February 28, 2012

Scientists report a growing number of email messages containing fake conference invitations. It appears that the ultimate goal for these scammers is access to personal and financial information. The emails, on first glance, appear to be legitimate invitations to relevant and important meetings or conferences. Upon closer inspection, however, people have begun to notice subtle clues that suggest the invitation may not be real. In some cases, the scammers ask for a conference fee. In more sophisticated scams, the “conference organizer” offers airfare and accommodations. Unsuspecting recipients who agree to the free offers send in their personal or financial information, such as their passport number or credit card number, to the “conference organizer.”

Scamming has become an art. The emails are designed to attract the interest of their recipients. Clues that an email may be a scam include:

  • Internet URLs that are almost, but not quite, the same as legitimate institutions or organizations. In some cases, it is just the ending suffix, such as .gov or .eu, that has been changed.
  • Misspelled names of scientists or professors.
  • The topic of the conference has little to do with your area of expertise.
  • The website features letters from “invited speakers” who confirm their participation using identical wording.

If you think the invitation may be suspect, check it out. Contact colleagues or the speakers and professors listed as presenters to see if the invitation is legitimate.