Surely no man is trying to kill you either by fraud or by force?

“But Polyphemus shouted to them from inside the cave, ‘Noman is killing me by fraud! Noman is killing me by force!’

‘Then,’ said they, ‘if no man is attacking you, you must be ill; when Jove makes people ill, there is no help for it, and you had better pray to your father Neptune.’

I received a copy of an old seeming-scam I’ve written about before, which I ignored. But then, today, it’s shown up once more: I  had received a ‘Best of” business award.  Of course, it was from a business that only ever existed on paper, and not from the official registration, but instead from an information account that I’d given a “clever” name to, as we’ll see. The name, as you will have guessed, was “Noman.”

And then I received the same “award” letter on an unrelated business email account awarding top business in another category for our city.

OK: the former utterly prefudiated the latter, but it was easy to see how one could fall for it. We all like to believe that we’re doing a good job. And we all want someone to just SAY that. And, for some reason, “please,” “thank you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “I love you” are,  as utterly inexpensive to dole out as we breathe, in astonishing short supply in this species homo sapiens.

And that’s what they’re preying on. And, as with all good flim-flam, the marks are too invested to believe that they have ever been gypped. No: THEY WON THE AWARD!

Here is what the SBCA wrote me yesterday afternoon:

my award

Noman,
Congratulations! I am pleased to let you know that you have been selected to receive the 2012 Best of Business Award for Eugene in the Music Sales And Service category.

To accept your award and access your customized award package and free marketing you need to complete 3 simple steps.

There are no costs or obligations to accept your award. To start the quick and easy wizard, please use the following link:
Award Acceptance Wizard

The Small Business Community Association is dedicated to empowering and recognizing small business owners who make a difference in their respective communities…

ftmmarketing

SBCA … today

Take a moment to read the original story from February 267, 2010.*

[* And here are two more, contemporaneous stories from the same month:

You May Already Be A Wiener

27 February 2010

I am to be congratulated.  I am a winner.

No Nigerian prince; no Congolese Oil Minister, no long-lost relative in Borneo kicking the bucket and leaving me as his sole heir. No dying gazillionaire on another continent with a terminal case of the guilts and a sincere desire to disperse his ill-got gains to avoid the screaming meemees of a burning Hereafter.

Look see!

Yes, I am the winner of the (Gasp!)…

Quote:

Congratulations Hart**** ,

The Small Business Commerce Association (SBCA) is pleased to announce that Har**** has been selected for the 2009 Best of Business Award in the Music Sales and Service category.

I’d like to thank all the little people who made this award possible: Kremlar, King of the Gnomes, Asterisk, the Punctuation Fairy, and, of course, I couldn’t have done it without my beautiful wife   …

But it gets better:

The SBCA Best of Business Award Program recognizes the best of small businesses throughout the country. Using consumer feedback and other research, the SBCA identifies companies that we believe have demonstrated what makes small businesses a vital part of the American economy. The selection committee chooses the award winners from nominees based off information taken from monthly surveys administered by the SBCA, a review of consumer rankings, and other consumer reports . Award winners are a valuable asset to their community and exemplify what makes small businesses great.

And I’d like to thank my agent, and Ron Scully at the Megatalent Agency, and our fantastic producer Bronko Bomeranian and his lovely wife Sue …

A copy of your press release is available on the SBCA awards website listed below. SBCA herby grants Har**** a non-exclusive, revocable, license to use, copy, publish, stream, publicly display, reformat, excerpt, and distribute  this press release.

I’m gonna be in the newspapers! They’re gonna put me in the movies. They’re gonna make a big star outta me. And all I gots to do is act natcherally! I’m a wizard! I’m a true star!

If you desire, a 2009 Best of Business Award has been designed for your place of business and can be obtained by pressing the receive awards tab while retrieving your press release from the SBCA awards website. Additionally, a Web Logo proclaiming your 2009 Best of Business Award selection can be obtained through our website as well.

Be still my beating h(e)art. Here ’tis:

As an award winner, you have been assigned the following award code: *****.

