How to identify event scams and avoid fraud

January 01, 2022 |
A room lit only by the computer screen reveals someone typing in the dark

Signing up for a new event can feel like quite the gamble. Finding new venues and connecting with new audiences does require a certain level of trust–but that doesn’t mean you should blindly fall into the arms of every new event coordinator you meet. This isn’t a cute little rom com, and that isn’t really Ryan Reynolds messaging you about a new event in Dallas (though it very well could be his likeness).

I’ve seen it more times than I can count, especially in free-for-all groups with little to no barrier to entry. Anyone can post anything, frequently without meeting any sort of criteria, and almost always with very little effort.   Before you know it, the original poster has secured hundreds of vendors, and that’s when the messages start:

chat between vendors regarding event scams

One post looking for emotional support after a tragic turn of events can quickly turn into a long thread of vendors who have paid and prepped for an event that never even existed.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it is traumatic and devastating for each and every vendor involved.

So, what can you do to protect yourself while connecting with new events online?

VET YOUR SOURCES

First, consider your source. Where did you find out about this event? Was it on a site like DFW Craft Shows, where the event coordinator has to spend time and effort to provide detailed event information?  Or was it in an open Facebook group where pretty much anyone can post about pretty much anything?

Most event scams are looking for the easiest and fastest way to make a quick buck.  They aren’t going to invest time or money into advertising their event to potential vendors, and they aren’t going to do anything that might leave behind a solid trail of breadcrumbs for the scam to be traced back.  That’s what makes Facebook groups the perfect breeding ground for this kind of fraudulent activity.

A fake facebook profile demonstrates some common mistakes made by facebook scammers
A fake facebook profile demonstrates some common red flags for event scams

Scammers can create a Facebook profile, fill it up with whatever ridiculous details they choose, and then slide right into a public Facebook group and start connecting with vendors.  By the time someone calls them out, they have already collected booth fees from as many small businesses as they could.  They delete their posts and slide into another group, or they wait for things to cool down and circle right back around. 



HOW IS DFW CRAFT SHOWS DIFFERENT?

DFW Craft Shows has always been about connecting the community in the most efficient, effective, and accountable way possible.  I require all event coordinators to fill out a standard event submission form to be considered for an event listing, and only then do I share published event listings in our social media channels.  

A laptop sits open against a blue gradient background.  DFW Craft Shows is open on the screen.
DFW Craft Shows requires all event coordinators to fill out details about their events before they are posted to the site.

When it comes to breadcrumbs, you should know that once an event’s information is posted to DFW Craft Shows, it stays on the site until long after the event date has passed.  That means no one can remove an event listing from DFW Craft Shows except for me.  If someone cancels an event, I update their information site-wide, but I don’t delete anything. Why? Because transparency is important. If you are looking for an event you saw last month, I want you to find it.

Events that have listed with DFW Craft Shows in the past earn a “verified” tag that is prominently displayed at the top of their event listing.  Verified listings signify that I have confidence in the organization due to an ongoing business relationship, or I have done my best to confirm the event information that I am sharing with you.  Verification is NOT a guarantee.  You can read the full disclaimer, but TL;DR: always do your own homework. 

Pro Tip: VIP Vendors unlock advanced event search filters that help them customize event listings to their specific needs, and that includes searching only verified events.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve also processed thousands of event listings over the last decade.  My eyes are always peeled for red flags.  If I don’t feel comfortable with an event, I am not going to post it. Period. 

TAKE IN THE VISUALS

Event flyers can tell you a lot about an event, and this holds true for fraudulent events as well. Most of the time, scam event flyers will easily fall into two categories:

Scam Event Flyer
Confirmed event scam flyer from 2021

1. Hot Mess Event Flyer

A professional event flyer can be a powerful thing, but not all events have the resources to produce one (and that’s ok–that’s why design teams like ours exist).  But for the DIY crowd, you might notice a pretty basic, bare bones approach. So how can you tell the difference between a basic event flyer and a scam? It’s really not too hard.

If someone is creating a quick, bare-bones event flyer in their word processor of choice, they are most likely going to take the simplest approach to getting the job done.  They are NOT going to use 8 different fonts, have text and images plastered every which way all over the page, or make a ton of spelling and grammatical errors.

Scam event flyers usually have bits and pieces of data pasted on top of base flyers.  They may change the core details and post it in groups all over the country.  Keep an eye out for:

  • Important details presented in text with random, colorful backgrounds 
  • Booth sizes that doesn’t necessarily make sense
  • Data presented in unusual formatting
  • Venue, date, or contact information that looks like it was added as an afterthought
  • Lots of different fonts / styles
  • Numerous grammatical errors & spelling mistakes
  • Strange phrasing or unusual diction
  • Requesting multiple direct sales companies

Bottom line: If the event flyer reminds you of a ransom note cut from magazine scraps, you may want to spend a little extra time vetting the event.  

