Business News

Events Industry Fed Up by Business Impersonation Fraud

criminal behind a computer

Skift Take

An estimated $2.6 billion in losses resulted from sophisticated business impersonation scams in 2022, and the events industry is fighting back.

A coalition of event companies and trade associations have joined together to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to rule in favor of targeting government and business imposters, the most reported type of scam last year. Losses from these scams increased by 50 percent from 2021 to 2022, and the industry has had enough. 

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is a powerful force behind this fight, helping gather 235 organizations to be part of a letter to the FTC to #StopFraud. The letter spotlights the issue before a May 4 FTC virtual hearing where CTA, Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), RIMS, the risk management society, and others will testify about the need for a new FTC rule to increase enforcement against these scammers.

CTA is motivated by the fact that in just two months following January’s CES, there were at least a half dozen reports of impersonation scams using its logo, including the sale of fake discounted badges and fraudulent websites offering hotel bookings.

“This whole-of-industry advocacy effort shows why FTC adoption of this anti-scam rule is so important. That’s why ECA was proud to join the Consumer Technology Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, American Society of Association Executives, and more than 230 other organizations to deliver a unified message on this important issue,” said Tommy Goodwin, ECA’s vice president of government affairs.

For a list of some of the common conference scams, many made worse by the pandemic, click here.

No Industry Spared From Impersonation Fraud

“Fraudulent solicitations dramatically increase each year during the leadup to CES. In assembling a diverse coalition of over 200 organizations, it is abundantly clear that no industry is spared from impersonation fraud,” said J. David Grossman, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTA.

Nearly every sector of the U.S. economy has fallen victim to these scams, from health care and education to transportation and tech. 

“We hope this letter sends a clear message to the Federal Trade Commission that action is urgently needed to proceed expeditiously to a final rule targeting government and business imposters,” said Grossman.

Onslaught of Solicitations

ECA members have experienced an uptick in event attendee list sale scams. Increasingly sophisticated, these scams use copyrighted event names, logos, and fake email signatures. 

Several National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show attendees and exhibitors have alerted NAB staff of emails and phone calls from impersonators purporting to sell attendee contact information. One exhibitor received as many as 50 impersonator solicitations and reported that the frequent calls and emails are “overwhelming and hard to manage.” Many NAB Show exhibitors are small businesses that are ill-equipped to handle the apparent onslaught of impersonator solicitations. 

Another trade association, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), reports that in the first three months of 2023 alone, its members received more than 75 phishing and impersonation emails and texts connected to its Product Safety Conference in February and its Annual Executive Summit in March. These emails peddled fake contact lists and deployed other techniques, including the unauthorized use of the AAFA logo, to appear legitimate and lure unsuspecting recipients into fraudulent transactions. 

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) is another proponent of the crackdown. “ASAE and numerous other associations have been victims of attendee list-selling scams, hotel reservation scams, and other attempts to use a trusted brand to bilk consumers,” said ASAE President and CEO Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE. “The FTC has rightly recognized this type of impersonation as a threat on the rise. ASAE expends a great deal of effort to minimize the risk of this type of crime occurring, but any organization can be targeted and fall victim to these scams. An association’s brand and other intellectual property are among our most valuable assets, and we appreciate the FTC for recognizing the severity of the issue by issuing this proposed rule.”

RIMS, the risk management society serving more than 200,000 risk practitioners and business leaders from over 75 countries, has also been impacted by business impersonation fraud. “Every year, the RIMS organization is flooded with complaints from attendees and exhibitors who share fraudulent emails related to purchasing our attendee list, selling hotel rooms, RISKWORLD registration — you name it, it’s happened,” said Stuart Ruff-Lyon, chief events and sales officer of RIMS. 

Such fraud is detrimental to the organization and its attendees. “These fraudulent efforts damage our reputation as our customers immediately think we are comprising their data by allowing a third party to sell their information,” said Ruff-Lyon.

Customers tricked by these fraudulent housing companies are often left without rooms, with no cancellation penalties. Moreover, if they land a room, it’s usually in an undesirable location. 

Sophisticated, the correspondence is often from an email address that spoofs and includes RIMS and RISKWORLD logos. “The communications are designed to make the recipient feel as if they are receiving a communication from, or sanctioned by, RIMS. It’s incredibly disconcerting that entities are misrepresenting organizations and conferences, and the damage is both reputational and, sometimes, financial,” said Ruff-Lyon.

If you or your organization has been impacted by an impersonation scam, the group wants to hear from you.