It would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious.
We received a fax two weeks ago from a company offering Audio/Visual services for the Organization of Horticulture Professionals Conference at the Columbus Convention Center from July 11-14. Interestingly enough, we’re going to be exhibiting Grower Vertical for Sage ERP at a trade show at that same location at that same time. Somehow, this company has completely missed the fact that it’s called Cultivate’15.
AmericanHort, which runs Cultivate’15, is an organization of horticulture professionals, so they got that part right. But this was a pretty lame attempt by a company who is either trying to cash in by siphoning off exhibitors from the contracted vendors, or outright scamming exhibitors by offering services that just don’t exist.
That’s just one example. We’ve gotten several more faxes and probably a half a dozen phone calls from shipping companies and hotel services companies, either trying to earn business that doesn’t belong to them or trying to scam us out of our money. But the most brazen one yet was a phone call last Monday from a company trying to offer us hotel services for the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show.
For a second, I almost lost my facade of polite curiousness. (I feign interest when I get these obvious scam calls so I can get the company name. That way, I can report them to the trade show to add to their published lists of warnings.) I asked her if she said MANTS. They really couldn’t mean MANTS. It’s still months before they even open registration. Is this company so bad at scamming that they got their trade shows mixed up?
“Yes, MANTS in January,” she replied.
Wow. I reported the scam to both trade shows just in case. Vanessa Finney, the executive vice president for MANTS, was shocked they started this early. Tracy Phillips, an exhibit sales representative with AmericanHort, was just as surprised.
“That’s just crazy!” Tracy said.
Exhibitors are easy targets for scammers
Companies that exhibit at trade shows are happy to have their names and contact information published by the show. It’s all part of the publicity and marketing: Exhibitors want people to know they’re going to be at an event, to learn more about them, and perhaps reach out to them before, during, or after the show.
Even though trade shows like MANTS never give out their exhibitor list to anyone but their decorator services, thanks to the internet, you can go to almost any trade show website and easily find a list of exhibitors without having to register. These shows want to attract more attendees by allowing them to see who will be participating. But it also makes exhibitors an easy mark for scammers and unaffiliated vendors with unethical practices.
“This is a national issue, hitting all trade shows across all industries,” Vanessa said. “It’s just a frustration we are all dealing with, all of us managing events, conferences, no matter where they are. Our exhibitors are being led astray.”
The problem has gotten so bad, many legitimate businesses in the convention industry are offering training and tools to help their clients prevent this type of fraud. Experient, the official housing provider for Sage Summit, published a whitepaper for their clients called, “Experient’s Treasure Chest: You Guild to Avoiding Room Piracy!” In the document, Experient labels two different types of scammers in their industry: Poachers and Pirates.
Poachers may be legitimate companies that use unethical practices to lure attendees away from the official housing block. They may promise the same or lower rates, and usually will deliver a room. But the quality of the room and service may not be anything near what the official housing partner can offer.
“The fraud is when they represent that they are coming from MANTS or Cultivate, and they’re not” Vanessa said. “Some of our exhibitors will say they got a room and they take the money up front, but when they have to cancel, they can’t get their money back. Or they pay less for a room, but it’s not in a very safe part of town.”
Obviously, that’s not the worst that can happen. Pirate companies exist only to take money from unsuspecting exhibitors.
“Some of our exhibitors in the past have booked through (these types of companies) and have paid in advance and never even got a room,” Vanessa said.