When it comes to our health or our legal needs, one of the biggest pain points is identifying a professional we can trust. Finding a new doctor, dentist, or lawyer can be stressful; those that come recommended by friends or colleagues often aren’t taking new patients or clients, and a search of your insurance directories or random Googling for “good lawyer make will” return literally thousands of hits.

Enter the credentials: You’ve probably noticed them. You’re sitting in the waiting room at your dentist’s office, or your doctor’s office, and on the wall are framed awards announcing they are one of the elite Top Dentists” or a “Lawyer of Distinction.” It’s reassuring and impressive—you’re not just seeing any old loser with a medical or law degree; you’re seeing one of the Top People!

Except: There is a very good chance these awards mean nothing (at best) or are an outright scam (at worst).

Pay to play” professional ranking lists

While there are some professional rankings or “top” lists that are based on actual metrics and a good-faith effort to identify the truly exceptional in a field, the simple fact is that most of these awards are pretty much pay-to-play scams. In fact, it’s not uncommon for folks who aren’t even medical professionals or lawyers to easily pay to receive one of these “awards,” as a ProPublica writer did with the Top Doctors Award in 2019—paying $99 to be named one despite a distinct lack of a medical degree.

To be fair, some professionals fall for these scams innocently. They’re often phrased as “invitations,” and state that the doctor or lawyer has already won the award or been voted onto the list—now they just have to pay for the official plaque or framed award to hang on their wall, and the language describing the selection process and any sort of credentialing is vague and misleading.

But some professionals definitely know what they’re doing—using a scam award that looks impressive as a marketing tool aimed at low-information consumers. And we’re all low-information consumers at some point, because there’s little transparency in these fields. When looking for a doctor, for example, it can be difficult to figure out if a surgeon or other practitioner has a good reputation. We’re sort of forced to use tea leaves: The institution they’re affiliated with, the schools they graduated from, and of course, word of mouth and references. It’s easy to see how an official-looking award on their wall might work as a “trust marker,” lending a sheen of official approval to an attorney or medical professional.

These fake rankings are on the rise

The fake rankings business is booming: A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal counted 1,200 rankings and awards for lawyers alone, almost double from the decade before, and a company that designs websites for law firms maintains a Google doc filled with hundreds of “spammy/scammy” attorney awards and rankings. It’s a big enough problem that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a clear warning to consumers that seeing one of these awards on an attorney’s website or in their office is actually a red flag.

And it’s not only lawyers, doctors, and dentists—these scams have proliferated throughout the business community, offering listings in “top” rankings or other kinds of awards and credentials in exchange for cash. As with lawyers and dentists, some businesses might innocently fall for this and proudly display their “award,” while others might cynically pay for a few in order to lure in unsuspecting customers. Either way, your best bet is to assume these rankings and awards are suspect.

#Doctors #Lawyers #Rankings #Awards #Fake

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