Even the most conscientious trade show managers have been duped by trade show scammers. Seemingly legitimate offers arrive in your inbox almost daily, touting attendee lists, hotel discounts, and fabulous-sounding shows that, sadly, are often too good to be true. But with a little due diligence, you can learn how to spot these scams and avoid them altogether.

Attendee List Liars

How many times have you received an email from some generic-sounding company promising all the contact details for everyone attending your upcoming show? Probably more often than you can count. Before you get too excited at the prospect of having all attendees’ info right at your fingertips, think it through. Would a prominent trade show organizer really hire a third party to sell you everyone’s information? When you signed up for the show, did you opt-in to have all of your personal information shared with other attendees? Probably not. And if you didn’t, then most other attendees didn’t, either.
Hop on the show’s official website and review their policies. Do they offer your personal information to third parties? Do they sell or rent attendee lists? If so, do they list the company or broker who will be doing the selling? Do the names match up with the company that contacted you? If so, then you’re good to go. If not, run the suspicious company’s name through the Better Business Bureau website and see what a search returns.
If the company offering the attendee information passes the litmus test but you’re simply not interested, simply unsubscribe from the list if an unsub link is provided. However, if you’re still not sure — or if you’re downright certain they’re scammers — it’s better to simply move the email to your trash bin. Don’t hit “unsubscribe” or reply back; both of those options only confirm that your email is valid.

The Show That Never Was

You may find this hard to believe, but the ultimate trade show scam involves signing exhibitors up for trade shows that don’t even exist. That’s pretty gutsy, right?
To avoid this too-good-to-be-true show scam, invest a little backend research time. Look up the sales person who contacted you on LinkedIn to see their activities. Are they working for the company they claim to represent? You should also contact the trade show’s purported venue and simply ask if this event is on their calendar.
A recent article from Exhibitor magazine offers several other ways to protect against either fake shows or shows that get cancelled. Specifically:

  • Read the exhibitor contract’s fine print for cancellation or refund details.
  • Check out and vet the reputation of each individual show contractor mentioned.
  • Always pay with a credit card so you have a paper trail in case you have to report any fraudulent activity to your financial institution.
False Hotel Reservations

Another avenue potential trade show scammers like to take is that of fake hotel bookings. These third-party tricksters will contact you via phone or email and claim they represent the hotel that is being used by the show. They’ll feed you some lines about the hotel being booked near capacity or that the rates are about to go up if you don’t act immediately. The giveaway here is that they’ll ask for the full amount up front, when in reality the housing bureaus that trade shows use will only ask for a one-day deposit.
Meetings & Conventions recently published a helpful list of known hotel room poachers, as did the Craft Brewers Conference. When in doubt, call the trade show management office yourself and ask who the official booking representative is. You should also report the scam company to show management so they can advise other exhibitors. And remember, never provide financial information to any company you deem suspicious.

Hacked Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a necessity in this day and age. When you attend a trade show, it’s expected that you’ll receive unlimited Wi-Fi at the venue so you can take care of business and run your booth smoothly. But did you know that a hacker can set up shop either at the show itself or somewhere nearby? As soon as you login, the hackers can take all of your information and watch your every move.
Here’s how it works: When you login to your Wi-Fi at home, you see a list of available networks with which to connect. Likewise, when you login at a tradeshow, you’ll be able to choose from a list of available connections. The “hacker” signals will look almost identical to the official show network’s Wi-Fi connections, making it easy for you to select the wrong one.
If in doubt, ask the house contractor at the venue or check any of the Wi-Fi connection notices posted all around the exhibit hall. Only use this network and the password provided to avoid being hacked.

Be Smart and Stay Safe

Unfortunately, there will always be trade show scammers trying to take advantage. You can help stop them by reporting any suspicious activities and by educating yourself so as to not fall prey to their underhanded business dealings.

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