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.)

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

  1. Reading some of the comments here and I did get a similar call from “International Society of Female Professionals” I believe that was the name. It sounds like it’s the same scam!
    It was a number from Czech Republic that I didn’t recognize. They asked me lots of questions about me and my business, and I wasn’t comfortable giving that much info because I didn’t recognize the name or the number, so I tried to be as polite as possible but they kept asking me questions until they finally “approved” me and told me about the price. At that point I was in a rush for an actual real appointment and told them to just send any info via email and that I wouldn’t be making any decisions through the phone anyway. First the man said this was a one time offer and they wouldn’t be able to go back and forth with the application and asked me if the budget was a problem, which I wanted to say “No, because I don’t have a budget allocated to scams, but let me check again” but I said “not really, no, I just obviously am not going to be making any decisions without being able to read actual info”. And he replied that unfortunately they don’t have an email inbox which didn’t make sense since they supposedly got my application via email. At that point I was really curious to see where this was going because he was clearly off script but he hung up with a “Erm ok thank you” as soon as I said that there was no way I was going to give any card info through the phone. I feel sad that other female business owners can be scammed by these people; who work so hard to achieve their goals. I can’t believe sometimes this is the world we live in; making profit for an illegitimate business out of actual genuine businesses that are working hard to make a change.

  2. Thank you for posting this – I just had a most unpleasant experience with being spammed with phone calls from NAPW. When I was trying to tell this woman repeatedly to take me off their list, she kept talking over me.

    Then she said she would not take me off the list until I had listened to her 10-minute description of her offering and the organization. She also lectured me about my phone manners – I had to listen to that too before she agreed to take me off her list. Has anyone reported this organization to the Better Business Bureau?

  3. Thanks for your article, Rachel! I regret to tell you that they continue to operate. I also got a contact from “International Society of Female Professionals” and as a call was from US to Europe, the connection got broken and they never called back, luckily. Today I received an email asking me to ONLY complete the registration. This time i was not in a rush and googled them. I wonder why they are still not blocked in Linkedin and Facebook. Massive affair!
    Take care!

  4. I clicked on a legitimate looking link on LinkedIn advertising membership to the International Society of Female Professionals. This week I start getting masked phone calls from New York. I answered a few times but the line was dead. Today I answered and they said they had my application and wanted to verify some information before I was approved. Seems odd, but okay. They ask me all about my professional history, education, why I wanted to do what I do, etc. Finally at the end I get the sales pitch. Some worthless certificate of merit, access to their unparalleled networking forum, etc. Lifetime membership for just $589. What on earth possessed me to read out my credit card number over the phone? For some reason it didn’t really hit me until I hung up that everything seemed a bit off. I’m not a stupid person and it’s quite normal to have to pay membership fees for professional associations so all I can say is that in the moment it didn’t seem overly strange. I contacted my bank right away and reversed the charge and reported my CC had been compromised (who knows what they’ll do with my info). How are these people able to advertise on LinkedIn?

  5. It seems that the National Association for Professional Women under the new names Worldwide Association of Female Professionals (2019) and
    International Society for Female Professionals (2020) have been conning women around the world for a decade now. They now changed their game to pray on women outside the US (probably because English is not their native language, making them easy to fool, and because most of them lack the knowledge or the tools to fight back). Well, they messed with the wrong person now and I propose we do something about it! I propose we create a group and organize a coordinated action with blogposts and social media posts, official complaints and guest posts in several countries that will spread the word quickly to women all around the world. I don’t know if anyone is monitoring these comments after all these years, but if so, please answer me here or send me an email. You have a list of 654 women that I bet are willing to get the word out. Thanks!

  6. I received a call from the International Society of Female Professionals following something I liked on Facebook. At the time it seemed quite relevant to what I was looking for but only after I had a long conversation with them did I realise what a scam it is. I also looked up their address on Google which appears to be a block of apartments. As I am in the UK it is a little difficult to say. I am going to lodge a complaint with FB about their approach. I am normally a savvy person but nearly got suckered in by them. Will be extremely careful in the future.

  7. Sandra Milena Ortiz Lizcano

    Thanks a lot for sharing this information. Last week somebody called me from that organization. She was asking about my professional experience and my education, fortunately I had to hang up the phone because there was a bad signal. She called me back and I did not be able to understand one of the questions so she said: don’t worry, we will call you back. Today I received an email to complete my membership because I have been approved, however I was looking for information about them and I have decided not to be part of that scam. Again, thanks for sharing and I think we should do something to prevent other women from being victims of these people.

  8. Thea scognamiglio

    Same story here. Last week somebody called me from that organization. She was asking about my professional experience and my education, like she was performing an interview, withall of the classic “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” thing. After 10 minutes, she said that she approved my application, and that did seemed suspicious to me because she actually never asked for a real CV, or references. Then, she asked me to give her my credit card number etc to proceed my memebership, and that was the moment, when I realized that could be a phraud.

    So I researched the society online to gather more info, and I found this page.

    Thanks you so much for sharing and I also think we should do something to prevent other women from being victims of these people.

  9. Literally just got off the phone with a representative. The call was going great, she made me feel like as if I was chosen to get into the club. Until she says; “The membership is $589.00 for a lifetime membership, which card will you be using today.. Say what?? That’s when I had to disconnect the call. Immediately started doing research and found this page. I’m thankful for other women sharing their stories.

