A New FTC Rule Targets Trade Show Scammers: How It Works & Why It Matters

February 28, 2024

Tommy Goodwin

Tommy Goodwin is Vice President for the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA), an association dedicated to the advancement of the business events industry. He leads ECA’s advocacy and member engagement work on behalf of the interconnected ecosystem of exhibitors, show and event organizers, suppliers, venues and destinations that comprise the global business events landscape.

For years, the business events industry has been calling on policymakers to take action against the scammers who prey on our industry.

On Feb. 15, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) answered those calls with its new Government and Business Impersonation Rule, which will target scammers who impersonate businesses and government entities.

The FTC takes action

This new rule directly targets the hotel reservation scams and attendee list sale scams that have targeted conference and trade show exhibitors and attendees for ages.

How? The Government and Business Impersonation Rule will allow the FTC to file federal court cases aimed at forcing scammers to return the money they made from business impersonation scams. This includes seeking direct monetary relief from scammers that:

  • Fraudulently use business logos when communicating with consumers
  • Spoof business emails and web addresses, including using lookalike email addresses or websites that rely on misspellings of a company’s name
  • Falsely imply business affiliation by using terms that are known to be affiliated with a business

While these illegal tactics are familiar to every business event exhibitor and attendee, the threat has grown in recent months thanks to the rise of ChatGPT-written emails and AI-generated deepfake audio and video.

“Emerging technology – including AI-generated deepfakes – threatens to turbocharge this scourge, and the FTC is committed to using all of its tools to detect, deter and halt impersonation fraud,” the agency said in a statement.

What happens next?

The new FTC rule will become effective 30 days from the date it is published in the Federal Register, which will happen soon.

Then event organizers and exhibitors will be able to report impersonation fraud cases to the FTC, and the agency will be able to investigate and bring cases against scammers.

What remains to be seen is how vigorously the FTC will pursue such cases.

“For far too long, scammers have preyed on our industry,” said Vinnie Polito, CEO of the Society of Independent Show Organizers. “Now that the FTC has stronger tools to go after those who target our industry, we strongly encourage the agency to do just that.”

Advocacy in action

The new Government and Business Impersonation Rule comes on the heels of a years-long, whole-of-industry advocacy push.

ECA, its alliance partners, and many business events industry leaders — including the Consumer Technology Association, the American Society of Association Executives and IAEE’s Major American Trade Show Organizers group — have long been advocating for the FTC to take action.

For ECA, this included submitting two comment letters to the FTC, testifying at an FTC hearing, supporting a coalition effort that led to a letter signed by 235 organizations and highlighting the issue during our 2023 Legislative Action Day, which generated additional Congressional support.

Since the rule’s passage, support from association executives and leading show organizers like the National Association of Home Builders has been positive.

Looking ahead, ECA will actively monitor implementation of the new rule and look for opportunities to strengthen it in ways that further protect our industry and its stakeholders.

Be sure to join us for the 2024 Legislative Action Day on May 30. Register here.


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