Vanity Scam Targets Academics, Executives & Would-be Stars

Personal pride opens door to vanity scam: Internet Scambusters #558

It’s only human to enjoy praise and flattery but, if you haven’t got your wits about you, what you hear could just be the prelude to a vanity scam.

You’ll know as soon as the scammer starts asking for money or confidential information.

We bring you the latest on vanity fraud in this week’s issue, how to spot it and avoid it.

Let’s get started…


Vanity Scam Targets Academics, Executives & Would-be Stars


The old saying that “pride goes before a fall” was never truer than when applied to a vanity scam.

These are the tricks con artists use to fool victims into thinking they’ve been singled out for some kind of honor — with a costly sting in the tail.

And crooks, being resourceful people, can come up with some ingenious ways of convincing victims that their activities are genuine.

Their aim is either to steal personal information or fool people into paying for a non-existent event or publication.

The most common trick is to tell victims they’ve won an award or their name will be included in some type of VIP directory, which we discussed in a couple of our past issues:

Real Estate Scam Offers Sky-High Property Deal — For a Fee

Poetry Scam Alert: A Little-Known Scam About Bogus Poetry Contests

But the scam artists have a whole lot more tricks up their sleeves, as we’re about to explain.

Biographical Videos

Retired educators are the principle targets for this scam, but it could equally apply to other professional categories or, indeed, anyone who believes they have an interesting career life story to tell.

It’s a variation of the VIP directory scam but, in this case, victims are invited to have a video produced as part of the project, which also includes a supposed directory entry — in this particular case a “Who’s Who of Retired Educators.”

And, sure, the video team turns up, but only after victims have paid for inflated production costs.

But that’s only the start. The crooks keep coming back for more, asking victims to pay further additional costs before they can complete the video.

In one reported case, they netted $85,000.

These scammers make their trick more convincing by finding out career details of their victims and then using the title of their profession or even the college they taught at and putting it on the letterhead and the name of the spoof directory.

Action: If your lifetime achievements merit recording for a professional directory, there should be no cost.

On the other hand, if you want to make a biographical video to honor your life, your family or your achievements, expect to pay — but ask to see samples and testimonials.

Then get all costs upfront, ideally with just a deposit and then payment on completion.

Bogus Conferences

Academics are also a key target of another vanity fraud trick — this time in the form of an invitation to take part in an international conference.

Often well-known names are used — like the United Nations or UNESCO, and those of educational institutions.

Victims may even be told they’ve been selected to speak at the event, perhaps for a fee. This variation has been mostly targeted at self-published authors.

Credibility is added with details of the event agenda, number of attendees, other speakers and a request for biographical details for inclusion in the program.

Either way, there’ll be initial costs upfront, for supposed attendance and food and lodging.

This imaginary event is often in a different state or country, so that the costs will be substantial and may include providing credit card details or wiring payment.

Action: Examples of these invitations that we’ve seen use poor English — often the first giveaway for a scam.

Even so, an online check of the supposed organization, the event and the author of the letter will quickly expose the fraud.

Plus, as we always warn, don’t wire cash to someone you don’t know.

Spear Phishing

Vanity, or at least personal pride, is the lever for the most recent variation of the VIP scam, highlighted recently by the anti-virus specialists at BitDefender.

Victims are told they’re to be included in a Top 100 Executives of 2013 magazine.

All they have to do is complete and submit a registration form, in which, of course, they have to give personal contact information, including phone numbers, email address, details of their job and so on.

This provides a rich source of information for a form of “spear phishing,” which involves collecting details of high-fliers who can then be targeted individually with spam and often another phishing scam.

Armed with email addresses and other personal information from the first phase, the crooks can now email their victims under another guise, using this information to establish their credibility and asking for other confidential information.

This is then used for identity theft.

Action: We’ve written about spear phishing before in Security Breaches Strengthen Spam Campaigns.

Of course, there are genuine publications that chronicle corporate and individual business success.

The important point is to check them out before agreeing to participate.

And always remember that every time you give out your email or other contact details, they could always end up in the wrong hands — so there’s no proof that someone who uses them is genuine.

Talent Trap

Finally, just a quick reminder of another common vanity scam we’ve reported on before — bogus modeling, acting and sporting talent agents.

It’s a charmingly simple ruse. Victims are quite simply told their beauty, acting or sports skills single them out for a photo assignment or try-out.

But they’ll have to pay.

Action: This one is as simple to spot as you are.

It’s not uncommon for legit agencies to charge a fee for their time or to produce a portfolio. But usually you will have approached them first.

If, instead, they “spot” you and then ask you to pay, it’s a red flag.

They may even genuinely do some work for you — but it’s not because you’re beautiful or talented. It’s because you’re paying. Just remember that.

It’s only human to be susceptible to flattery and pride but the truth is, people mostly flatter us not so much out of admiration but because they see an opportunity to gain something from us, even if it’s just friendship.

That happens. But as soon as they start asking for money or personal information, beware! It could signal a vanity scam.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!