In 2015, geek culture is more popular than it’s ever been. Nowhere is that more evident than in the rise of cons.
Just in my home state of Texas alone, there are well over two dozen conventions of all shapes and sizes. In two weeks, I will be attending Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, Washington and when I was in attendance last year, there was a ridiculous amount of people there.
Unfortunately, wherever a large group of people gather to observe, exhibit and spend money, the scammers are sure to follow. Because traditional news outlets aren’t privy to spending resources covering things like this, I felt like I ought to.
Recently, a group floating around Facebook, calling themselves Omega Expo, has been plugging the heck out of an alleged event that they claim they are holding in November at NRG Stadium here in Houston, Texas.
To sucker fans in and convince them to spend money, they’ve gone out of their way advertising such major industry names as Ryan Reynolds, Tom Hiddleston, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki of Supernatural, and even two members of the Houston Texans NFL team.
Simple research and inquiries more than proved that these advertisements were 100% false. Already, representatives for Ackles and Padalecki have denied any knowledge or association with the group and comic book illustrator Rob Liefeld himself took to Facebook to warn fans against any advertisements claiming he was going to be there.
While the website in question, which can be found here until it inevitably gets taken down (EDIT: It’s currently “under maintenance”), is already incredibly suspect in both design and information provided, it was still convincing enough for an untold number of people to sign up and attempt to buy tickets.
Observing the screenshot below, you can see that folks were predictably having “trouble” inputting their credit card information, prompting them to contact the people behind the scam, who then encourage them to instant message them with credit card info to “correct” the problem.
It should go without saying but always do some fact checking in situations like this. Small time conventions aren’t unheard of and no event starts out huge, but a start-up convention advertising names that big is a huge red flag.
To make this information easier to digest, I’m going to break it into several parts for your convenience.
1. Always fact check.
Obviously, San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and other such major industry events are about as safe as can be and have proven reputations to back that up. It gets a lot more tricky with small-time events. There are plenty of legitimate smaller conventions to be found and all of these can be verified as trusted events with simple research and a few emails.
Any conventions that you’ve never heard of that are trying to advertise names like Tom Hiddleston and Ryan Reynolds are almost certainly scams. Be realistic, folks. We all flip the freak out at the mere thought of being in the general proximity of stars of that caliber but there’s a reason that they only appear sparingly at conventions and when they do, it’s typically at one of the bigger, more well known events.
Two minutes of research will inform you that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki only appear at CreationCon official Supernatural events. Nothing more, nothing less. I can’t stress this enough. Do not give your money to anyone without fact checking and verifying the trustworthiness of the event. If a convention is advertising someone and it seems suspicious, just check the personal website or social media accounts of that personality. If the event is legit, it shouldn’t be hard to find something from them confirming the information.
2. NEVER give out your credit card information to untrusted sites.
This is basically Internet-capitalism 101 but if a site seems even the slightest bit suspicious, don’t give them your credit card information. I’ve never purchased tickets to an event from a site that didn’t utilize PayPal. PayPal is the most trusted resource for purchasing things online and transactions that are on the up-and-up always either use PayPal directly or give you the option of using it at checkout.
Combine this with #1 and do plenty of fact checking before pulling out your wallet. And if a site ever “malfunctions”, don’t go on Facebook and “IM” your credit card info to someone claiming to be a representative for the event. That’s a one-way ticket to identity theft and that’s no laughing matter. Website functionality has nothing to do with your personal credit card information and anyone telling you they need your info to make the site work is blatantly trying to steal your hard-earned money. Don’t let them.
3. Report, Report, Report.
Don’t let things like this go unreported! It took my Facebook group about an hour of plugging away and spreading the word for it to take off on social media. One share and/or like of a warning post will quickly lead to numerous likes and shares and it doesn’t take long for that information to get where it needs to go.
When you see an event that’s very clearly not legit, report it to everyone it affects. Report it to the convention center staff, report it to the personalities that are being advertised. The faster the information spreads, the quicker you can help other people spare themselves the pain and difficulty that comes with being scammed.
4. Look For The Red Flags
Regardless of how suave or inept that scammer may be, there are always red flags to look out for. Any site URL that ends in “.me”, for example, is immediately suspect.
Any respectable site representing a convention or event will have a “.com” URL.
URLs ending in “.me” are relatively inexpensive and are typically purchased when the webmaster is trying to keep their operations on the down-low.
If the site and/or their social media account(s) doesn’t give out adequate information, promises things without proof or verification or tries to get you to “purchase tickets” before offering any of the previously mentioned things, do not proceed, do not pass go and do not collect $200.
No legit convention or event asks fans to purchase tickets without any information to go on.
If the site and/or their social media account(s) is offering non-refundable tickets, that’s another big red flag.
5. Use Good Judgment
Look, it’s easy to get caught up in the wondrous notion of being close to your favorite stars. I nearly did. Use common sense and good judgment. If it sounds too good to be true, there’s an excellent chance it is. Some of the biggest and most respected and reputable conventions in the country don’t have instantaneous access to stars like Ryan Reynolds or Tom Hiddleston.
If a no-name first year convention is trying to promise you things that San Diego Comic Con can’t promise, don’t fall for it! Take the time to do the research, verify information, contact the people involved. If an event is legit, there isn’t any reason to hide information from you.
Above all, be safe and don’t let some scumbag con-artist take your hard earned money. Just because we’re nerds, that doesn’t make us idiots! Guard your wallets and do your part in making sure that these thieving credit card scammers end up exactly where they belong; behind the iron bars of a prison.