  10. Has anyone had luck cancelling the membership after figuring out they were scammed? I was able to get them to agree to process a refund for the “press release” but not the membership fee.

  11. Well I can’t thank you enough for this . You just saved me from being scammed . Similar to all the posts here I am a new business owner and this lady from the International Society of Female Professionals called me with an arrogant attitude (which I immediately found unprofessional and alarming) asking me silly questions like how I spend my day lol Then she said what membership would you like and I immediately had a bad gut feeling , I asked her if she can email the memberships and the differences so I can make a decision, of course I just said that to give myself the chance to do some research, she said I have to pay first to receive my “Welcome package” I then asked her if she can give me a call back so I can think about this and she replied “Unfortunately because of the high demand I can’t go back and forth with one candidate” !!!! Hahaha I knew it right there so I said ok then I’m going to place you on a brief hold and I went on google and looked up the so called world leading organization to find this article and couple more !! I was like no way Lil girl who you think you’re messing with ! So I went back and said I just did some research on your Organization and I DO NOT LIKE what I saw , I’m going to pass LOL She was shocked ! THANK GOD !!!

  12. I received the same calls. The link is Linkedin.
    So I close it last year (and my contacts) and bloqued their e mails.
    But, lately I open Linkedin again. Starting from “cero”.
    This week their started again.
    Women calling, a man asking for my life and plans and the enterprise.
    We must learn: Not let any social red to show our telephone numbers nor mail.
    Do not talk with people you don´t know, even if it is by phone, no give your plans to anyone.Why?
    So, do not show your life openly.
    And not be “friendly” with people you don´t know.
    There are a lot of men that like harass women. So don´t show your life in the internet.

    The worst if you say you have a business or are a lawyer, or any activity that imply money.
    Don´t trust in anybody!

  13. I received the same call too. The link was Linkedin to me.
    I am brazilian , I speak english but in the first moment I didn’t understand what was that call about, he talked very fast
    (I’m afraid he didn’t understand much of what I said either, as he didn’t seem to show much patience – which I found strange and I didn’t like it)
    I spoke about my job experiences and they tried to convince me that only the best women in their field would be able to participate.
    So, they tried to get my credit card number. I insisted I didn’t inform any number by phone, only by some secure website.
    So the person was extremely rude and finished the call.
    This week I received an email again talking about a new chance to me… 

  14. I am from Peru. Received the exact same call, went through an interview regarding my proffesional life. During this interview, I even told them that I went through Breast Cancer last year, which is true, and the lady carried on with the scam. When they told me they didnt have a propper online payment platform, I knew it was a scam so I told the lady: Im not giving you my credit card number. She said: Thank you very much fot your time and hang off the phone
    This experience had me ruminating all day long, so I am very happy to find this article.
    Now, this has to be placed as a a formal complaint within the US and globally, because this group is scaming women all around the world now.

  15. I’m from Peru and received a call and a ca interview, finished it and she told me I qualified to be a membership and I should choose one offer, reading it very quickly and said “which credit card do you have?” I answered to her that first I have to receive an email with all the details of the offer and the call, then investigate and make a decision, after this she insisted and say “we don’t send emails but what would u like to know if I already told you everything?”, at this point I started to see it in a different way. Which kind of serious organisation would do that? What kind of proffesional organisation wouldn’t have a serious applying process? I said, well so if I had to make a decision now the amswer is no. She told me, well We thought you were interested because you registered for an applicationand. I said, I registered for getting more information. She told me she might be contacting me at the end of November, hang the phone and after some weeks (not even a month) I received an email telling me about this latest phone contact and that I should finish my application because it is incomplete, send me a link with the detailed offer and telling me I should contact them via call to complete it. That was something that didn’t fit to me, obviously, so I just had to found it. I wasn’t wrong and the intuition I had, it was true. Thank you very much for sharing your experience, to everyone of you.

  16. I feel real stupid then and need to get my money back asap and fight this. I am going to get my funds back. I didn’t know and she just called me and I really didn’t think much into it. Wow everything you all are saying they were asking me today. And it was the international society of professional women

  17. Thank you all for letting others members know what has happened to you. I also was a victim back in 2015 but was unable to get any of my money back. I think a class action suite from everyone should be filed because if this is still going on today 2020 we as reputable women could shut it down forever. Anyone know a good lawyer?
    Karen V

  18. It is 2021 and they’re praying on new victims. I received the call two days ago after I left the online applications unfinished because I couldn’t find valuable information within their website. Anyway, I was interviewed for 45 mins, and then when they asked for membership money, $500 or something for a lifetime, I was like it is a tough time right now to be paying that. She then said try to reduce the amount and said you can get one year for $200ish. I told her i needed to think about it and will call them back. Gave me the number but then researched on Linkedin and found a few people who have the badge from this society but the actual society does not exist in Linkedin which made me question if it was a legit society. I contacted a woman who had her membership badge and she told me that the nobody has contacted her from the network of women she was promised, and she thought it was a scam, so I went and did more research and found this site. Thanks for letting us, so now I am adding my experience so hopefully nobody else falls for it.
    Also found they have been reported to the Better Business Bureau in the USA.

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