Conference scams 2016: How to help fight back

I’ll never forget that time my grandmother was tricked by a scam artist. It was the first time this tough country girl looked every bit of the 90-something years she’s been living on this world.

Scam Wallet

Every year, scam artists target trade show and event attendees and exhibitors.

It wasn’t so much the money that was taken from her after she gave out her bank account information over the phone. That was easily taken care of through her bank’s fraud protection. It was her feelings of shame, humiliation, and fear that left her shaking with anxiety. She was so crippled with fear, she was afraid to even answer the phone if she didn’t recognize the Caller ID.

I knew that if I could just get her to turn that nervous energy into something else, she not only could overcome her fear but also fight back in the process. So I told her to think about all the other people in her situation that are being scammed every day. They could be her friends, people at her church, her next-door neighbors. And I asked her, “Wouldn’t you just love to get back at those people and save other people from having to go through this?”

That glint of fire returned in her eye. She was brave enough to take on this challenge and her courage was mounting. I told her the answer was simple: Report these people to the police.

Now that I think about it, maybe this is why I’m so adamant about reporting every single trade show and event scam that comes our way for Cultivate’16 and Sage Summit 2016 to AmericanHort and Sage. I’ve seen what even a small scam can do to an individual. I don’t want to see handfuls of people scammed the same way — not if I can help it.

How do I know if it’s a scam?

Much of the same advice for phishing or telemarketing scams holds true for scams involving trade shows and events. This holds true whether your’re an exhibitor or an attendee.

  • The event is not going to call you and sign you up for the event or sell you goods or services. This goes for registration, hotel booking, logistics, or other services used by exhibitors. Think about it this way: About 10,000 people from around the world are expected to attend Cultivate’16 next month. There are more than 600 exhibitors signed up. There are more than 130 educational sessions scheduled. There are tours to organize, speakers to coordinate, industry media to take care of. AmericanHort does not have time to call you up to help you book your hotel. Nor will a reputable vendor call you, and without so much as a greeting, ask you what your shipping weight is so they can book your freight handling. (This happened to us last week.)
  • The event is not going to use outdated methods of communication. So far this year, we’ve received four faxes from supposed vendors wanting to sell us services for Cultivate’16. Yes, I said faxes. Maybe their telegrams got delivered next door or something.
  • Scam motel

    Hotel scams usually involve sub-standard lodging or provide no housing at all.

    If it sounds too good to be true … Most scams operate by offering goods and services at prices people can’t seem to refuse. Whether it’s a hotel at half the cost of the contracted hotels or shipping services that undercut the contracted vendor, most scam companies make a living of offering sub-standard or non-existent services to event participants. “I would NEVER respond to anyone pitching a great deal on a hotel not officially sanctioned by the event itself,” said Danielle Cote, vice president of Event Marketing at Sage. “These agencies promise hotel inventory they don’t have. They collect the money and the attendee arrives with no room reservation. That impacted individual looks to the event producer for recourse and there is no way we can help them.”

How can I fight back against these scam artists?

From talking to folks at AmericanHort and Sage the last few years, it sounds like no matter how hard they try to prevent it, there are always people who get taken in by these scams. I’m sure part of the reason is that there will always be new attendees and new exhibitors, so there will always be people who aren’t aware that these scams are out there.

Scam fight back

There is a way we can fight back against trade show and event scams: Report them.

But there is a way to fight back, just like I told my grandmother: Report them. And keep reporting them. There is safety in numbers here, and the more these scams are reported, the better the chance these events and their governing bodies can stop them in their tracks.

For Cultivate’16,  let’s say 15,000 people will need hotel rooms. And what if 2,000 of those people received a phone call from the same scam hotel company.

If one person notifies AmericanHort they received that phone call, the most AmericanHort can do is put up a warning on their growing list of Alerts and Notices. If 200 people — just 10 percent of those people — tell them about the phone call, that’s enough evidence to be able to report that company to the authorities and hopefully put them out of business.

The same is true for Sage Summit.

“If the company crosses certain boundaries, Sage can send them a cease and desist letter from Legal,” said Jenn Kimber, the Events Manager of XP and Engagement. “These steps can only be taken if Sage knows about the contacts being made to attendees or exhibitors.”

And it’s pretty quick and easy to get enough information out of these scammers. All you have to do is feign interest. “What company did you say you were from? And what number can I call you back at?” Bingo. You’ve got them.

And it’s pretty easy to send an e-mail to AmericanHort or Sage, or whatever trade show or event host you’re attending this year. For Cultivate, you can contact Sherry Johnson or Tracy Phillips. For Sage Summit, Jenn Kimbel can be contacted at

So if you receive one of these scams, instead of ignoring it (which is the second-best option), report them to the event officials. While we may never see the end of scammers, they may decide that Cultivate and Sage Summit aren’t worth dealing with if they know their participants will fight back.


A quick aside: I found all of the photos for this post on Pexels, a new stock photo service and curation site. The photos I chose were listed as not needing attribution, but these are some of the best free stock photos I’ve ever seen, so I wanted to at least mention them.

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