Speakers Beware: Avoid the Scammers, Jerks, and Those Who Would Rip You Off

Speakers Beware: Avoid the Scammers, Jerks, and Those Who Would Rip You Off

Felicia Slattery becomes the Mama Bear of the speaking industry to protect speakers from scammers, jerks, and con artists

Felicia Slattery becomes the Mama Bear of the speaking industry to protect speakers from scammers, jerks, and con artists

 

I’m sick of it.

And I’m about to get all Mama Bear for the speaking industry. (Thanks to Dr. Mollie Marti for the comparison!)

**Fair warning…. I don’t usually use potty words, but the language in this post may end up being rated PG13 or worse. I’m that upset and sometimes “nicer” words simply don’t cut it to describe some people and situations. If you are easily offended by PG13 language, it’s best you stop reading now.**

Too many times this year and at least three times THIS WEEK I’ve heard of scams, jerks, con artists, and rip offs trying to benefit from the hard work and good name of professional speakers by taking advantage of them and trying to trick them, the industry, and the marketplace.

THE MADNESS HAS TO STOP!!!!

Here’s what happened:

First, a long-time client forwarded me an email exchange she had with a supposed event planner in Malaysia. This “event planner” had offered her a speaking gig at a leadership conference for $3,000USD payable AFTER the event. (Something already smells fishy to me.) She had an uneasy feeling about it and contacted me for my opinion. After a quick Google search, I found that the same event and meeting planners with a similar name had at least one other speaker present a weekend training and never paid his fee. I’m going to keep digging for her.

Next, the same client was contacted by another party, with a similar-too-good-to-be-true sounding offer. (More later on why she may be a target for scammers).

Then last night I heard about a shockingly extra scuzzbaggy idiot scammer, who literally STOLE the images of many of my friends in the speaker training industry for his crappy “telesummit,” created fake fan pages using their names and images, and started commenting on other people’s walls, pretending to be them — and blatantly doing it as if they’d never find out. He created a sales page with all their images as if they had agreed to be part of his event he was charging $297 for admission to; when in reality, at least one of them never even spoke to the scammer, let alone agreed to be part of anything. And beyond ALL that– this Scammer McScammy Pants changed his name (and not to Scammer McScammy Pants because that would have been too easy to tell something wasn’t quite right).

These true experts, several of whom are people I have shared meals with, spent time with and consider friends, as well as colleagues, have been marketing using the Internet for many years and (1) know very quickly when their names are being used anywhere online and (2) have massive followings of fans and friends who watch their backs. Why this douchebag of a human being thought he could even get away with using their names and creating fake pages and personas pretending to be them I will never know.

I found out about this scam from a Facebook post by Dave Lakhani, a force to be reckoned with when he’s in a good mood and happy– but piss

Felicia Slattery and Dave Lakhani

Don’t let that smile fool you. Dave Lakhani is a force to be reckoned with and stands for the highest ethics in the speaker world.

him off and seriously… watch out. Dave Lakhani has been one of my speaking heroes since I met him in 2008 when I was emcee of an event where he started his speech by saying something like: “If you refuse to turn off your technology while I am speaking, I will physically take it from you and crush it. I will crush your technology. This message is that important and you must give me your full attention.” Guess what? Everyone gave him their full attention.

A few months later he invited me to be his guest at an exclusive weekend speaker training he did for a handful of national celebrities and other professional speakers, where I got to know him up close and personal. And although at an imposing 6’5″ (or more?), with definite strong opinions and a general inherent and amazing personal power, I found Dave Lakhani to be warm, sincere, and inspiring to learn from and watch. Above all, Dave Lakhani does business with the highest ethics and integrity, treats people with respect – including those he disagrees with- and is more than willing to call out crap when he sees it.

What Dave Lakhani did after finding out someone stole his identity to market their illegitimate online event  is nothing less than brilliant.

Dave describes what he did next in one of the (to date) 94 comments on the thread:

“This scambag (name withheld here because I don’t want my blog associated with him in any way, but you can see who it is on the Facebook post) created a bunch of fan pages using the names and likeness of a bunch of speakers and then started commenting as those people on other pages as if all of these people were excited about his event for the purpose of getting traffic from people reading the comments and then clicking to the page. Once he heard that I’d threatened his breakfast cereal, he immediately phoned me and left a message saying that he was only trying to honor me and wanted to promote my products on the back end of his seminar (presumably because they are not good enough for the front end). He then left me his phone number and assured me he’d take my call, he of course did not answer the phone when I called back and covered his butt by saying that it was 7:30am in Thailand and he had to get some sleep sometime because he had been up all night with his summit.

