Seven Telltale Signs That a Conference is a Scam

Author: David McMillin       

While the subjective nature of scientific quality makes it difficult to label a low-quality event predatory, there are some telltale warning signs. (Photo Credit Adobe Stock)

If some conferences are pure scams, why can’t their organizers be prosecuted or sued? The problem is not that simple, International Congress and Convention Association’s CEO Senthil Gopinath said. There is a big difference between predatory and fake, he noted, and that distinction plays a major role in the conference industry’s ability to pursue legal action.

“If a conference takes your money and no event is organized, there is clearly false advertising and grounds for legal action, perhaps even criminal charges,” Gopinath said. “If a conference takes your money and organizes a horrible, worthless, CV-staining joke of an event, on the other hand, there is no regulatory body that you can complain to. Scientific quality is considered to be a matter of judgment, and there is no way to easily distinguish between an honest, but poor-quality conference and an intentionally predatory conference.

“Often, these meetings are operating in a gray legal area, skating a fine line between illegal and unethical,” Gopinath continued. “If a meeting has taken place at the advertised time and place, then the organizers can’t be accused of misrepresentation in that regard.”

The challenges in taking a public stance against potential predators were reinforced by a U.S.-based medical meeting organizer who requested anonymity. Because of the potential for libel lawsuits, he said, his organization’s attorneys advise them to avoid naming specific names in their communications with attendees.

RED FLAGS

While the subjective nature of scientific quality makes it difficult to label a low-quality event predatory, there are some telltale warning signs. ICCA offers a guide to some of the most common characteristics that should help event professionals separate the wheat from the chaff. Here are their red flags:

  • No contact address of the organizer is provided
  • No venue known
  • Abstracts are approved within 72 hours
  • Presenters pay a higher registration fee than non-presenting delegates
  • Often many different topics are discussed at such a meeting
  • There are many conferences by the same organizer in the same city on the same dates
  • The same website layout and images are used to market multiple events.

CMP Series

This story is part of Convene’s CMP Series, which enables readers to earn one hour of CE credit toward CMP certification from the Events Industry Council. To read the main story, click “When Conferences Lie.” Go to our CMP Series page for access to additional stories.