Friday, January 11, 2013

Alert: UK Speaker Scam Targets Writers (and Others)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

John Scalzi reported on this scam earlier this week, and his post was widely disseminated on Twitter--but since not everyone reads the same blogs, and the scam is a recurring one that isn't limited to science fiction and fantasy writers, I thought it was worth covering here.

Writers should watch out for this spam that's currently actively doing the rounds:
From: Arthur peterson [bexleycollegeoflondon@gmail.com]
To: [email address redacted]
Date: January 5, 2013 at 7:23 PM
Subject: BEXLEY COLLEGE HALF TERM BREAK SEMINAR.

Greetings [name redacted],

I am Prof. Arthur Peterson from Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus) here in London UK. We are officially writing to invite you and confirm your booking as our guest Speaker at this Year Bexley college Seminar which will take place here at the campus ground.

Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus).

The Venue as follows:
VENUE: Upper Holly Hill Road Belvedere, Kent
London, United Kingdom
POST CODE: DA17 6HF
Expected audience: 450 people(mainly students & invited guest). Duration of speech per speaker: 1 Hour
Name of Organization: Bexley College Campus.
Topic: ”Mystery of Life and Death”
Date: 18th February 2013

We reached your profile at http:// www.aboutsf.com// and we say it’s up to standard. The College will be so glad to have such an outstanding personality as you in our midst for these overwhelming gathering. Arrangements to welcome you here will be discussed as soon as you honor our invitation. If you have any more publicity material you wish to share with us, please do not hesitate to contact me.

An Official Formal Letter of invitation and Contract agreement would be sent to you from the College as soon as you honor our Invitation. The College have also promised to be taking care of all your travel and Hotel Accommodation expenses including your Speaking Fee.

If you are available for this date, include your speaking fees in your reply for it to be included in the DOCUMENTATIONS.

Stay Blessed
Prof. Arthur Peterson
Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus).

Tel: + 44 702 407 0611
This is a long-running scam (I got reports of it last year, with a different university, "professor", and address harvesting) that has been around at least since 2009 (Googling "British speaker scam" brings up a number of articles and posts, several with extensive comments from others who've been solicited). The institution isn't always a university; sometimes it's a church, sometimes it's a conference, sometimes it's a fake organization of some kind, as in this recent solicitation aimed at female business speakers. Otherwise, the details are the same.

How exactly do the scammers rip you off? Various theories have been floated: a phone scam that overcharges you for an overseas call, getting hold of your banking information, overpaying your speaker's fee (with a fake check) and asking you to send back the balance right away. My own guess was travel fees.

In reality, it's fake work permit fees.

This article by Patrick Schwerdtfeger, from May 2012, details how the process works. The mark is told s/he must pay a "Government (United Kingdom) Main Application Fee for a UK work permit" of several hundred pounds. Once that money is sent, the scammers ask for more:
Non-Briton Immigrants coming into the United Kingdom and taking up a legally paid job will need to secure their stay with a bond otherwise referred to as a repatriation fee...The Home office has required that such applicants pay a refundable sum of 2,500GBP as a ‘Bond’ to enact their stay. As soon as they get back to their respective countries, the fee will be paid back to them in full.
There you have it.

Looking closely at the solicitation I've reproduced above, there are plenty of scam "tells." Still, for someone who does regular speaking engagements, and for whom an out-of-the-blue invitation is not unusual, there's least some degree of surface plausibility. Mr. Schwerdtfeger confesses that he was taken in by the first phase of the scam, and one of the writers I've heard from was very nearly taken in as well.

Good reason to treat any unsolicited invitation with caution.

9 comments:

C. M. Albrecht said...

Bummer. I didn't even rate an invitation. I'd better beef up my profile.

Lisa Lane said...

"Non-Briton Immigrants coming into the United Kingdom and taking up a legally paid job will need to secure their stay with a bond otherwise referred to as a repatriation fee..." LOL, you'd think the scammers would at least do enough homework to know Britons are a nationality of people from a specific French region, not to be confused with Brits. ;-)

Lisa (lablady) said...

Definitely some red flags in that email. There are grammatical mistakes in quite a few sentences. That's always a red flag to me. If you skim it, you might not catch them but read it out loud and you'll find plenty.

Thanks for making us aware of this Victoria!

Robert Day said...

ayimages.co.ukOf course, if her Majesty's Government didn't have such a parsimonious attitude towards overseas academics, artists and foreign people generally, this scam wouldn't have so much traction.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

I got one of those a few years ago. What a crock. Needless to say, I sent it to the Great Bitbucket in the Sky.

Annette Gisby said...

Lots of red flags in that, one of the main ones being that he's at a London campus and then the address is in Kent (a county next to London, but not in London.) I've never had one of these dodgy invitations, but then as I'm in the UK already, they know they wouldn't get a repatriation fee out of me ;)

Wally Moran said...

British usage is 'honour', with the letter 'u'. That alone should have been a tell to writers that this wasn't legit.

Rikki Arundel said...

Speaking Engagement! Scam - I wish I had run a check on Google first - Just got hooked in to the same scam but stopped when they asked for money for the work permit. Now it's a church in Cape Town - so the poor English did not seem out of place. There were plenty of clues though now that I look back though the extensive email correspondence especially the hidden email addresses. I checked with 6 speaker friends and the South African consulate in the UK as soon as the work permit issue came up and was assured that no work permits were required.

I was also surprised at how easily I had become hooked into this. The fact that I really wanted to speak in South Africa on gender equality and that my partner has a passion for working on HIV projects which this church supports and that they were happy to pay for both our air fares and a good speaking fee all helped to hook us. I think the worst thing about this was the emotional damage when we realised that having had appropriate vaccinations for South Africa and re-organising my schedule - this was actually not happening.

I have alerted so many people to scams in the past I feel a bit of a fool for being sucked in - but that's the problem with speaking - I get a legitimate speaking inquiry every week out of the blue - just got another one today through a referral that I know s legit. I think the important maxim with these scams is "If it seems to good to be true - it probably is."

This is the intro email I received a week ago - also received by half a dozen speaker friends who were unable to make the dates so did not follow up:



God's blessing Rikki, We hope this message meets you in good health. I am MD Masangu, Presiding Minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, South Africa. On behalf of the Church, I am elated to inform you that we would love to engage your services to speak and educate the congregation towards leadership at our upcoming Church seminar coming up on the 22nd, 23rd & 24th of March 2013.

Please, we would gladly like for you to convey to us your availability for one of these dates(If not all) as it will well fit in your schedule.

Also, please we would as well appreciate if you get in-touch with us in ample time so we can start corresponding the details.

Thank you very much and expecting to hear from you soon.
Remain Blessed.
--

Reverend MD Masangu
+27 74597057
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
12 Waterval Crescent South,
Western Cape,
Cape Town. 7100–7299
South Africa.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
Psalm 33:12 ESV / 24
Fax: 0867107639

Cardinal said...

They tried to pull this one on me a couple weeks ago. When they started in on the work visa fees, I let them know I'd called both the British embassy here in the states, as well as the American embassy in Great Britain -- and that there ARE no fees to go overseas and speak.

Haven't heard from them again. LOL!

So, because I'm very mean when it comes to scammers, I contacted them again and said, "Well? What's next? You do of course know that I cannot locate your event, so I have contacted Scotland Yard AND because I know people who work for Interpol, I've got them on your tail as well. Shall I rain down more hell upon you, or are you going to pony up half of my speaker's fee within 24 hours?"

I *love* to call scammers on their crap!