I first became aware of scams targeting event planners in the fall of 2011 when my company received a request to plan a birthday party from a prospective leisure client (not our specialty).
Scenario: The request came from a Yahoo email address; details (e.g. address and phone number) were left blank on the contact form. We took the precaution of requesting a phone number and an opportunity to speak briefly. There were excuses about being off-site that further raised my antenna.
Although Google search failed to uncover similar scams under the "client's" name, when the client was ready to book, a number of things were suspicious. The urgency of the request was stressed MANY times. There was an insistence on supplying credit card details for us to pass on to all suppliers. Requests for a wire transfer or payment by PayPal were countered with the excuse that, while the individual was based in the UK, they were on a business trip in Japan and they could not get to the bank. It didn't take much digging to uncover the fact that Japan's PayPal interface is one of the strongest in the world. With our insistence on the use of PayPal, the client disappeared.
It has been many months since this bizarre incident transpired. A search on Google now reveals that this individual has been busy contacting event planners and restaurants around the world with the same request. He uses 3 different names and different dates but all other details are the same. In each instance, he indicates that his wife (Jasmine) is from "your country" (He must have more than one wife as the same line has been used when contacting event planners and restaurants from Finland, Germany, Thailand, Canada, the U.S., Australia and other countries). How the scam gets played out is that the event is canceled with an excuse like a heart attack or death in the family. A refund via wire transfer is requested due to the extenuating family circumstances.
Apparently, this scam involves the use of a legitimate credit card from which details have been lifted. After the real cardholder reports the charge(s) as illegitimate over 30 days later, the event planning firm is out of pocket for the funds refunded.
Similar scams target event photographers or birthday party, Bar Mitzvah and wedding planners to disperse funds transmitted via credit card or a bank draft to a travel agent or another supplier that the client has "already selected" (in reality, the scammer using a different account). There is always some urgency as the timeframe before the event is tight. International drafts and checks can take a long time to bounce. At the end of the day, the photographer, wedding or party planner is out of pocket. If the planner has passed credit card details on to suppliers, they, in effect, become a party to the scam.
How to Protect Yourself From EMail Scams
Avoid doing business with clients who provide only Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail email addresses.
Insist on receiving at least one email from a bona fide company email address, even when dealing with inquiries from leisure clients.
Get a phone number for the client's place of employment and a company website.
Try to contact the client through the switchboard. Often, the company has never heard of the individual.
If a leisure client professes to be from a well-known foreign family, do Google searches.
If nothing turns up, the whole scenario could be fake.
- If the email has a lot of typos and grammatical errors, the inquiry could be a scam.
- Always get a copy of the front and back of all credit cards.
Get your bank to run a check on the credit card or bank draft.
This could take some time if the "client" is located in another country.
For businesses, get banking details from the prospective client and get your bank to request a bank report from the client's financial institution.
It is better to pass on the business if the timeframe for running checks is too short.
- It is also best to pass on the business if there isn't sufficient time for checks/drafts to clear or credit card fraud to be detected before you have to pay suppliers.
Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Caveat Venditor (seller beware).
For more scams to avoid, read Good, Bad & Fake Reviews: What Event Professionals Should Know. And don't miss Cvent's blogs for event professionals, where you'll be rewarded with new posts (and new ideas) daily: Strategic Meetings Blog, Hospitality Marketing Blog, Web Surveys Blog and Event Planning Blog.
Photo Credit: andresrueda