Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women

This started out as a post to the EFA members’ discussion list, where we’ve recently discussed a couple of scams, but it got a little long so I’m posting it here. I also gave out my URL and was promised it’d be linked to my member profile, so in case that actually does get published anywhere, I want to emphasize here that I am not affiliated with the National Association of Professional Women. Which should also be clear from the rest of the post.

I come with a word of warning about the National Association of Professional Women. They’re advertising heavily on LinkedIn, I hear, and targeting new business owners whose bullshit detectors might not be finely tuned yet. (That would include me, I’m sorry to say.) The organization seems reputable but they’ll use flattery and high-pressure tactics to upsell you on anything they can.

A week or two ago, I got a postcard in the mail offering membership and providing a preapproved membership code. I thought about it, went and checked out the org’s website, and decided it looked legitimate and possibly useful to me. The site said that every woman who applies (should have been red flag #0) gets a complimentary basic membership but that there were many membership levels. I entered the code from the mailing, filled out a form, and figured I’d check it out at the free level.

A few days later, I got a phone call from Savina (at a blocked number; red flag #1) wanting to interview me before my membership was approved and leaving the number 866-540-6279, extension 270. I called back today, and the given extension was Pamela Caldwell’s voice mailbox. I left a message anyway, and Savina called me back an hour or so later. (Red flag #2 — there was no mention of “oops, I gave you the wrong extension” or “Pamela gave me your message” or anything like that.)

Savina seemed friendly, but I could also tell she was reading from a script at points. I answered questions about my work experience, my education, my business, where I see myself in five years, what I hoped to get from the organization, what I was most looking forward to, etc. At the end of the interview she said she was pleased to offer me membership. I thanked her, thinking I’d passed some test or received some honor, and we proceeded with the paperwork process. She said there was the Elite membership level, which cost $900-something, or the Premium level, which cost $700-something but didn’t have quite so many benefits, so which did I want to sign up for?

WHOA THERE. I don’t want to sign up for either! However, we’d now spent about 15 minutes talking about me and what I wanted from the organization, so I didn’t want to feel foolish by saying “no thanks, never mind” at this point. (Red flag #3, in retrospect.) Savina said she could offer me a trial membership at $99. I said, didn’t I see something on the website about a free level? She said that was a listing only and didn’t include all the networking and seminars and other benefits I’d just said I wanted. So would that be American Express, Visa, Mastercard…?

At this point I felt trapped enough to give up my credit card information. I wish I’d come up with some other excuse: I wanted to review the welcome packet she promised to send; I wanted to run it by an accountant or a mentor; I wanted an invoice or an online form instead of giving my card info over the phone. (I later found out that others who’d said things like these were told the offer of membership was a now-or-never thing, or that welcome packets or requested invoices never came.)

So once Savina had my card info and enough information to create my member profile, she then offered to sell me a very nice plaque commemorating my acceptance into membership. She read off what the plaque would say and said that they only reserve two plaques for each member, so did I want to buy one or two for $99 each? That, I managed to turn down. To finish the signup process, Savina told me I’d get an email with my member ID and website login, told me I could download the organization’s logo and put it on my own site and business cards and wherever else, and described what would be in the welcome packet

When we ended the call, I felt swindled. I’d had no intention of spending a dime on membership, but because I’d been enthusiastic about membership for most of the call, I felt pressure not to backtrack. The more I thought about the whole thing, the more red flags started to appear, and I did what I should have done in the first place: researched the organization. My phone even offered “national association of professional women scam” when I started to type in the search box. Uh-oh.

I found blog posts and comments from 2007 through January of this year, all telling pretty much the same story, with some of the same names and phone numbers, though the exact dollar amounts changed from year to year. A post, Women Work Smart: Watch Out for Scams Attacking New Business Owners, and comments that echoed the experience I’d just had. An unfavorable article from 2009 that NAPW wanted taken down in 2012. A speaker who’d been offered a complimentary membership, then asked to pay for memberships and awards. A Ripoff Report article that had a fluffy, glowing “special update” at the top and a name removed from the original, critical report. Even negative Yelp reviews of the organization.