2. Professional Event Flyer

If event scams are all about a quick buck, why then do some scam events have beautiful visuals?  That’s easy.  Not all event scams are about selling you spaces at fake events, some of them are simply selling you fake spaces at legit events–events they are not in any way associated with.  The scammer pulls information for an event that you can easily verify with the venue, an event you might see folks talking about in your community.  You look up the event, you feel comfortable with its web presence and can easily verify the venue.  The scammer is counting on this false sense of comfort to reel you in.  Everything looks like it is on the up and up, as long as you don’t bother to verify their connection with the event… which is why this next section is so important.



VERIFY YOUR CONTACTS

In the case of Facebook groups, it’s not just about where you find your event information, but it’s about the person posting it as well.  Your first step here is going to be clicking on their name and viewing their main profile.  A lot of scammers can be sniffed out with a quick scan of their profile, and here are just a few examples of what you are looking for.

Was their profile created only recently?  Sure, they could be new to Facebook, or they could be starting up a new profile because their last profile was busted.

Do they have very few connections, posts, photos, etc on their profile?  There are plenty of people on Facebook with private profiles.  That alone does not make them worthy of your suspicion.  An event coordinator, however, who is openly soliciting vendors and marketing an event is going to have some kind of substance on their Facebook profile.  They are going to be connected to their local community, and they are most likely going to be talking about their event on their personal feed in some form or fashion.

A fake facebook profile example, mobile view.
Pamela isn’t looking too authentic these days.

Does their profile picture look familiar?  A little too professional?  Completely random?  Trust your gut.  Scammers have been caught using all sorts of photos, including those of both well known and lesser known celebrities.  Stock photos are a big favorite, so any kind of professional headshot is worth a closer peek.  My favorite profile pictures are the ones that still have watermarks on them indicating the sites they were stolen from.  So if you see little words in the background that read “stock” or the name of a website, it’s time to raise the red flag.

Consider their history.  If you search the group for their name, are they active in the comments of other posts?  Have they posted other events?  If so, what was the general consensus/response?  Start searching in the group where you found the event information, but gradually expand your search criteria.  There are facebook groups dedicated solely to outing scammers. so you might stop by one and double check your names. (Please note that DFW Craft Shows is not in any way affiliated with the aforementioned groups.)

Look for or verify official contact information. Always use officially published contact information whenever possible. Every event listing on DFW Craft Shows has a contact section at the bottom with the event coordinator’s preferred contact methods. If you find an official Facebook page or website for the event, double check the contact information. If there is an email listed, but someone else is messaging you claiming to be the event coordinator, consider reaching out to the official email to provide the information requested or verify the person contacting you.

Pro Tip: If you found the event posted online or in a Facebook group, I highly recommend taking the time to save some screenshots. If anything goes south, the first thing an event scammer will do is delete their posts and/or delete their profile.

A dark room lit only by a blue computer screen, title reads "How to identify event scams & avoid fraud"

DUE DILIGENCE & DETAILS

So you’ve vetted your source and you are feeling confident that the event coordinator actually is a real and trustworthy human being.  What now?  My last step is always a quick call / text / email to the venue.  

If an event coordinator is taking payments to secure booth spaces at their event, then that venue needs to be fully reserved. No exceptions. 

Almost every event venue you can imagine will have a publicly listed phone number and a venue manager who can look at their calendar and verify an event AND the event coordinator. Booking a large venue requires a financial commitment that most scammers will not pony up. It eats into their profits.  Be on the lookout for statements like “they have reserved the space, but they haven’t paid their deposit yet.”  If they are booking vendors for an event, but they haven’t officially locked down the venue, you should be seeing red flags.  



PAYING THE PIPER

Lastly, and this rule applies for all things internet, be smart about paying anyone that you do not personally know.  Paying someone you do not know via Facebook Messenger for an event you have never heard of does NOT leave you with many actionable steps if everything goes south.

Legitimate events are going to ask you to go through a legitimate payment process, if for no other reason than to make their own bookkeeping easier.  Most business-related payment methods come with buyer protection and numerous safeguards to protect you against fraud.  Do not circumvent these safeguards by sending payments through apps or via methods reserved for friends and family.  Business transactions are not the time to be thrifty or get creative—the value of having those safeguards in place far exceeds the 3% fee, and if someone cannot receive payments professionally, it’s worth asking yourself why. 

Red flag against a blue background
Trust your gut and always research any red flags you see along the way.

EVENT SCAMS WRAP UP

If you are new to events, this probably seems like a lot, but it all boils down to trusting your gut and doing your homework.  You are a business owner.  You wouldn’t jump into a new business relationship blindly and events should be treated as such.  Take your time to research before you commit, and in doing so, you will always be protecting your business first and foremost. 

Remember:

  • Use trustworthy sources, like DFW Craft Shows.
  • Scrutinize event flyers and vendor apps for inconsistencies and errors.
  • Research event contacts and verify their connections both to events and venues.
  • Be diligent when it comes to exchanging money.


Good luck out there!

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Originally posted on December 15, 2021.

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