 

“If I were him I’d be more worried about me getting in touch with the CEO of Infusionsoft Clate Mask and letting them know that they are sponsoring the event of an identity thief or at minimum one of the most unethical promoters around. He has mentioned to several people who have reached out to me on his behalf that of course it wasn’t his fault, he had a “team” of people who did it and they “forgot” to let the people know whose identities they hijacked that they were doing it to honor them and to sell their products on the back end.

 

“The problem with this is the problem with much of Internet Marketing and Biz Op generally. The lack of morals and ethics is astounding. It is why I’ve quit speaking on those stages and why I’m more focused on building brick and mortar businesses and just writing and selling books. The only goal of too many of these promoters is simply to separate people from their money regardless of how well the information works. I’ve always threatened to write a book about all the conversations I had with drunk speakers and promoters who could only talk about how they systematically sucked money out of people’s pockets and how stupid people were and how easy they made it. Then, the next day before they speak they have prayer circles with the attendees asking God to bless their talk so that they can really reach people. Things like this make me really reconsider that book idea. There are good speakers and good promoters out there but they often get overshadowed by the idiots like this guy. And, virtually all of the bad ones say they are the only ones doing it right and ethically.

 

“So, what am I doing next? Well, first I’m waiting for (the guy) to call me back and see what he has to say for himself when we speak in person, that will be fun and I will likely record it. Second, I’ll be reporting him to Facebook, The FTC, and the Attorney General’s Office. I’ve also called all the speakers I know personally who are on the platform to back out. I’m glad to hear that Bill Walsh and Stephanie Frank have already made the decision to pull out, I expect to see more pull out as well.”

Then I replied:

“Whew… This is just so terribly upsetting! … I think what happened to you & others we know in this situation sucks big time AND I worry about more eager and less savvy/experienced speakers who can easily be taken advantage of. Mollie Marti is right– I feel very Mama Bear about those people who really do want to speak & share their messages and make an honest living doing it like we have.

For me, my whole life has revolved around teaching and coaching speech. It was my profession as a college prof for more than a decade & I LOVE it. Plus doing the info marketing thing keeps me with my family to raise my girls in person instead of having to be on the road 100+ days a year on stages. Someday I’ll do that when they’re in college & grown up.

Anyway I think we seriously need to put our heads together and create something for our industry that seeks to protect them. You are right… There are far too many jerks teaching speaking & marketing. I bet Joel Comm might be on board to add a guest post (we could probably ask his permission to grab a post he’s already written… I know I’ve read a couple scathing posts from him about the underbelly of IM).

I am doing this protecting speakers blog series. Anyone who wants to contribute with a guest post is welcome. I’m not selling anything attached to it. It’ll be a week-long or month-long PSA for the speaking community.

Who’s in?”

I already have at least one commitment from Thom Scott who replied almost immediately. Thom Scott will write a guest post on contract structures and material rights. I know as I reach out personally I’ll have more guests willing to share their stories, experiences and best tips on how speakers can avoid scams in the speaking industry. I plan to invite Christian speaker Leesa Barnes, who earlier this year was almost scammed out of thousands of dollars by a group pretending to be with a church in England (and who I hope forgives me for the PG13 language in this post!). I also plan to invite Tom Antion, who called out a very famous speaker trainer who he knew to be telling lies and taking people’s money. My friend and accountability partner Shannon Cherry might have a thing or two to share since she regularly posts Cherry Bombs on her blog calling out unethical business marketing practices and advocating for her readers. Friends like New York Times best-selling author Joel Comm might want to weigh in, as he has effectually left the Internet Marketing space because he was so disheartened by the lying, manipulation, and regurgitating of ideas being sold as new innovations.

All of these people and more are advocates for entrepreneurs and business owners. I am standing up today to be counted as the Mama Bear of professional speakers and emerging speakers.

Overall, I won’t be naming names of the unethical ones here on this blog because I don’t want to have my name or blog associated with them. Plus, really, it’s not about the scam artists. It’s about YOU, my dear readers and speakers everywhere who need to know what kinds of scams are out there and best practices on how to avoid them. And you should learn how the industry really does work for insiders who work in meetings all the time.

Why are emerging speakers like my client a ripe target for scammers? Because they are so eager and excited to get their messages out to the world they want to believe there are people who will pay them to do that. And there are plenty of legitimate event planners around the world who are willing to do just that. But those meeting planners, many of whom are members of the prestigious Meeting Planners International and others as members of the American Society of Training and Development who all work in an entirely different way than the scammers do. Yet sadly, because of their inexperience with ethical meeting planners for real meetings that do need excellent, well-qualified, trained speakers, new and emerging professional speakers can easily become a target. And as we saw with my friend Dave Lakhani, even those who are well-respected in the industry can become targets of unethical business practices as well.