The more I read, the more infuriated I got. I called the number back and pressed 0 for “immediate assistance.” An operator transferred me to the Finance division, where I left a stern message saying I did not want membership, do not charge my card, and call me back to tell me there will be no charges. I read more stories of people getting the runaround and called the number again, this time dialing the extension Savina had given me, which again directed me to Pamela’s voice mailbox — only this time, her last name was something like Jean-Michel, not Caldwell (another red flag!). I left another stern message saying not to charge my card.

I expected I’d have to fight a little harder to avoid charges, since Savina had said that all membership orders were final. But an hour after I left the first message, I got a call from Ben (blocked number) from the Finance division. He asked me to confirm that I’d purchased a membership today. I said instead that I’d done a little more research on the organization and decided not to proceed with membership. He said, “So you looked at the website?” I said that I’d looked at the website and some other recommendations online, and I no longer wanted to be a member of NAPW. Ben offered no other resistance and said that he’d reverse the charges, which could take up to 24 hours. And that was that.

My bank account doesn’t show a pending charge yet, so I can’t say what amount they charged or refunded. If anything does come through, I’ll update the post.

ETA, 3/29/13: I think it’s safe to say now that no charges came through at all. It looks like I changed my mind quickly enough that NAPW really didn’t charge my card, instead of completing the transaction and then reversing the charges.

Update, 2/4/14: There have been so many more comments on this post than I ever expected (almost 200 as of this morning)! If you did purchase a membership at any level in the National Association of Professional Women, I can’t offer specific advice beyond what I’d recommend for any other purchase: contact NAPW for a refund and to cancel your membership. Contact your bank or credit card company and ask to stop the charge if it hasn’t gone through yet, or if it has, ask the customer service rep what your options are. Several readers have mentioned automatic renewals without clear notice — commenter Kim Hales said in December 2013 that text authorizing the renewals is hidden in new/updated terms and conditions that NAPW members must accept in order to login to the members-only area of the website, where you’d need to uncheck a renewal option — so if you’re already on the phone with your bank or credit card issuer, ask if you can prevent that specific renewal charge. NAPW may also have a policy disallowing cancellation within 30 days of the membership’s renewal date.

Many readers have mentioned the misleading ads NAPW has placed on LinkedIn. Yesterday, commenter Karin posted the text of the support ticket she submitted to LinkedIn and the reply she received, in which an Ads Support Specialist promised to “investigate the advertiser in question.” LinkedIn’s advertising guidelines prohibit deception or lying. Since NAPW does have a free membership level, I don’t think advertising a free membership is lying per se, but I do think this tactic is deceptive. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can submit a support ticket here.

Other readers have mentioned NAPW’s Better Business Bureau rating, which seems to have tanked over time. Commenter Glenda said in August 2013 that the LinkedIn ads touted NAPW’s A rating but that, according to the BBB, NAPW was not an accredited business. As of October 2013, NAPW still had a high rating, but commenter Lil W. said in December 2013 that NAPW had an F rating then. Last week, commenter Gabby said that NAPW’s Wikipedia page had a “Controversy” section that mentioned a C rating from the BBB. Here’s the text of that Controversy section as it appears today:

As of January 2014, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported 256 customer complaints against NAPW since 2011. Based on these complaints, the Bureau issued the company a C rating (on a scale of A+ to F) for its “failure to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints”, among other factors cited in their review of the company.[10] Dozens of consumer complaints were also filed against NAPW with other complaint bureaus, reporting fraudulent practices. In response to BBB’s inquiry regarding what measures the company was taking to resolve “underlying issues”, NAPW reported that the “trend” of complaints reported to BBB was heavily due to online “negative PR” rather than customer experience.[11]

My post here tends to rank highly in Google searches for the National Association of Professional Women, with or without the word “scam” included. NAPW has not contacted me about my experience (or for any other reason). I don’t think I or my blog really register with them.

