Organisers and venues are urged to be on the alert for a rising tide of “bogus association meetings” aimed at duping delegates into parting with money or offering dubious events that masquerade as professionally recognised conferences.
Delegates attending a session at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching during the ICCA Congress 2016 were shown a series of copycat or bogus web pages designed to prompt people into purchasing a place and even pay to speak or organise a workshop.
Marco van Itterzon (left), ICCA’s director of research, says some websites are outright fraudulent while others offer an actual meeting, usually in a hotel meeting room, but which seriously fall short of a legitimate association meeting.
Van Itterzon says he is coming across increasing numbers of conference organisers displaying fraud alerts on their websites to protect members from paying fees to a bogus association. More companies are also moving in as third parties to big conferences, offering entry fees or acting as accommodation or travel-booking agencies.
Academics and other professionals who have attended “bogus association meetings” found themselves among speakers covering topics such as mysticism, religion and herbal treatments. But the conference publicity, often written in flowery language under a long-winded title, billed the event as a scientific or technical-based.
Noor Ahmed Hamid (right), ICCA’s Asia Pacific director, says the practice is common in publishing where authors are targeted. But now “predatory meetings” are emerging as a problem that planners and suppliers need to be aware of.
“There is a real risk that people will think they need to be there when they see these sites. It’s a matter of being vigilant and understanding that more people with this business model are going to trade shows,” says Hamid, referring to the way bogus operators gather research and data.
“We had predatory publishing, now we have predatory meetings. People are being tricked; when contacted, they were not aware that they were being used and abused,” says Van Itterzon
There is also a legal grey area as UK-based Davi Kaur (left), head of the congress unit at the European Cancer Organisation, learned. Members contacted her to ask why they were paying more than others to attend an ECO conference.
Another website had been set up publicising the conference and when people were prompted into paying the advertised fee, they were asked for an additional 5 per cent “handling fee”.
Kaur was told by her association's lawyers that the website had been operating simply as a third-party and were neither operating fraudulently, nor breaching copyright.
Hamid says more blatant copying of existing conferences is becoming more widespread across Asia Pacific with sources tracked to addresses in India and China. But more often, there was no physical address and payments and data was requested on the websites via forms.
Van Itterzon says though ICCA does not want to “police” such activities, guidelines on how organisers, venues and suppliers can tell the difference between legitimate conferences and bogus operations will be put forward.
Delegates were urged to check with peer groups when they came across “conference spam” and to look out for signs such as flowery language, long-winded titles and a lack of any known people involved with the event.