The aim of this Public Service Announcement Series for Speakers is to help arm you with the tools you need to recognize scams and give you the tools you need to build a successful, income-generating speaking business (Hint: no it won’t be overnight. Yes, it takes work. And, sorry, but no, international groups are NOT going to contact you out of the blue, not tell you how they heard of you, never have even one phone conversation with you, and offer to hire you via email or Facebook private message sight unseen).

Stay tuned and come back for more very soon. In the meantime, do you have any scams that should be exposed? Ideas or thoughts on the issue? Please share in the comments below.

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19 Comments

  1. Robert John Royce July 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Felicia, Your desire to fight for the small fries and speakers who are not yet members of the Million Dollar Roundtable at NSA is admirable. Here is my take on the issue as a whole. This is a long comment that turned into a blog post of my own at my blog: http://tinyurl.com/c2cj4hv Thank you for speaking up and raising awareness.

    There are plenty of thieves and liars out there. PT Barnum said the following two things that I believe are relevant to understanding the mind of a sum sucking scammer, “There’s a sucker born every minute!” and “Every crowd has a silver lining.” These creatures of ilk are focused on the idea that they can find the sucker in every crowd and swindle them of their silver. Felicia Slattery posted a rather well written warning to anyone in the public speaking industry as I am. But the lessons are valuable to us all as a reminder that these slimmy scammers are everywhere and trying to steal our silver!

    Honestly, as dismayed as I am by the events mentioned in this blog, the were frankly bound to happen to our industry, sooner or later. I am personally surprised it has taken these sum suckers so long. In some ways our industry and customers represent an ideal mark in many to them. Here are five that come to mind at the moment, though there are several others mentioned by Felicia that I are equally important to consider.

    1. Our business models are largely internet based which means our customers are accustomed to purchasing items online.

    2. Our intentions as a group are largely kind hearted; which I have noticed leaves me looking for the positive in every situation, rather than keeping my SCAM-O-Meter running all the time.

    3. Our customers are similar to us in this short coming and can often be manipulated by a perceived good word from us, because they know us and trust our advice.

    4. We are not a close knit community as of yet. We all have various bureaus and associations we belong to but beyond our circles we are often too busy trying to run our business to notice eddies in the scum that grows on the bottom of the ever growing lake we are all swimming in.

    5. We are also creatures, no matter how we may try to reform our nature, subject to flattery. It is one of the greatest tools these sum sucker scammers are able to employ against us. Which is why an amount of personal wariness is needed, so that we may have sufficient room to allow our wisdom and experience to kick in and play the critical role of detecting the BS these scammers try to feed us.

    You are right in advocating for the little guy, but I am certain there are lessons for every speaker, trainer and writer. I think the most practical advice out there is if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS! You need to have clear contracts in place and know who, what and why before you sign on to any speaking gig. If they call you out of the blue it is time to put up our shields and cautiously evaluate the person and proposal being offered.

    • Felicia Slattery July 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks Robert!

      Great thoughtful commentary. I’m glad it spurred a blog post for you as well. Your points are well-taken.

      In fact my next blog post going live today is all about how to see the warning signs of getting scammed as a speaker where I agree with your first point about our marketing being online and therefore opening us up to email and online scams.

      I think you’ll enjoy the next post with specific details speakers can look out for. I’m headed to your blog now to make a comment.
      Felicia

  2. Mitch Mitchell July 24, 2012 at 1:18 am - Reply

    This is incredible, and I’m glad you’ve written about it. I always thought many of those other speaking engagement sites were scams, but something like this… nope, it never came into my mind that it was something that occurred. Absolutely stunned, but glad that it’s something else I now know to watch out for.

    • Felicia Slattery July 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm - Reply

      Mitch,
      I was shocked too at the blatant disregard for honesty and integrity. Just wild. I’ll keep reporting and I hope you’ll keep reading!

  3. Leesa Barnes July 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    The thing that gets my panties in a knot is how these damn scammers justify what they do. Not only did I expose those scammers who tried to separate me from my hard earned money in a blog post that you mentioned above (and that keeps getting comments as the scammers choose new names), but then they tried to JUSTIFY their actions, giving me a sob story of how rough it is in their country. See my blog post on their WHY – http://tinyurl.com/crojqj2

    I’ve been putting my psychology courses to good use over the past few months as I seek to understand the mindset behind the deception and manipulation. When we tie our self-esteem to the almighty dollar, it becomes our god. And when money becomes our god, it sings a song that appeals to our ego. Ego then takes over and empathy disappears. We become sadistic psychopaths who feel assaulted if our upsells or pitches go ignored. Like an addiction, ego will do anything and say anything so it can guarantee its survival.