This code may be used to redeem your award benefits by entering it into the SBCA Awards Claim page.  Or, alternatively, you may use the following link:

Award benefits! You mean there’s even more?

Only one catch. The corporation that I own was created for a specific project and has never been activated, owns no property and exists solely on paper.

So, they must have some pretty lax standards for music sales and service awards. Which seems odd, because this town is a musician’s paradise. Music stores everywhichaway and of every kind. If you need someone to make a specific bone part for your full size concert harp, we got it.

Or, if you need music, we got a zillion places to buy old vinyl and CDs. So, how did I do better than CD World (where I shop here in town, being old-fashioned, and wanting physical disks for my record/CD collection, and having a truly awesome selection to choose from, like Tower Records on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood used to have before it vanished, or Peaches on Hollywood Boulevard,  ditto.)

Tower in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip
(The Whisky-A-Go-Go is at the beginning
of the next block extreme left, same side).

Just as in writing, the online woods are populated with emotional vampires, willing to make a buck off your vanity. You’ve GOT to believe in yourself to be in business, and some wall plaque that anybody with, say twenty bucks, can make up for themselves isn’t much of anything. But if you THINK it’s for real, no price is too great. The wood plaque runs you $57.97. (The same plaque costs $8.50 if you want to design it yourself.)

The $57.97 Award. Buy lots! We’ll make more!

The crystal award runs a little more. Like, about double.

(You can get it here for $21.95.)

And, ironically, if you believe in fairies, clap. Clap and Tinkerbelle will come to life. There are fake awards on walls all over America that people don’t realize are fake, and are, therefore, REAL.

Because ultimately, any trophy, any award, any certificate is only a sort of concrete metaphor for achievement, and you either know that or you don’t.

Like any successful con, it depends on the vanity of the mark.

And, remember, here in late February, everybody is abuzz about awards and honors: Oscars, Tonys, Grammys. What better time to win a business award?

If you decide NOT to buy the awards, you can click to go to the next page, which instead says:

Web Package Information

[...]

Once again, congratulations on your 2009 Best of Business Award selection.

If you have not already ordered a physical award, you may order one now for display in your place of business. (Select Physical Award)

[Emphasis added]

Knowing in advance that I could not possibly have qualified for such an “achievement,” my only question is what database did they grab my corporation name from, and how can I warn others on that database list?

Of course, you can still get the FREE press release (Dated September 1, 2009. Hmmm):

And, of course, you are under no obligation to get conned.

Or, you may send an Opt-Out request to the following address:

Attn: Compliance Manager
Small Business Commerce Association
548 Market St # 35785
San Francisco, CA 94104, USA

After all the subject header DOES read:

Subject: **JUNK** Hart**** recognized as *** (CITY) Best of Business 2009

Nonetheless: you should congratulate me.

I won the:

  • 2009 Best of Business Award in Music Sales and Service (for my city).

Huzzah!

And back to 2012.

“Small Business Commerce Association” is now the “Small Business Community Association.” Everything else is the same. Gee.

 You get this screen after giving them your name, address, phone, etc. (Data mining.)

noman-nozhu

Click for larger image

The same award.  $57.

Award Plaque Offer

If you say “No thanks” it rather pissily takes you to a profile page (more data mining. I can upload a picture. I take a screenshot of their generic graphic and upload it. Noman would want to do it that way.)  I said “no thanks” so I don’t know whether they upsell you on the lucite award once you’ve bit for the $57 slab of wood and tinfoil. They may.

generic profile

Noman Nozhu

“Pissily” because it allows you to print a certificate that says “Nominated” for the Best of Business (BOB12) Award. Then, there is a little press release that has a headline and first paragraph about [INSERT NAME HERE] and then a long BS about how great the SBCA is, and how magic fairies travel the moors dispensing business pixie dust to a dodo-starved nation of rustics, who will willingly would pay $57 for a cheap brass placard slapped on a piece of laquered hardwood.

