Improbable Vancouver coronavirus conference draws attention from police and law enforcement officials

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An unlikely event dubbed the International Conference on Coronavirus and Rare Diseases scheduled for October in Vancouver is worrying police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center.A website for the conference, where tickets range from $ 300 to $ 700, says the purpose of the event is to bring together public health practitioners to discuss new findings.

The website paints a picture of an elaborate and very legitimate five-day event. It lists several high profile guests and carefully explains how international participants can obtain travel visas.

And where other conferences have been postponed or moved online due to COVID-19, Blader Group LLC, listed as the conference organizer, says it’s in full steam.

Ticket prices for the event ranged from US $ 300 to US $ 700. How many were sold, if any, is unknown. (canadainternationalconference.com)

Events would see 10-20 delegates gathered in a single room and more delegates could join online.

In micro-detail, and apparently to maintain a degree of credibility, the location of the event inside the Vancouver Convention Center has been provided.

“We have not received any reservation requests for an event of the same name,” said Jinny Wu, spokesperson for the convention center.

Non-existent guest speakers

On Wednesday morning, the website showed a list of speakers who don’t exist, including Lydia Prime, a supposed professor at the University of Calgary.

The university said no one named Lydia Prime was associated with it.

The first guest speaker listed on the International Conference on Coronaviruses and Rare Diseases website is Bernard J. Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente. Tyson passed away suddenly in his sleep last November. (canadainternationalconference.com)

By night, however, some notable names had replaced the fictitious speakers on the website.

Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, an American healthcare organization, was at the top of the new list. Tyson, however, unexpectedly passed away in his sleep in November 2019.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban has also been announced as a distinguished speaker. CBC contacted Cuban to ask if he was aware of the conference.

“I don’t know,” Cuban said in an email. When asked for more details, he replied, “No clue about them.”

A senior assistant commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, Amy Abernethy, was also on the list of speakers.

“I can confirm that Amy Abernathy has not been contacted about this event and invited to speak,” said Amanda Turney, spokesperson for the FDA.

In one of the more extreme claims on the event’s website, organizers wrote that the conference had official recognition by the Canada Border Services Agency, but the organization told CBC in an email than she had ever heard of.

Several hours after a request for an interview, the Blader Group LLC sent a Facebook message saying that the International Conference on Coronavirus and Rare Diseases had been canceled. (Blader Group LLC / Facebook)

CBC contacted the organizers of the event through their Facebook page. A link to the Blader Group website shows a registered office in the Marshall Islands – an island country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its website states that the Blader Group is a team of financial industry experts.

Canceled conference

Shortly after the request for comment, we received a Facebook message saying the event had been canceled. Hours later, the conference website was taken down.

CBC also contacted Eventbrite, a website where tickets were available for sale. The site allows anyone to create an event via its platform, as long as it respects its community guidelines.

“After reviewing this event, we determined it was in violation and removed it from our platform,” a statement from Eventbrite said.

The Blader Group was also using Eventbrite to sell tickets for five other upcoming events, which were also deleted.

Other non-existent conferences

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Center says seven people filed complaints after being scammed for non-existent conferences between January 2019 and May 2020.

“They are scripted individuals. It’s not their first kick. They know what they’re doing, ”said Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence analyst at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center.

Thomson said the center uses a disruption program to block or shut down scam sites, but there is usually another fake operational event shortly after. He says people should exercise caution before paying to attend a conference.

Vancouver Police said they were not aware of the scam – but suggested anyone who may have been a victim of it report it immediately.

“Crimes like this need to be investigated and we always recommend that people contact their local police for such scams,” said Sgt. Aaron Roed, VPD Media Relations Officer.

Since the start of March, there have been 2,770 reports of COVID-19 fraud in Canada, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center, involving 1,729 victims.

Anyone who has been a victim of fraud is invited to contact the center.

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