For the third time in six months, a local business or group reported receiving a suspicious email solicitation from the Los Altos Award Program.
St. Nicholas & St. William Catholic Parish’s teen ministry program “won” the 2019 Best of Los Altos “Church” category, the latest email message read.
The emails appear above board in bestowing awards on various businesses, but winners must pay for their own plaques and awards. And no one seems to know who the program is affiliated with.
A man named Peter Bradley of the program’s Selection Committee informed St. Nicholas & St. William parish director of faith formation Catherine Campbell of the ministry’s award. Bradley invited Campbell, who said she was originally ecstatic about the accolade, to learn more about the commendation on the Los Altos Award Program website.
“The weird thing is, if you go to their website, which I tried to look up myself, it says, ‘Here are a few companies who have claimed their awards,’” Campbell said last week. “There is no way to search for any other (details) about the city.”
Campbell grew wary and emailed Bradley back to thank him and told him she would talk to her co-workers and let him know what they thought. At the same time, she contacted the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce to see if representatives knew anything about the legitimacy of the program.
Campbell received a call from Nicole Walton, the Chamber’s marketing and communications manager, warning her the award program had been revealed as fake and was in no way affiliated with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce. Walton followed up with the Town Crier, which had reported on two previous instances of the scam, and the Los Altos Police Department to check her information.
“The truth is, you’re not really winning an award, you’re being offered one,” Campbell said. “Legally, anyone can offer an award, but if you’re putting ‘Los Altos’ in front of it, it becomes an issue.”
When doubts about the program first surfaced in April, then-city spokeswoman Erica Ray denied it had any association with the city of Los Altos. Ray said the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Consumer Unit alerted her of Los Altos’ name being used to promote the program.
As of early September, the Consumer Unit had not identified a suspect. After checking back with the unit last week, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Cynthia Sumida said the Los Altos Awards Program was considered “tangential” to the investigation.
“(It) was never pursued because they felt it was straightforward that if you have to pay for an award, it might not be legit,” she said. “At this time, they have no plans to investigate further.”
Campbell said the award seemed legitimate at first because her ministry program, Intersection, is well-regarded and worthy of recognition. Designed for eighth- to 12th-graders, Intersection meets Sunday nights at the St. William teen center and focuses on exploring various aspects of the Catholic faith in an environment conducive to asking questions.
“Catholic churches are set up like counties, (filed) into dioceses,” Campbell said. “I would say ours is one of the best in the diocese.”
Campbell laughed off the situation while discussing the “Receive Your Award” page of the program’s website, temporarily deactivated after the Town Crier’s first report of the bogus business earlier this year. The website offers plaques for $150, crystal awards for $200 and a combo pack for $230.
“As an Award recipient, there is no membership requirement,” text underneath the page title says. “We simply ask each award recipient to pay for the cost of their awards. The revenue generated by the Los Altos Award Program helps to pay for operational support, marketing and partnership programs in support of local businesses.”
It remains unclear what operational support, marketing and partnership programs exist.
The phone number listed for award winners with questions, (888) 509-9915, connects to a machine that rings a few times before an automated voice thanks the caller without stating a name or any program information.
Three options are presented: one related to pending orders, one related to questions about transactions and another for other topics. Any caller who selects the final option is automatically sent to voicemail.
The Town Crier received no response when it reached out to Bradley of the Selection Committee via email.
To view the program’s website, visit losaltos.best-ofselection.org/AboutUsUb.aspx?.