American Biographical Institute
|Industry||Who's Who scam|
|Fate||Bankrupt in 2012|
|Products||Sale of, awards and biographical reference directories|
Number of employees
The American Biographical Institute (ABI) was a paid-inclusion vanity biographical reference directory publisher based in Raleigh, North Carolina which had been publishing biographies since 1967. It generated revenue from sales of fraudulent certificates and books. Each year the company awarded hundreds of "Man of the Year" or "Woman of the Year" awards at between $195 and $295 each.
Its awards were frequently denounced as scams by politicians, journalists, and others. The Government of Western Australia's ScamNet service considers the American Biographical Institute to be a scam vanity publisher "who appeals to people who want a plaque on their wall or see their name in a book, even if the honour has no real credibility—in effect, they have purchased the honour." The company went bankrupt in 2012.
The company's owner, Arlene Calhoun, also ran another purveyor of for-profit awards called the United Cultural Convention and another vanity press called the Pentland Press or Ivy House Publishing Group.
The ABI invited individuals to purchase various honors as a commemorative in their inclusion for a specific biography. One former employee explained that the company bought mailing lists from organizations, and using those names, they sent out blanket mailings inviting individuals to be in biographical books or accept awards. Such honors include "International Man of the Year," "Most Admired Man of the Decade" or "Outstanding Man of the 21st Century" (see list below), or to be included in ABI publications, such as 500 Leaders of Science or The World Book of Knowledge, in exchange for a contribution fee. Those who accept, who sometimes write their own biographies, are offered books or certificates at prices as high as US $795.
On its website, the publisher describes itself as "one of the world’s leading biographical reference publishers and authorities on global contemporary achievement" and claims that "inclusion in an ABI reference title is based on personal achievement alone and is not available for purchase." The ABI shares an address and P.O. box with the United Cultural Convention, another purveyor of for-profit awards.
The ABI is also the co-host with the International Biographical Centre of a yearly World Forum, (previously the International Congress on Arts and Communications) which invites a group for a week of professional seminars, artistic displays, and performances, and culture sharing. Host cities over the 31 yearly meetings have included: New York; Washington D.C.; New Orleans; San Francisco; Edinburgh; Cambridge, UK; Nairobi; Madrid; Lisbon; Cambridge, Mass. USA; Oxford, UK.; Singapore; and Sydney. The Maitre Artiste of Ethiopia, Afewerk Tekle was a regular attendee. No proceedings of these forums are produced except the ABI which includes these in a newsletter. The often prestigious location is then quoted on their literature as if to add gravitas.
In 2007, referring to the International Biographical Centre, the American Biographical Institute, and Marquis Who's Who, Jan Margosian, consumer information coordinator for the Oregon Department of Justice, warned consumers to be wary and called the companies "pretty tacky", adding "I don't know why they would put you in there if they weren't hoping to get you to buy the book. "You truly have to look at how they are marketing and what the spin is. It's something you might want to watch out for."
Awards and titles
New awards are continually created and marketed. Most awards are available for between US $195 and $495, payable by the recipient, depending on their level of prestige and the quality of the printing on the certificate and the material in the frame or mount. In 2005 the Institute awarded 200 "Man of the Year" awards at between $195 and $295 each.
American Biographical Institute gives awards like Man of The Year or Scientific Award of Excellence to many people in a year. Every award can be purchased from them.
The ABI does not provide a consolidated list of all the awards, medals, diplomas, and certificates it issues, but the titles of the honors may be identified through the recipients' use of them in their résumés.
- Richard Baker (27 August 2004). "Scam of the year a snip at $195". The Age.
Consumer Affairs Minister John Lenders has been asked to investigate a scam being run by a group called the American Biographical Institute after it told a Labor MP he would get a decree confirming his nomination as 2004 "man of the year" if he paid $ US 195 ($ A 276) … [Member for Mitcham] Mr Robinson said it was important the people behind the scam be stopped from requesting Australians to send money for a meaningless award… “It is very difficult to retrieve money from scams like this that are run overseas," [Mr. Lenders] said. "This is a scam that is well known to Consumer Affairs Victoria.
- Rajesh Kochhar (16 January 1999). "The Sucker of the Year Award". The Tribune.
- Tim Heald (February 2005). "I have been nominated for an International Peace Prize!". The Heald Report. Archived from the original on 2007-08-09.
- Bhavin Jankharia (10 August 1999). "The Awards Scam". Archived from the original on 2007-04-15. Retrieved 2007-03-12.
- Don Burleson (8 October 2006). "Are you a "Man of the Year"?".
- "Dubious awards: Sashes and such". Newsletter of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) Volume 26 No. 1, Spring 2007.
- "Scam Types: Prizes and Lotteries: World Medal of Freedom". Government of Western Australia.
- Chris Bagley, "Related Raleigh companies file for bankruptcy" , Triangle Business Journal, Dec 3, 2012
- David Vernon (July 2007). "David Vernon — Man of the Year!". Appeared as "The Price of Fame]" in The Skeptic vol 27, No 2. Archived from the original on 2007-12-06. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
Neither ABI nor IBC lists their entire menu of awards on their websites — perhaps they think that to do so might make even the most gullible person a little suspicious… Western Australian Senator Ross Lightfoot, in his 1997 entry in Who’s Who in Australia p970, and on his Parliamentary website states that he is a Life Fellow of the International Biographical Centre. Such Fellowships can be had for a one-off payment of £795.
- Seema Banerjee (17 July 2002). "Post: Commemorative Edition of "500 Leaders of Science"". Teachers.Net.
- Hannes Gassert (12 September 2004). "Me in "The World Book of Knowledge" (?)". Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2007.
Alright, I'm rather credulous by nature, but heck, who would want the biography of a random 22-year-old in an encyclopedia at the cost of $795 USD? This does indeed very much look like the scheme of the publishing house Belbo, Casaubon and Diotallevi, the heroes in Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, work for, publishing esoteric books at their authors' own expense.
- Columnist Mike Awoyinfa (1 April 2006). "Should I accept this American award?". The Sun (Lagos). Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-03-12.
I have just received this letter … telling me that I don’t know who I am and that I “should be proud” of my accomplishments … For the MAN OF THE YEAR Decree (unlaminated) the price is US $195.00. For the Decree Custom Laminated onto Finland Birch Wood, the price is US $295.00… They are asking me to send the money by cheque or money order or wire transfer. They are asking for my credit card number…
- Stover E. Harger III (14 February 2007). "Paying for prestige: the cost of recognition". Daily Vanguard. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-03-12.
- Warner, Gerald (3 June 2007), "Degrees of vanity honour the ludicrous and grotesque", The Scotsman
- North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, Corporations Division 
- "Certificate of attendance". Pianolessonsperth.com.au. Archived from the original on 2012-03-20. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
- "Paying for prestige:the cost of recognition". Vanguard. Portland, Oregon. February 15, 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
- "Excerpt of a letter from ABI (September 9, 2005)".
- Company homepage
- Rothke, Ben (2009-08-04). "What's What with the Who's Who? Who would be so foolish as to pay for inclusion in a Who's Who book that no one reads?". CSOonline.com. Framingham, Massachusetts: CXO Media. — First-hand account that exposes fraudulent who’s who publishers