The BBB gives NAPW a D rating today, for reasons that match my experience and those of almost all the commenters below: “Many consumers tell BBB that they are misled regarding membership prices, membership levels, and additional fees for processing and set-up. For example, consumers reported seeing an ad for free membership for NAPW on LinkedIn. However, these consumers claim that when they contact NAPW to take advantage of that offer, they find out that joining is not free. Some consumers also allege that they were subjected to high pressure sales tactics by company representatives to join the organization even before they understood the costs or benefits. Other consumers that originally agreed to join the organization but opted afterward to cancel the membership say that they have difficulty reaching any company representatives to seek a refund.”

I’ll continue to update this post with more news as it develops.

Update, 11/13/15: There are more than 550 comments on this post, which is about 500 more than I ever expected! I’m amazed that new people continue to comment that NAPW is doing the same old song and dance. Unfortunately, however, it appears to be working for them. This week, journalist Nikki Gloudemann published Anatomy of a Scam: National Association of Professional Women, a deep dive into the experiences of former members of NAPW, who’s running the organization, what it’s like to work in the call centers, and what the future looks like. (NB: This post is linked in the article and I was contacted for an interview. I wish I’d said yes.)

632 thoughts on “Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women

  1. Thanks so much for the insight, because I asked the rep to send me info on their agency before I pay and she
    basically made it seem like your not getting info until you pay.

  2. Thank you for your article! I received this call right now and I was really interested, but in the moment she started “what is your credit card, VISA? I nedd the pin number and bla bla bla”… come on! I felt horible about this!

  3. I was just called and the exact play book was used to pressure me into buying. I never say yes on the spot to any pressured sales call but man was kimberlee Jeffrey relentless in her quest to get my card info!

  4. Thanks for this. I just received an ad in the mail with them today like you described above. Started researching through detective Google and found this. Thanks for saving me the hassle

  5. I just had the exact same call with “Sabina”. I read your article after the call, but I did not sign up and now I am SUPER glad I didnt even waste our Executive Directors time asking for the support on this membership!

  6. I had the same experience some days ago and I haven’t done my homework of checking their reputation – shame on me! And now, there is a charge in credit card that I did not agree on.
    Do you have any suggestion on how to proceed and cancel that?
    I tried to contact Larry West who called me but he was in another call. Still waiting for him to call me back.
    Any advice will be helpful!
    Thanks

  7. I received an ad in the mail today but I decided to do some research about the program before contacting them. I won’t waste my time. THANKS!!!

  8. This just happened to me an hour ago! I refused to give my credit card info out over the phone, so in the end it was alright. However, I couldn’t believe how legitimate it all sounded until they wanted me to give them $1,000.

  9. They got me for $199. I told them I didn’t want to autorenew and they promised that I would receive an email far in advance and just decline it. There is no place when I log in that I can locate my credit card to remove it. I have called and no one answers. I emailed and let them know that I did not want the renewal. Let’s see what happens now.

  10. I called (888) 852 – 1600 and got someone on the phone right away. I told them that my membership had automatically renewed for $199 and I was not made aware of this renewal and wanted my membership canceled and my money refunded.
    They said while they could not refund all the money they would refund me back $125 as a complimentary service and I could use their “services” for the next year. My membership will be canceled but honestly I may report my card stolen so that they cannot charge me again next year and I have to go through this again.

  11. Omg!!!!!! I just purchased membership today!!!!!!! Everything you said and felt I said and felt too and fell for it! And they said no refunds AFTER taking my card info!!!!!! Omg

  12. Ah! Thank you for this! I just got off the phone with “Donna” whose number had my area code-but I thought it was funny when she asked what state “IA” was… Iowa or Idaho. Wouldn’t she be in Iowa if the caller id had the same area code as mine? (Red Flag) I received the same script-the membership fees and the basic membership for $99. I told her that I would think about it and call her back–then I googled NAPW and it led me to you! This is too bad-Women need to support one another… not find ways to swindle and scam people! Shame on you NAPW!

  13. I just got suckered for $495…they said they would refund a partial amount of $244. They just charged my account on Friday and on Monday they want me to pay for a half a year’s membership. I never authorized automatic renewal and never would…they said that it is part of being a member. When I said it was a scam, the representative started to give me the definition of a scam. I think I’ll send Star Jones a tweet and see if I can get my money back.

