Predatory conference scammers are getting smarter

The @helpdeskteam often gets requests for financial support. Our standard response is to explain that we are not a funder and cannot provide funding, and also that direct requests for funding are not suitable for posting here on the forum unless there is a direct legal empowerment connection and an invitation to discuss an initiative or get involved in some way (besides just providing funding). Also of course that opportunities are often posted here on the forum that can be pursued directly. It’s been great to see the generosity of members in sharing information they have with one another.

One type of request that comes up frequently is for support covering conference fees and associated expenses. A practitioner applies for and is accepted to attend a conference, but then needs to fundraise for their own participation. They are likely finding us through Internet searches and then contacting us through our website. We cannot provide financial support, unfortunately, and I can direct them to the forum as usual.

However, when I see these requests and the supporting documentation provided, it is hard to tell if these are legitimate and useful conferences or just a scam. I’d like to be able to advise members when I see one that looks suspicious. Perhaps we could use this topic to collect strategies.

I did an internet search for “conference scam” and came across this excellent blog post about it. It targets acacemic conferences, but I suspect the same thing is happening in the human rights space.

Some questions it seems legit to ask yourself when invited to a conference:

  • Does the conference website and materials have typos or look unprofessional?
  • Do they require cash payment? Paypal payment in advance?
  • Do you not recognize anyone on the agenda?
  • Did they put you on the agenda even before you confirmed your attendance?

If the answers to these questions is “yes” then you should probably steer clear or do more due diligence, including asking around. Other people in the legal empowerment field should know about the conference and the people on the agenda and be able to give you their opinion. You might also do an Internet search on the names of the listed people and their organizations, and reach out to them to ask them about the conference.

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