Here’s a comparison price chart I found with zero looking. I’m sure they get a better deal than this for their “Business Awards.”

price of plaques

Today’s plaque prices from Crown Awards. No indication
anywhere as to what SIZE the “recognition award” is.
I’d imagine it’s closer to 4″ x 6″ than 8″ x 10″ however.

Nice markup on a business award that non-existent businesses qualify for. Here’s my CERTIFICATE of nomination. You can print it right out online:

sbca certificate Noman

No fifty-seven bucks and you are merely “nominated”

However, you get a headline and a sentence in the [INSERT NAME HERE] Press Release. and, evidently, your nomination went through while you were printing out your certificate. You are ALREADY a wiener! Looks like you’ve been through the wurst of it:

Har Receives 2012 Best of Business Award

It continues for several more paragraphs, lauding the awarders
and never mentioning the awardee again.

If you click on nearly any link on any page, most will generate 404 NOT FOUND errors.  There’s even a slithery BBB REVIEW square on the side (no BBB review. It just LOOKS like there might be, someday.)

2012 Best of Business Award sidebar

And there’s a little short article at the business marketing link, entitled “Marketing Your Business on Facebook — Is Your Facebook Page Screwed?

At the bottom, there’s a link to an “amazing FREE presentation” that is nothing but a 3:27 commercial for some way to increase your Facebook likes by 218%.

But, like pieces of the True Cross, which have been sold by scam artists to the Princes of the Church for, literally, millennia, as long as everybody BELIEVES, then then magic relic will be believed to be a real business award, and Rotary lunches will mention said awards from now until Doomsday (or December 21, whichever comes first). And it will still be the same vampiric scam of selling a little fake self-esteem in an acknowledgement starved world. Anyone who has made the mistake of submitting a few manuscripts to magazines will quickly find ones’ self a pen pal to a thousand “writing” friends, who will promise you “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano but When I Started to Hunt and Peck!

they laughed when I sat down

click pic for full size image

Some of this stuff is as old as dirt. And about as nourishing.

typewriter

Homer–the first novelist–takes up the story of the blind cyclops, Polyphemus:

‘Cyclops,’ said I, ‘you should have taken better measure of your man before eating up his comrades in your cave. You wretch, eat up your visitors in your own house? You might have known that your sin would find you out, and now Jove and the other gods have punished you.’

He got more and more furious as he heard me, so he tore the top from off a high mountain, and flung it just in front of my ship so that it was within a little of hitting the end of the rudder. The sea quaked as the rock fell into it, and the wash of the wave it raised carried us back towards the mainland, and forced us towards the shore. But I snatched up a long pole and kept the ship off, making signs to my men by nodding my head, that they must row for their lives, whereon they laid out with a will. When we had got twice as far as we were before, I was for jeering at the Cyclops again, but the men begged and prayed of me to hold my tongue.

‘Do not,’ they exclaimed, ‘be mad enough to provoke this savage creature further; he has thrown one rock at us already which drove us back again to the mainland, and we made sure it had been the death of us; if he had then heard any further sound of voices he would have pounded our heads and our ship’s timbers into a jelly with the rugged rocks he would have heaved at us, for he can throw them a long way.’

But I would not listen to them, and shouted out to him in my rage, ‘Cyclops, if any one asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.’

Polyphemus and sheep

Polyphemus’ Dad, Neptune, decided to get
really mad at Ulysses, who happened to be in
a ship on the ocean. Which is a really bad place to 
have a sea god mad at you, unlike, say, Nevada.

So, knowing that Ulysses’ braying was a crucial error on his part, I remain “Noman,” as far as this blog posting is concerned, even though anyone with half a brain could put “his vorpal sword” into a Google search and figure it out in a New York Minute®. Then again, if anyone with half a brain would enter “SBCA” or “Small Business Community Association” or even, for old hands like me, “Small Business Commerce Association.”

And they’d see a lot of people have claimed that it’s a scam.

