Small-business owners and trade-show exhibitors can rest easier now that a federal court has banned Slovakia-based scam artists from selling entries to a phony online trade-show directory.
The court issued a $9 million judgment against Wolfgang Valvoda, Susanne Anhorn, and Construct Data Publishers a.s., which also does business as Fair Guide. They are charged with bilking millions from unsuspecting business owners and nonprofit organizations.
Construct Data/Fair Guide solicited some ATA Trade Show exhibitors for an online “exhibitor directory” that had no connection to the Show. Most exhibitors had no interest in being included, and didn’t realize they would be charged.
Most ATA members did not cooperate with Fair Guide, but others were not as fortunate.
In its complaint, the FTC alleged the defendants sent mailings to small retailers, home-based businesses, local associations, and others who host exhibits at trade shows. The FTC said:
The mailings were falsely linked to a trade show the recipients had attended or planned to attend, to trick them into thinking they had a pre-existing business relationship with the defendants. The enclosed cover letter and form falsely suggested that the recipients needed to confirm or update their contact information for the trade show. Many did not notice a statement, buried in fine print at the bottom of the form, that by signing and returning the form they were agreeing to pay $1,717 annually to Construct Data Publishers, a company with no connection to trade shows, for a listing on its website, fairguide.com.
In 2013, Maria Lewis, ATA Trade Show coordinator, estimated 12 to 20 exhibitors had contacted her in recent years after Fair Guide solicited them. Typically, the exhibitors asked Lewis if they should agree to the listing. Lewis told them Fair Guide was not affiliated with the Show, and repeatedly advised ATA members not to provide any information.
When the FTC stopped the scam in April 2013, ATA took extra measures to ensure Show exhibitors didn’t fall victim to the scam. The ATA issued this statement to warn members about Fair Guide:
The ATA’s official “Show Guide and Membership Directory” is published annually by Zebra Publishing, a longtime ATA partner. Additionally, official Trade Show vendors are qualified as such by the ATA’s “show service provider” logo.
“We are working with all our partner vendors this year to make sure this logo appears on their documents, forms or other materials they may provide to Show exhibitors,” said Lewis. “We want the exhibitors to get used to looking for it and recognizing it as a stamp of approval.”
If you suspect a contact is a scam or not an official ATA Show provider, contact Becky Lux, ATA membership and Trade Show registration manager, at (866) 266-2776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature image: Sal Falko - Creative Commons