AN upcoming European cannabis conference, at which 10,000 cannabis companies were purportedly due to visit, is thought to be the latest scam to target the industry.
The Amsterdam Cannabis Expo, due to be hosted between November 24 and 26, 2022, is reportedly not taking place at all, leaving a number of would-be exhibitors scrambling to recover their lost cash.
BusinessCann has now heard from numerous sources who say that, after paying their invoice to exhibit, communication was cut and their money has disappeared.
The Amsterdam Cannabis Expo 2022 is understood to have started advertising itself as early as 2020, launching a website and social media pages, and reaching out to a number of organisations with sponsorship offers.
Its website, which was only taken down last week, billed the event as an annual conference welcoming ‘thousands of industry professionals’ from ‘over 100 countries’.
Soon afterwards, a myriad of third-party websites, many of which are continuing to advertise the event, also added the event to their listings.
The three-day event was advertised as including a ‘prestigious awards show’ and a full agenda of speakers discussing ‘the latest trends’, and as offering exhibitors ‘the ideal opportunity to showcase your brand to the industry’.
At first glance, its website appeared completely legitimate, encouraging brands such as Orange County CBD to reach out.
Orange County CBD’s Melanie Hatjigiannakis told BusinessCann that they first came across the event in May this year when they were drafting a list of industry events to exhibit at throughout 2022.
“There was no immediate red flag at this stage, because the website was very well populated with information you would expect to see,” she said.
Upon closer inspection, the warning signs were apparent. Before the website was taken down, BusinessCann researched the event’s confirmed lead sponsors, finding them all to be entirely fabricated businesses.
Other businesses were contacted by the event directly with offers of sponsorship, though no information was given on what these packages would contain. One company noted that from the start of their conversations with the event, one-day tickets were already sold out, and only three-day tickets were available via bank-transfer payment.
As the event grew closer, more glaring red flags began to emerge. Not only did the company fail to publish any information on its agenda up until its website was taken down, just two weeks from the apparent launch of the event, but its anonymous organisers were unable to answer any questions posed by would-be exhibitors.
Ms Hatjigiannakis explained: “We always first request a floor plan of available exhibition space before making any commitments. It was once the floor plan arrived that our first alarm bell started going off.
“This was because the floor plan had all the same-size blocks (exhibition spaces) drawn in, which is not possible. You would know this if you had exhibited at previous events. We also noticed that no other company names were indicated on the floor plan.”
All of the companies that BusinessCann has spoken to regarding the scam said that their only contact with the organisation was via a generic email address ([email protected]) and that no names were ever given.
While it is not unusual for a generic email address to be used initially, Ms Hatjigiannakis said her ‘second alarm bell’ was that these emails were never signed by a member of the sales team.
“Usually the person you deal with wants the commission for selling the space, hence they normally make sure you know their name and direct contact information after the initial communication,” she added.
“The communication stopped when they kept asking us to pay the invoice and we kept asking questions about the event which they clearly could not answer.”
Although Orange Country CBD ceased contact before sending any money, other exhibitors weren’t so lucky.
One cannabis technology company, which wished to remain anonymous, said that they were in contact with the event organisers as recently as October, but that communication stopped entirely as soon as they sent their invoice.
They have since been working with their bank to have their money refunded; however, they were informed last week that the bank account to which the money was sent was now empty, leaving them little recourse.
‘Non Existing Event Advertised’
Many of the companies involved would likely have continued their association with the non-existent event for far longer if it wasn’t for the intervention of RAI Amsterdam.
Almost all of the companies we have spoken to say that their suspicions the event was fraudulent were confirmed when they contacted the listed venue, RAI Amsterdam.
Each said that they reached out to the venue, which is still listed on numerous websites and Google listings as the event’s host, in an effort to secure information that was not forthcoming from its organisers, only to be informed no event existed.
Following an increasing number of calls, the venue was forced to publish a statement on October 7 warning the public that this event did not exist.
The RAI told BusinessCann: “We received a few calls from exhibitors interested in attending this event. – Mmost with a request for more information, one or two after receiving zero reaction from the ‘organiser’ after pre-payment.
“That is how we found out about this so-called event and why we came forward with a warning statement.
“The RAI is not the only venue mentioned as a location. The ‘organiser’ of this event seems to have sent out various news items (or has published items) to maximise attention.
“We regret that someone is able to fabricate and advertise a false event in the media. It is especially painful for the companies that have made a payment, expecting to attend and/or exhibit at an event. The exhibitors we have spoken to have found their way to the authorities. As I understand it, they are taking legal steps to get their money back.”
BusinessCann has contacted the organisers for comment, but has received no response at the time of writing.