Scam alert: dubious "Who's Who" publications

A graphic depicting a pile of money that, on closer inspection, has a scammer's face on it.

Published March 7, 2019 This content is archived.

By Joe Ferguson

“Congratulations! You’ve been nominated for your notable personal and professional achievements!” That’s the opening line to a scam that has been circulating via email and phone.

Who's Who... who?

“Who’s Who” references are publications that generally contain biographical information about noteworthy people. Many are highly reputable, and some are published by professional organizations to recognize outstanding achievement in their field, using very selective parameters.

But, because the words “Who’s who” are in the public domain, less scrupulous publishers use the name—along with mass mailing lists—to contact large numbers of people and convince them they have been considered a noteworthy person by a prestigious publication.

In the email, they typically ask you to write a small bio of yourself for inclusion in their publication. They also usually ask for your payment information, to buy a commemorative copy of this publication.

The scam claims there is no cost to be included, but some have reported being charged anyway. While these publications tout their ability to help you network and raise your profile, some are only published online. You may end up paying hundreds of dollars for very little, or no, benefit.


How to protect yourself

The best way to stay safe is to ignore emails with offers like these entirely. If you are communicating with someone on the phone or via email, the AARP recommends asking critical questions like:

  • What’s the selection process? How was I nominated and for what accomplishments?
  • Who else is being included?
  • Who is writing the bio? Are there professional writers involved?

Most importantly, always be wary of giving your billing information to anyone over the phone or in an email. Don’t forget that email is not inherently secure, and should never be used to transmit bank or credit card information, among other sensitive data.

Learn more about staying safe online at