"We have noticed an increased mention of your name on the web during the last few weeks and we would like to list you in Premier Who's Who." I received this greeting on a telephone call a few days ago. Wow, I thought to myself, my Huffington Post and Facebook blogs have increased my fame. But then, I asked, "Is there a fee or any other charge?"
"No, the listing of your biography is free but you may want to pay to access our complete Registry." I hung up.
All of us are accustomed to Nigerian scams. I occasionally receive letters from Who's Who companies, which I promptly throw away. However, vanity impels many sophisticated people to fall for these schemes. So I did a little research and here is a primer.
American Biographical Institute. A typical letter starts with, "Congratulations! You have been elected as one of the 500 Leaders of Science" (or Doctors, Entrepreneurs, Morticians and other categories). You are offered an opportunity to buy certificates and plaques, at prices of $195 or higher. You also can be listed in the World Book of Knowledge, which can cost as high as $795. Don't confuse this book with the Book of Knowledge, which was a legitimate encyclopedia published by Grolier.
The Heritage Who's Who. The letter starts with, "It is my pleasure to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion in The Heritage Who's Who. There is no cost to be included in the registry." But when a Heritage sales rep calls and tries to sell you a plaque, leather-bound book, or a special program of three press releases (to send to your local newspaper), then the fun begins.
Among others that operate in a similar manner are Emerald Who's Who (your listing does not increase your chances of winning the Irish lottery), International Who's Who Historical Society, Madison Who's Who and Global Registry Who's Who. You can access their websites for the glorious details.
The attorney general and Better Business Bureaus in several states, particularly Connecticut and New York, maintain lists of publications of this type for which they have received many complaints. If in doubt, call the reference librarian at your local library and you will be told about well-established reference books that do not require payment from biographees.
One of the oldest is Who's Who, published in the UK since 1897. American National Biography is a 24-volume encyclopedia with about 17,000 entries. It's in many libraries, but the last edition was in 2002. It indeed is a great honor to have your biography in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, World Book, Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature and other reference books that line library shelves. Forbes has taken over the publication of Blue Books of socialites, a very limited list that is prestigious.
Marquis Who's Who, founded in 1899, publishes Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, and many others in specific fields (Who's Who in Finance and Business) and regions (Who's Who in the East). In 2003, the company was acquired by News Communications (not to be confused with News Corp.), which publishes National Register and The Hill.
I have been listed in Who's Who in America and other Marquis books for many years. Yes, I am offered the opportunity to buy a variety of beautiful items, but have declined, and continue to be listed. With over 100,000 entries, Who's Who in America is not a tremendous honor but it should not be ignored, as the company does an excellent job of annual fact checking. Try to avoid being listed in Who Was Who in America!
Richard Weiner is writing a book (his 24th) about gossip (www.thegossipbook.com) but does not plan to publish Who's Who Among Gossipers.