By Jean Lotus
As excitement builds in Denver for the 7th Annual NoCo Hemp Expo, Mar. 25-27, organizers are spreading the alarm about online “list scammers” and “hotel poachers” who have come back with a vengeance as in-person events return in a post-pandemic world.
Shady online companies, mostly based overseas to skirt the U.S. legal system, offer to sell fake exhibitor or attendee lists. Other illicit companies claim that hotels for the event are full and offer to book alternate lodging.
Participants duped by these scams may have their credit card charged for a fake hotel, or arrive to find no reservations.
NoCo returns this year to Denver’s National Western Complex after in-person events were cancelled in March, 2020.
Organizer Morris Beegle warned attendees to look out for online fakers who “sell fake attendee lists and present themselves as event affiliates selling hotel rooms and other scams,” he said.
NoCo isn’t the only event plagued by online scammers.
“We see dozens [of scammers] every week,” said Jess Tyler, senior vice president of events for the Las Vegas-based MJBizCon. The cannabis convention expects about 30,000 attendees this fall when it returns. “I’d love to say it’s just in the cannabis events, but unfortunately it’s not,” Tyler added.
Unfortunately, scammers are getting more sophisticated and even if they’re exposed, are able to return the next day under a new fake name, Tyler said.
“I compare it to whack-a-mole,” she said.
Tyler said conference organizers want to protect their attendees and exhibitors from scammers.
“As the event organizer, we don’t want that negative experience for our participants at all,” she said. “It’s really hard for us to get in front of it.”
Another Denver-based event, the Craft Brewers Conference, has a scam warning on their website listing dozens of known scammer companies that have tried to deceive attendees.
The expo scam industry has been preying on conference attendees for years.
A study from the Events Industry Council shows that online pirates and poachers used trademark infringement, impersonation and electronic fraud to obtain credit card numbers from convention participants across multiple industries.
“I think scammers are getting more sophisticated,” said Mellissa Peterson, organizer for the Buffalo, NY-based U.S. Hemp Expo, which will return in 2021 to their schedule of half-a-dozen live events throughout the year.
“They keep doing it because there’s a certain amount of success,” she said.
One exhibitor complained after paying $900 for a fake attendee list, Peterson said, and multiple attendees have been siphoned to fraudulent hotel bookings. Scammers will even impersonate official emails with fake logos, she said.
“First off, we would never sell our lists,” so anyone offering an attendee list is a faker, she said.
“We tell our exhibitors never to respond to anyone who’s not from our official email address,” she added.
One U.S. expo organizer, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, took on internet imposters in court and sued a hotel-poaching nonaffiliated travel agency, winning a judgment in 2018.
But most organizers can’t devote the legal resources to chasing down the invasion of scammers.
So, as the pandemic ends and if you’re attending NoCo or any other hemp expo or conference this year, don’t let your experience be poisoned by online predators seeking your credit card number, organizers said.
“I have had conversations with fellow event organizers who have the same issues and I think it is agreed we have to unite our voices and let as many people as possible know about these shady companies who prey on unknowing people within our industries,” NoCo organizer Beegle told Let’s Talk Hemp.
“I hope people share this article and I encourage other media outlets to cover this information and share with their audience,” he added.
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.