Here’s a snippet from 2011 in the Arcata (Calif.) Eye (I recommend that you read the entire piece. The last  part deals with our “awarders”):

the arcata eye

Skeezy Scammers On The Prowl In Arcata – August 16, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Kevin L. Hoover
Eye Editor

[...]

Eye Honored or Something

The Arcata Eye has never participated in state or national journalism award contests, as they all require registration fees. Those funds are better spent on creating content for readers than gaining trophies and toasts. While many of the awards are prestigious and genuinely reflect excellence, there is a pay-to-play element to just about all of them.

But now, out of the blue, the Eye has been freely honored with an award by a Tempe, Arizona firm called the “Small Business Community Association” (SBCA). The award includes optional plaques which list “Arcata Eye Newspaper” as “Best of Business” for “Arcata Newspapers (Publishers) 2010.”

arcata eye award

The plaques – one a traditional wood and brass model and the other a fancier, engraved glass affair – are available for $157.97. Also included for that fee are two “free” $25 restaurant gift cards and “5 Days & 4 Nights in Cancun or Riviera Maya.”

[...]

A “press release” trumpeting the Eye’s achievement offers this vague information: “Using the world’s most comprehensive directory of business information on people and companies and other research, the SBCA identifies companies that we believe have demonstrated what makes small businesses a vital part of the American economy.”

No details regarding the Mexico vacation* included in the $158 plaque fee are listed on the SBCA website. A call and e-mail to SBCA with questions about the selection criteria and vacation elicited no response.

[* NOTE: This may explain the “cruises” aspect from Rich Thurman’s Facebook Page (which you get to by clicking on him on the SBCA Community Page on Facebook. (He also lists it in his “likes” section.) A little searching–very little–revealed the one and only Rich Thurman of Tempe, Arizona:

who says $69 cruises arnt fun

SBCA Community’s address shows up on Google Earth as a private home with a green swimming pool in an unusual-looking (for Arcata) neighborhood where all the houses are walled off from each other.

Thurman is the registrant of the sbcaawards.org website. His organization is listed as First To Move Marketing, which also owns sbcacommunity.com. First To Move Marketing is located about a mile from the walled residence, in a strip mall next to a Ted’s Jumbo Hot Dogs restaurant….

Rich Thurman18

Thurman from his FB “cheap cruise” page

Ah. In 2009-10, they were the Small Business Commerce Association. In 2011 and continuing, they are the Small Business Community Association (no need to change logos, nice). Both are registered to Rich Thurman, and whois queries show that the first incarnation of SBCA expired in 2011, while the second incarnation was created in 2011 and is currently scheduled to renew in 2013. Easy to look this stuff up online.

But the “SBCA” is counting that businessmen and businesswomen won’t bother checking, and, alas, the final con is on you and me, dear reader: They will find out that they have to “pay” for their award, but they can display it and as long as everyone believes, Tinkerbelle will live to fight Captain Hook another play.

Rich Thurman15a

Rich Thurman in Puerto Vallarta, 2011

But that’s a legitimate business expense, as advertising (at least to the conned) and will be deducted from the taxes that you and I will have to pay to make it up. And that’s whose ox is really getting gored.

Rich Thurman

This is Rich Thurman, same trip, 2011
You can listen to him conducting an “SBCA interview” HERE.

Oh, and just in case you might be wondering at what’s really going on behind the phony names and changing URLs, this, from Thurman’s FB page:

fully automated marketing

a flow chart he’s evidently made, explaining the process,
Thurman either works for or used to work for Microsoft,
according to his internet testimony. 

This is Noman, signing out. But just one thing:

silhouette

Don’t screw with me, babies. I’m an AWARD winner.

Courage.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Fiscal Cliff Diving in Puerta Vallarta

  1. I always thought Noman was an Island! I win prizes everyday, with participation required, of course. Don’t fret, you’re a winner in my book, Hart.

  2. Wild Bill

    You are a winner every day that you get up and start pounding the keyboard, also on the days you rightfully take off to re-charge. And everyone who has the good fortune to find (or be shown) your blog is a winner by feasting on your art and prose.