On Membership and Price

Several few weeks ago, I received an invitation to join a women’s professional association. It was sent via U.S. mail.

Because professional associations often offer valuable career opportunities, I went to the site to check out the organization and entered the code from mailing. I was immediately welcomed as a basic member. There were no details about other levels of membership, so I assumed that was it and left the site.

There wasn’t anything of particular interest at the site and the organization itself didn’t seem to have much to offer, so I didn’t think of it again. Until one afternoon when the phone rang.

A woman identified herself by name and said she was with the association in question and that she wanted to talk to me about my membership. Based on my professional qualifications and achievements, she said she’d like to interview me to see if I might be offered a more elite membership, which would, among other benefits, include my profile among a select group on the homepage of the site. I would also be invited to host webcasts. She was polite and professional and extremely articulate. Did I have a few minutes, she wanted to know. Sure.

She then proceeded to interview me, asking some admittedly thought-provoking questions about accomplishments and career objectives. Thinking this was a legitimate interview I gave her questions careful consideration and offered genuine responses. She couldn’t have been more supportive, providing what seemed like the appropriate amount of agreement and praise. It all seemed authentic.

After a lengthy conversation, she welcomed me as an elite member, once again taking the time to compliment me. Then, without even pausing for breath, she asked what credit card I would use to pay what could only be described as an exorbitant membership fee. When I said the fee seemed unusually high, she offered one with a few less benefits at a slighter lower rate.

I told her I don’t commit to an expense of this size without more review, and asked that she either mail or email membership details, along with the corresponding rates, and I would make a decision after I had a chance to look at the information. She explained they didn’t do that: It was either sign up now or they would move on to the next person. When I indicated that I would have to decline, she was gone.

How many women have been taken in by this kind of pitch? I like to think of myself as a smart businesswoman, but had I been a little less experienced or a little more in need of an ego boost I would have gone for this scam. And it is indeed a scam. Two of the benefits she cited as exclusive to elite membership are available at the site at no charge.

In preparing to post this blog entry, I did some further digging at the site and found the association doesn’t list its membership fees. Under FAQ there’s this statement: “We offer many different membership levels, which are customized to fit your unique needs.” Uh huh.

Any legitimate association posts its membership fees and either makes available or will provide you with documentation regarding member benefits.

How can you be on your guard against this or other potential scams?

If you feel like you’re being given the hard sell, ask for a time out. Also ask for information in writing. If the “representative” won’t give you both, don’t hand over your money.

Unfortunately, caveat emptor now also applies to professional associations.

Paula Santonocito

Career Editor, SingleMindedWomen.com