  14. Just got an ad from NAPW today! You wonder why they keep this up… must be easy money. I remembered getting a postcard before and had a bad feeling: Google brought me to you! Thanks for your work!

  15. Debra from NAPW called me today telling me that i was handpicked for 2016’s Professional Woman of the Year which comes with an upgraded membership and she started at $995 and went down to $495/annual fee. She said this includes a large mahogany plaque, free access and vip seating at all of their events, increased exposure, and help creating a better showcase/profile. I thought I’d see what others had to say about this and found this post. I’m going to read through the comments; but, thought I’d share my experience today.

    I asked her point blank…”so you are offering me VIP status but i have to pay for it?” She said others have paid $995 for VIP status. I felt special for a moment then realized it’s a tactic to get my money. I signed up a month or so ago for $95 and there were 350,000 members. Now there’s 900,000! That’s a red flag for me.

    I’m curious if anyone else was told they were handpicked for VIP status.

  16. I had a rep call me and when I told her that I wanted to find out more about the organization before joining, she said she couldn’t send any materials until I joined. That made me want to check out the organization immediately so I went on line and typed NAPW and google sent me to you. Thank you so much for writing this. You saved me a lot of headache.

  17. I have been scammed by this organization, taken money from my account that wasn’t agreed on, I cancelled my card but how can I get my money back?

  18. Thank you for this post! I received an invite for a “no cost or obligation” membership in the mail and decided to do a quick Google search first. I saw their site and although it was professional looking, it also left me with questions. I scrolled down on Google results and found your article. I will not be signing up for my “free” membership.

  19. I just received my “free” offer today and I’m glad I found this post. I will be shredding my offer!

  20. OMG! You people are so negative. I agree with
    Martha Combs says:
    September 26, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Try going to a NAPW meeting and get involved. It is what you make of it.

    Isn’t that the truth!

  21. Thanks for this insight, Rachel! Played phone tag with Kim, who has you go straight to voicemail. Basically, she only calls you. Things just got shadier and shadier. I may still hear her out, but thanks for the warning. Women helping women should not be a full-on membership thing.

  22. 2017 they are still at it! It sounded like such a great idea but I told them to call back next year. LUCKILY! They said I was recommended and when I questioned them about the recommendation they changed the subject. Thanks for the Heads up to refer them to spam!!!!

  23. I got the call today, though I did submit my info (while searching for a contact phone number) because the complimentary listing seemed as though it could be beneficial to my work. However, I am NOT willing to pay any amount for a listing or the opportunity to go to networking meetings that are not even held in my town.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting what you wish you would have said! I googled while on the phone and skimmed through your article; I think I used every line you have down, and the price kept getting lower: from $989 to $700 to $500 to $99 for six months to $99 for a year for basic. I would not have thought of such logical excuses on the spot and always feel so pressured by sales people. Pressure driven expense evaded!

  24. Thanks for posting, this is still happening. I just got a voicemail from “Karen” about my application and she has a few follow-up questions… but I haven’t applied for anything or talked with anyone from NAPW. At first I thought this was regarding a job application, but then I started doing some research!

  25. I had pretty much the same experience as most of the women commenting here. However, being a skeptic by nature, I was already suspicious when I was called several times by this organization after submitting a membership application on line. As such, while this woman – whose name I didn’t bother to remember – was running her game, I was googling NAPW and wondering what fee she would quote, as I am familiar with most sales tactics. When she asked if I wanted the $995 or the $700 membership, I almost laughed. But I didn’t. I simply told her that her organization has a “D” rating from the BBB due to excessive unaddressed complaints; that I was reading numerous negative reviews; that I do not purchase products – tangible or intangible – without written information detailing the specifics of the product; but that most importantly, I would never purchase a membership by releasing my credit card information over the phone to some faceless voice in cyberspace. I was disappointed because NAPW sounds like something that might benefit me in my career and networking endeavors. But they will need to come up with better marketing and advertising plans before talking to me again.

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