Professional fraudsters are targeting nuclear energy lobbyists while attending conferences in Washington and elsewhere.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lead trade association, says in an official warning posted on its website that it has become aware its members have been targeted by scam artists, known as "poachers," who misrepresent themselves as industry officials or hotel staff to fraudulently acquire credit card information.
The nuclear trade group says it became aware of the targeted poaching during an annual meeting on cybersecurity earlier this year and then at other major conferences.
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"NEI has become aware that attendees at the Cyber Security Workshop, the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference and other NEI conferences have been targeted by companies claiming to represent NEI or the hotels at which the conferences are being held and stating that the hotel is sold out during the conference dates or the company can supply a lower rate," the official warning reads.
John Keeley, a spokesman for the nuclear institute, says there isn't any evidence to suggest they are specifically targeting utility executives or other energy officials. He said the fraudulent activity "is fairly recent, not unique to our industry, and not targeted at utilities."
The notice is a "warning of concern to our membership," and there have been "[n]o investigations that we're aware of," Keeley said in an email.
The Nuclear Energy Institute's membership includes some of the largest utility companies in the country, including Exelon, which acquired Constellation, parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and is trying to buy Pepco, the electric company for the District of Columbia and Maryland.
The warning says the practice of "poaching," also known as "pirating," "is both improper and, where misrepresentations are made, likely the commission of legally actionable fraud."
The nuclear trade group advises its members that it does not own or operate hotels or housing, "and no company is authorized to act on NEI's behalf to book hotel rooms or provide other conference services," the warning reads.
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It notes that, in particular, it does not have any relationship with a company called Exhibitors Housing Management, "or any other company which may have contacted attendees." Fraudsters saying they were with a company that went by that name recently had been poaching at NEI events.
The trade group is taking action, issuing cease and desist letters "to each company that is reported to have misrepresented its relationship" with the trade organization.
The Convention Industry Council, representing professional conference organizations, has issued white papers and developed professional recommendations for addressing the bad actors over the past several months.
Much of the response to pirates and poachers requires new levels of authentication and a host of other measures to combat the activity, according to the council. More vigilant authentication methods allow attendees to know that the people hosting an event are the actual representatives, not those misrepresenting an industry or organization.
The council also says poachers and pirates go deeper than trying to obtain credit card details and will obtain data on individuals through illegal means.
They are also well-versed in trademark infringement and will use the "trademarked/servicemarked property of the event owner (such as the logo or logotype or the unique meeting name) in correspondence to event participants in order to appear to be an official agent for the event," according to a council document.
The council has established a special working group to address the problem.