This is a continuation of a blog post from yesterday. Click here to read Part 1 of “Convention scams reaching new lows: Part 1.”
Why do attendees have to worry about exhibitor scams?
Although conference attendees may never be targeted in the same way exhibitors are, that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected by the same scams. I learned this from my years living in Florida, where hotel room taxes make enough revenue to make state income tax unnecessary. It doesn’t matter if its a major sporting event (Super Bowl, Final Four, etc.), a political convention, a business conference or a trade show, the exhibitors and attendees they bring in — especially those who need to stay in hotel rooms during their stay — help support the No. 1 industry in the state (tourism), the economy, and the tax base.
According to Vanessa Finney, the executive vice president of MANTS, the number of hotel rooms booked through an event’s official housing can affect hotel discounts for attendees, the number of comp rooms for the host organization, contracts with the host city for how many rooms the event can book in a block, and so on. Vanessa said in some cities, unless you can guarantee your event will fill a certain number of hotel rooms, they won’t let you host your show there.
“Because of the revenue factor, attendees and exhibitors need to support their event by booking in the block,” she said. “If not, the event could lose financial incentives or exhibition rates could go up. And the more rooms that can be in a block, the cheaper the rate is going to be offered. Let’s say that we contract with the Sheraton for $100 per night. If we can’t make our quota, they’re not going to give us X rooms for $100 per night. They’re going to give us less rooms for $110 per night.”
Attendees may also be targets of scams too
Conference attendee lists are a bit more protected than exhibitor lists. Unlike exhibitor lists, attendee lists are guarded by conventions as if they were all the gold in Fort Knox. Granted, part of this reason is because the lists can be sold to exhibitors at the events for further marketing potential. Event attendees agree to this as part of purchasing a ticket. (Although, I can tell you from experience that a few contact e-mail addresses we’ve gotten from scanning badges at trade shows have been noone (at) nobody (dot) com.)
This practice protects attendees from being spammed or scammed by companies claiming to be a part of the event they attended. When you sign a contract to exhibit at an event, you’re in essence promising that you’re a legitimate business that sells exactly what you say you do. (How would it look if we showed up to Cultivate’15 saying we’re we can sell and implement Grower Vertical for Sage ERP, when we really only had a cool-looking inventory app?) Conversely, event hosts put their good name on the line to say attendees can trust all of the exhibitors at their show.
While event attendees may not receive the housing and vendor scams that exhibitors see, they’re still potential targets thanks to social media. Sage, for instance, makes a huge effort to have its employees, partners, and customers interact with them via social media. Let’s say a Sage 100 Contractor customer follows @Sage_Summit (the legitimate Twitter feed), and posts that they’re attending Sage Summit 2015 in New Orleans. That person has now announced publicly they’re an attendee.
Two years ago when I was an Endorsed Socialite for Sage Summit 2013, there were several fake Twitter accounts posing as the official Sage Summit account. Sage sent e-mails to their entire social media and marketing teams and to the Endorsed Socialites telling us the best thing we could do was ignore those accounts.
Greg Tirico, the digital media and content director for Sage at that time, said false Twitter accounts are more often than not spammers who are able to use this social media format to target large numbers of people to gain the few clicks they’re looking for. Sometimes, fake accounts can be rival companies looking to draw attention away from an event, Greg, who now works with advocacy solutions and services for Sprout Social, said.
“The most significant danger someone faces when following a fake Twitter account would result from misplaced trust,” Greg said. “We have all learned not to click on links in email when the sender is not known (in some cases this even applies to known senders). To the contrary, Twitter is at its best as a link sharing service. Clicking on links we find on Twitter is normal. Malware, spyware — you name it. They are all dangers when an implied (or misplaced) level of trust exists and we click on a link.”
How can exhibitors and attendees protect themselves against scams?
A few years ago, Vanessa had enough of dealing with fraudulent vendors.
“I got so mad, I put one of them out of business,” she said.
However, because of the time and effort it took to gather information and report just that one company to as many agencies as she could, Vanessa said it was almost a fruitless exercise because of how many other scammers were waiting in the wings to take its place.
Here’s a list of the ways we as event exhibitors and attendees can help stop the cycle of scamming in this industry:
- Constant vigilance! Just being aware that scams out there is a big strike against the perpetrators. These scams mostly run on social engineering, which I talked about in a previous blog post. The scammers are banking on your human nature to allow them to gain access to you. The No. 1 thing all of the people I talked to said in spotting a phony: Event vendors will never contact you to sell you services. Ever. Period. End of discussion.
- Only use official services. If something goes wrong with an authorized vendor, the event hosts can help you deal with the situation. (Vanessa helped us two years ago when one of our rental items wasn’t up to snuff at MANTS.) If you don’t use an official service, you’re out of luck if you don’t receive what was promised.
- My scam senses are tingling. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. In the scam version of this analogy, you probably already realize that if something’s priced at such a ridiculous discount, it’s probably not legitimate. Or if a vendor from Germany is offering you audio/visual equipment for a show in the United States, it’s a scam. Or if a vendor can’t get the name of the show right, it’s a scam. Or if a vendor uses an outdated communication device to send you an advertisement, it’s a scam. (You faxed us? Really? Puh-lease!)
- Report any suspicious activity. If you do receive a suspicious advertisement or see multiple Twitter handles for an event you’re attending, report it directly to the host organization. (Apparently quite a few other people reported the scams I mentioned in yesterday’s post, too.) Even though it’s not feasible to stop every scammer that targets an event, if the event can get the word out to ignore these “companies,” hopefully that will mean less success for the bad guys and they’ll take their “services” elsewhere.
So please, heed our warnings. When it comes to the event industry, we’re all in the same boat whether we’re hosts, exhibitors, or attendees. We’re all participants and want the event to be worthy of our time, money, and efforts. And since we’re all in it together, let’s help each other to stop this scourge that’s targeting the events industry.