The New Conference Scam
You get a phone call or email with a request to be a speaker or panelist at a conference. It sounds like a great opportunity to share your message, sell your books or services, add to your prestige, or otherwise reap great benefits. Well, maybe. But increasingly, these messages are coming from scammers who are creating “conferences” that don’t really exist to get your personal information or money from you.
These conference scams are popping up in all kinds of industries and in academia, so you have to be careful you are dealing with a real conference and a real representative for that conference. Here are how some of these scams work.
For example, Victoria Strauss of WriterBeware reports in “Two Scams to Watch Out For” that she heard from a writer who received an invite from a conference that was “seeking qualified writers and poets.” In their solicitation letter, the organizers said they wanted writers or poets to share their experience with everyone attending the conference, and they were willing to pay $800 for the writer to work for two hours on any two days between 12 to 2 pm. However, while the company named in the invite was real, it had nothing to do with publishing, and the poor phrasing and lack of information about the conference, including its name, were suspicious. Then, when the writer called the real company about the invitation, a company rep told her they had no employee with the name of the person who contacted her, and they were not planning any conferences, and if they were, they would not ask writers or poets to participate.
In this case, the writer decided to play along to see what would happen, and she got a subsequent letter stating that the conference would be handled by a Zoom call, and they would send a high-quality camera and software to her, along with an advance payment of $800. They would send the rest at the end of the conference, so all they needed now was her name and address. Then, if the writer responded, the net step would be for her to provide bank account or other kind of financial information for them to make the payment. But that would give them enough information to impersonate her and access her bank account and other records.
Then in the next few days, as Strauss reports, another writer got almost exactly the same email, but with another real company name and conference dates, though the two-day two-hour window of 12–2 p.m. was the same and this time they were offering $1500. Still another tip-off was that this company also had nothing to do with writing or publishing. Additionally, a close examination of the email indicated a slight difference from the real company’s email — an extra “t” in the company’s name.
In this conference scam, the particular names of the companies, dates, amount to be paid vary, but should the writer continue to express interest, a typical agreement might indicate that their presentation will be for about an hour each day for attendees who might include employees and invited members of the general public. Whether or not anyone shows up the Zoom presentation, the compensation clause lays out the scam by indicating what the writer has to pay and stating that the writer will get a check a few days after the conference — though the check may not arrive or turn out to be a bogus check that gets returned by the victim’s bank after a few weeks. For example, the contract offer received by one writer stated that the conference organizations would pay her of $1500 for the presentation by a business check within 5 days of the ending of the conference. Before then, though, she had to pay the equipment company for the conference equipment, which included a monitor, web camera, headset and conferencing software, but she could pay the $450 out of a check they were sending her for about $500. However, while they would send a check, she had to send a postal money order from her post office to pay for the company directly — a clear sign of a scam, since the money sent via a money order is like cash and not refundable.
Later still other types of individuals were targeted, such as letters sent to dieticians and nutritionists, who referred these letters to Victoria Strauss. They received almost the same pitch that was sent to writers and poets, and those who responded received overpayment checks of various amounts and were asked to send the balance, such as one diet instructor who sent the first $450, and then was asked to send $1700 after she received an $1800 check. Fortunately, after the first $450 payment, she realized it was a scam and didn’t send any more.
Ironically, I experienced the same kind of scam when I lived in L.A. for a couple of years to make contacts in the film business. The context was different, since the person who contacted me pretended to be an interested roommate arriving from another city, and I was supposed to send about $500 to the agency arranging for her flight, deposit, and first month’s rent, because of an overpayment from a $2000 check. Then, the “roommate” didn’t arrive as expected, since her flight was delayed, though I was supposed to keep the apartment open and still send the $500. But I never did send the overpayment, because when I went to the bank, the banker advised me this was a phony check written on a bank they had recently merged with. While I didn’t lose any money, I did lose several opportunities to get a real roommate.
Thua, this fake conference scheme is using a fairly old method of sending phony checks, which are later rejected as bogus by the banks after 3–6 weeks, along with a request to send an overpayment by a postal, money order, or wire. However, now the scam has been adapted to other targets and to the digital age.
Some of the keys to avoiding this scam:
1) Be cautious if someone approaches you to be in a conference and check out that it’s real. You can go to the website of the company supposedly sponsoring the conference. You can check the email you have received for any discrepancies from the real company’s website name. Also, be suspicious if you get an email from the sender’s personal email — since most real conference reps will write from an email with the company’s domain name. Then, too, be cautious if the conference has an unfamiliar name or a name that is only slightly different from a name of an established conference in the field.
2) Another reason to be suspicious of a conference invitation is if you don’t have a platform or a very large number of followers. In that case, ask yourself why are they inviting you to be a presenter? Commonly, conferences will invite someone with an established reputation to be a speaker or panelist; otherwise, they will often have an application process online where you can apply. Moreover, conferences don’t often send invitations to apply to presenters without a platform, since when a conference is well-known, those interested in presenting will know to go to the site to apply.
3) If you get a check that’s an overpayment and you are asked to send the overpayment back, that’s a sign this is a scam.
4) If the check is from a small or unfamiliar bank, this is another sign of a scam, since you can’t readily check out the validity of the check at a local branch of a major bank. However, a local banker may be able to give you an opinion on the legitimacy of the check
5) If you are asked to use a postal order, WesternUnion, money gram, or wire, don’t send this, because the scammers commonly ask for the money to be sent this way, so it’s a nonrefundable payment, which is like sending cash.
This is only one type of fake conference scam. I discovered a variety of predatory conferences which are set up to appear as legitimate scientific, academic, or professional conferences and charge fees to speakers and presenters. Some conferences are also linked to travel scams. I’ll discuss these in another article.
The author is internationally published author and film producer, Gini Graham Scott, PhD, who has published over 200 books, 50 for traditional publishers and 150 for her own company Changemakers Publishing, specializing in books on self-help, popular business, and social issues. She is the author of The Big Con: Scams Targeting Writers, the Victims, and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim and I Was Scammed about all types of scams and how to avoid them. She has written and executive produced 18 feature films and documentaries, featured on the www.changemakersproductionsfilms.com website. An inspiration for this article is that Changemakers Productions is now raising money for its first horror film Dark Cabin, which features 6 friends on a vacation up against Viking ghosts. It’s filming in the New York area in February 2022, and other horror films are planned. She also writes books and scripts for clients. Her website for writing is at www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com.
For more information or to set up an interview, contact:
Executive Assistant to Gini Graham Scott
Changemakers Publishing and Writing
Lafayette, CA 94549 . (925) 385–0608