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A Win in the Fight Against Conference Scammers

The Federal Trade Commission has finalized a rule allowing it to take scammers to court—including those who fraudulently use conference names, logos, and mailing lists—and seek financial penalties.

“Advocacy works!” said Tommy Goodwin, FASAE, CAE, PMP, CMP, vice president of the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance, applauding both the Federal Trade Commission for finalizing an anti-impersonation fraud rule and the many business event industry organizations that advocated for it.

For decades, conference organizers have fought scammers who use event logos without permission in order to appear to be authorized to sell attendee lists or provide housing services. The new Trade Regulation Rule on Impersonation of Government and Businesses will give the FTC sharper teeth in the fight against these cons, allowing it to directly file federal court cases aimed at forcing scammers who impersonate businesses or government agencies to return the money they made from the scams.

The rule, finalized on February 15, specifies three fraudulent practices that can trigger legal action:
• Unauthorized use of business logos when communicating with consumers by mail or online
• Creating spoof business emails and web addresses, including using lookalike email addresses or websites that rely on misspellings of an organization’s name
• Falsely implying a business affiliation by using terms that are known to be affiliated with a business.

“Scammers targeting the business-events industry unfairly harm the small businesses, entrepreneurs, exhibitors, and nonprofit organizations that we work tirelessly to support,” said Marsha Flanagan, CEM, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events and ECA co-president. “That’s why our industry was front and center in advocating for this important new rule, and we commend the FTC for finalizing it with a unanimous vote.”

IAEE is a member of ECA, a coalition formed during the Covid pandemic to advance the interests of the face-to-face events industry and which has advocated strongly for the new rule. Other ECA member organizations include the Professional Convention Management Association, Experiential Designers & Producers Association, Society of Independent Show Organizers, Exhibition Services & Contractors Association, Trade Show Labor Alliance, International Association of Venue Managers, and UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

In a release on passage of the new FTC rule, ECA also pointed to the advocacy efforts of the Consumer Technology Association, the American Society of Association Executives, and IAEE’s Major American Trade Show Organizers group. It noted that a letter of support for the rule was signed by 235 organizations, which helped to highlight the issue in Congress during ECA’s 2023 Legislative Action Day in June.

The anti-impersonation rule will be effective 30 days after it is published in the federal register. The timing of publication is not yet available.

The rule is unlikely to put an end to the skirmishes over fraudulent use of conference names, logos, and mailing lists but as the FTC says in a blog post,Government and business impersonation of this sort has always violated the FTC Act, but now that there’s a rule in place, the FTC can seek consumer redress and civil penalties, powerful tools that hit scammers where it hurts: in the wallet.”

In addition to finalizing the government and business impersonation rule, the FTC has also issued a “supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking” that would broaden the rule to cover impersonation of individuals. The agency is currently seeking public comment on the supplemental notice, which is aimed in large part on emerging technology “including AI-generated deepfakes, [which threaten] to turbocharge this scourge, and the FTC is committed to using all of its tools to detect, deter, and halt impersonation fraud.”

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