    I’ve been following Tom Antion’s 20 Speaking Scams and even contributed one of my own to add to his growing list. Those of us who have shaken off the seduction of the transaction need to bring light in a bold, fearless and courageous way what’s hopelessly wrong with sales and marketing online. I’m more than happy to share my own flight from the cult of “who’s dick is bigger” that I once subscribed to.

    So, whatever you need, I’m in.

    • Leesa Barnes July 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      BTW, God forgives you for your potty mouth 😉

      • Felicia Slattery July 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply

        I thought that might be the case!

    • Felicia Slattery July 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Leesa-
      I knew if I tagged you, you’d join the party. I think Tom Antion is the Papa Bear of protecting those who attend seminars and conferences from getting fleeced… and that is awesome. I’m personally taking on the mantle of making sure speakers themselves don’t get taken advantage of in the simple act of trying to do more of what they love.

      I am so thankful for people like Tom Antion willing to step up and shed light on all the seminar scammers and tactics out there. And I hope to help from the other side of the industry where there are good speakers like you falling victim to Nigerian-style scams. And then, once they have a good name in the speaking world or in their niche communities, having their name and image taken advantage of for the gain of someone else without their knowledge.

      Sickening.

      I’ll be in touch my friend.

  4. Gino July 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Hi Felicia, Great heads up, thanks. I think that you should be naming names. How else are we suppose to know who to stay away from, specially if we are new to the industry. I for one would like to know who to deal with and who not to deal with. Thanks

    • Felicia Slattery July 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Gino,
      If you ever get contacted by a group or meeting planner that sounds fishy to you, feel free to email me or DM me on Twitter or PM me on Facebook about it and I’ll let you know if I have heard of them and what my experience or clients’ experiences have been.

      I WILL be calling out specific scams as they are well-used and documented online, so you don’t fall prey. I will also name names when possible, but many of these scammers are sophisticated and change one small piece — say a first name or last name or event name- so as not to be caught as easily. So naming names may not always be helpful even in those cases either.

      What you will see in my upcoming posts however, will be tools you need to spot scams on your own and ways to tell if someone is honest or trying to rip you off.

      • Leesa Barnes July 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm - Reply

        I agree with Felicia. It’s better to name the scam than to name names. Once you know the tactic, it’ll be easy to spot who’s using it.

  5. DrMollieMarti July 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    Happy to see you running with my Mama Bear comment.

    Having watched you work — providing such tremendous value as emcee at my Make an Impact LIVE events — and getting to know you personally, I believe YOU are the perfect person to lead this much needed movement.

    Looking forward to supporting you — and will float you some suggestions for additional contributors!

    • Felicia Slattery July 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks Mollie!

      I think Mama Bear is exactly how I feel toward all speakers, no matter how far advanced they may or may not be in their careers. Thank you so much for your support of good people and creating your own fabulous events over the years.

  6. Kurt Scholle July 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Good for you to alert people about this and even more to take action! You hear all too often about people getting their content ripped off and I heard earlier this week about someone who learned that a conference they knew nothing about was promoting the fact that they would be speaking there!

    Unfortunately, this is a problem that won’t go away anytime soon. But if we work together, maybe we can make it better.

    For many of us, this is a big part of our livelihood.

    • Felicia Slattery July 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      Kurt-
      You hit the nail on the head, my friend. This is a big part of our livelihood and the higher the road we all take, the better off the industry as a whole. I also hope to share info about some of the good sources and event promoters as well. There are a lot of people doing a lot of fabulous things! Thanks for your comments and see you soon in Atlanta 🙂

  7. Chris Downs July 21, 2012 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this information! It is people like you that honor God by standing up and being honest. I appreciate the heads up and for your straight talk.

    There seems to be a growing number of ways to scam people. Now there is integrity, honesty and value production from people like you and all of the speakers that you shared. Thank you again for your information of honesty.

    • Felicia Slattery July 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Chris,
      Thanks for visiting and for your comment. I am humbled by your thoughts.

  8. Steve Parady July 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Great idea, Felicia! As a meeting planner still learning the business, any tips on how to book speakers is very welcome. I’m especially interested in what Thom Scott has to share about speaking contracts. Looking forward to it.

    • Felicia Slattery July 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks Steve! I’ve had a lot of feedback already on Facebook and many “thank yous.” I’ll definitely keep the ball rolling on this. It’s obviously a huge source of concern and frustration for many in the speaking industry.

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