• Many directories are touted for their usefulness in "networking" — especially important in this tough job market — but they typically aren't available in libraries or bookstores, only online.
• Callers may try to sell you by implying they have a "connection with well-known historical societies or projects," notes the Better Business Bureau. "Investigation has shown that in many cases, no connection exists."
• In promotional literature, a Library of Congress catalog card number may be prominently displayed. All that means is the publisher has applied to catalog the book; it's not an endorsement from the Library of Congress.
• The directories publish personal information such as email and home addresses and birthdates. These can easily be gleaned and used by identity thieves.
Not sure whether a notification you've received is from a reputable publication?
Ask questions like these:
• What's the selection process? How was I nominated, and for what specific accomplishments? If the answer is vague, suspect the publisher may have bought your name on a mailing list or found it elsewhere.
• Who else made the grade? Sorry, but can you really be considered among the nation's top executives for running a small store when Fortune 500 CEOs are ignored?
• Who writes your bio? Legit registries may ask for background and do their own write-up; vanity books turn the pen over to you.
• Must you pay more for better play? In legit books, honorees generally get similar-size write-ups. With vanity directories, extra paragraphs, pages and photos are often available for a price.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.