Another fake conference?

Are phony academic conferences the new Nigerian princes of the internet? An email inviting recipients to a conference on human welfare and the global economy, said to be taking place in January and February of next year and featuring talks by some of the top scientists in the field, is making the rounds. Last week, I received an email from someone going by the name of Alyssa Logan, who claimed to be "Youth Leader" at a group called the Action World International Organization (AWIO) and a membe

Bob Grant
Bob Grant
Nov 23, 2009
Are phony academic conferences the new Nigerian princes of the internet? An email inviting recipients to a conference on human welfare and the global economy, said to be taking place in January and February of next year and featuring talks by some of the top scientists in the field, is making the rounds. Last week, I received an email from someone going by the name of Alyssa Logan, who claimed to be "Youth Leader" at a group called the Action World International Organization (AWIO) and a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In the message, Logan invited me to the "Seventh Annual International Global combine Conference on Global Economy and Human Welfare" that AWIO was hosting. The conference would take place over the course of ten days at two separate sites, the first in New York City and the second in Dakar, Senegal in Africa. All I had to do was get in contact with the conference secretariat, one Grace Nathan, and I could be on my way to the meetings. And -- get this -- I would even get my airfare and accommodation paid for! There's only one problem. When I contacted the linkurl:AXA Equitable Auditorium,;http://www.aepgny.com/auditorium.html the 400-seat venue where the New York City portion of the conference was to be held from January 25th to the 29th of next year, they had never heard of AWIO, or the conference they were supposedly planning. "No such event is scheduled for that location," said Chris Winans, senior vice president of external affairs for the AXA/Equitable Production Group. Further confirmation that the conference was a sham came from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which told me that they had no record of an Alyssa Logan belonging to their organization. An email to Nathan went unanswered, but when I replied directly to Logan at an "ireland.com" email address, she wrote back from a different email the next day. "Thanks, you mail was received and am happy for your acceptance to the invitation and also for your interest in today Economy," the email read. "I will be forwarding your mail to the conference secretariat in other for them to assist you with more information regarding registration purpose. You will receive a response from the organization secretary soon." Logan closed by writing "See you in December!" December? I have yet to receive a response from the conference secretariat. After some searching, I managed to find a linkurl:website;http://www.awio.isgreat.org/ for AWIO, and discovered that they have posted an linkurl:agenda;http://www.awio.isgreat.org/index.php?p=1_7_Agenda for the meeting. Several prominent doctors and researchers who work in the public health field are listed as speakers on the agenda, so I decided to contact them and ask about their involvement in the conference. "I've never heard from them," said linkurl:Kevin Schulman,;http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/faculty_research/faculty_directory/schulman/ director of the Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics at Duke University, who was scheduled to give the opening speech on February 1 in Senegal. Schulman said that being listed as a speaker without his knowledge at a conference that isn't likely to even take place was a first for him. He also told __The Scientist__ that the scammers had apparently done at least a little research in planning their ruse, because the list of speakers did represent key figures in the field. "If you had a health policy [meeting]," he said, "these are names that you would see." Experts listed on the agenda included linkurl:Robert Berenson,;http://www.urban.org/about/RobertBerenson.cfm a physician who studies Medicare policy at the Washington, DC-based think tank the Urban Institute (the agenda misspells Berenson's surname "Branson"); and linkurl:Glenn Steele,;http://www.geisinger.org/about/president_bio.html president of the Geisinger Health System, a physician-led healthcare provider based in Pennsylvania (the agenda comically misspells Geisinger as "Gunslinger"). The roll call of speakers seems to have been copied directly from the agenda of an actual meeting that occurred earlier this year. Schulman, Berenson, and Steele all spoke in February at the linkurl:2009 National Health Policy Conference;http://www.academyhealth.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=1528&navItemNumber=2012 (NHPC), hosted by health services research center Academy Health and held in Washington, DC. Many of the other NHPC participants are listed in the fraudulent agenda for the AWIO meeting. (Even Senator Ted Kennedy, who died in August, is listed as a speaker at the upcoming conference.) I can only assume that the scam involves getting hapless recipients to take the free airfare and accommodation bait, sending personal or financial information to the "conference secretariat." The fact that the perpetrators of this con took the time to at least partially familiarize themselves with big names in any particular field of research signals increasing sophistication among SPAMmers. This makes two seemingly linkurl:phony conferences;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55895/ that __The Scientist__ has uncovered this year. Beware the lure of expert-packed meetings in far-off places. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. __Update (1st December): Ronan Murphy, tech project manager at ireland.com (the legitimate service provider being used by "Alyssa Logan" to email these fraudulent invitations), told __The Scientist__ that the "AWIO" has been abusing the email service for quite some time. Apparently, the scam involves getting unsuspecting victims to send in their passport number and other personal information as part of conference registration. Murphy said that he routinely blocks Logan and other users using an ireland.com email address to send out the fake conference invitation from using the service.__
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Conference kerfuffle hits scientists;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55895/
[19th August 2009]