Meetings industry leaders are among the 13 experts testifying this afternoon at an informal U.S. Federal Trade Commission hearing on a proposed rule prohibiting business impersonation. For business events, the rule would target fraudulent sellers of room blocks or attendee lists for major conferences and trade shows. This widespread scam was brought to light a decade ago by Meetings & Conventions in the investigative report, “Beware of Room Poachers,” and has only intensified in the ensuing years.
Among those testifying today is Thomas Goodwin, vice president of government affairs for the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, whose prepared remarks urge the FTC to finalize its “Rule on Impersonation of Government and Business” as soon as possible.
Also testifying this afternoon are Michelle Mason, president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives; and Nicole Bowman, vice president of marketing and communications for the International Association of Exhibitions and Events and executive director of Exhibitions Mean Business. Stakeholders from the Consumer Technology Association, American Bankers Association and US Telecom also are presenting testimony.
ECA first filed regulatory comments with the FTC in December 2022, advocating in support of the proposed rule. This past March, ECA was one of 235 trade associations and professional organizations calling on the FTC to finalize the measure. Both ASAE and IAEE have been instrumental in supporting this measure, noted ECA’s Goodwin.
How Trade Show Scams Work
According to Goodwin’s remarks, the two most common forms of business impersonation fraud in the events industry are hotel reservation scams and attendee list sale scams. For hotel reservation scams, third-party hotel room brokers use deceptive practices to market overpriced or nonexistent hotel rooms to exhibitors and attendees at business events. Instead of providing the hotel rooms promised, the fraudulent brokers often steal the victim’s credit card information or provide lower-quality rooms in remote locations not near the event, usually with high booking fees and cancellation penalties.
For attendee list sale scams, event exhibitors are contacted by rogue list brokers, often daily, fraudulently claiming to have and sell the event’s attendee list before the event itself takes place. These scammers use the event name, logo and/or organizer’s name in their email signatures to create the illusion that their efforts are conducted with the approval of the event organizer.
“Now, of course, these aren’t the actual attendee lists,” Goodwin explained. “Rather, these scammers crawl event-related websites to harvest usable email addresses, which they subsequently target with phishing scams designed to illegally obtain an exhibitor’s business and financial information that can be used for fraudulent practices.”
In his remarks, Goodwin will share two recent examples:
- The Radiological Society of North America brings together more than 50,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors from more than 120 countries for its annual conference. In advance of its 2022 event in Chicago, RSNA was alerted to 36 fraudulent sites that were illegally advertising housing, registration or attendee list selling services. For its 2023 annual meeting, RSNA has already identified hotel scam websites that are using its trademarked logo without its permission.
- The International Sign Association convened its community of nearly 20,000 attendees and more than 500 exhibitors last month in Las Vegas. In the lead up to the ISA International Sign Expo, the association sent nearly 300 cease-and-desist letters to hotel reservation scam and attendee list sale scam artists preying on its event. Exhibitors and attendees contacted ISA daily, voicing their confusion and concern about the emails they were receiving, many of which used the event name and ISA’s logo in their disingenuous attempt to sell their fraudulent services.
ECA’s testimony states that the proposed rule is “both necessary and urgent” to stem the widespread business impersonation fraud perpetrated against the business events sector.