That hotel contract you signed a couple of years ago may fill you with confidence about sleeping room rates, availability and your event budget, but behind your back, a nefarious interloper may be poised to pounce on both your confidence and your room block.

The interlopers known as housing, or hotel, pirates can disrupt not only your best-laid plans but also your business reputation and maybe even your organization’s financial wellbeing, wrapped up in attrition clauses. These pirates don’t wear eye patches and they don’t cruise the high seas. Rather, they navigate waves like the Web and phone networks to kidnap your attendees and exhibitors via enticing room deals. New technologies are making their work easier and more prevalent than ever.

These pirates may convince your people to give them credit card and other sensitive information with promises of great rate room reservations they may or may not deliver. Once on-site for your meeting, unsuspecting attendees and exhibitors soon realize they’ve been fleeced, and they may even blame you for allowing the spammers on your event’s turf. If your room block is severely sabotaged, you might sail into attrition penalty territory.

But the hardest reality you face may be this: What the pirates do is often legal, even if it may be unethical.

The Problem
Housing pirates are nothing new, says Barbara F. Dunn, a travel and hospitality attorney and partner with the Barnes & Thornburg law firm. But they are more prevalent now than they were a dozen or so years ago. This is largely because the evolution of the Internet has made it easier for offenders to find attendee lists.

“With a busy marketplace and attendees striving for the best deal, many groups have fallen prey to the efforts of companies contacting their attendees and exhibitors under the guise of the group to sell them hotel rooms at a lower rate for the group’s meeting,” Dunn says.

Solicitation tactics have become more aggressive, she adds, and sometimes financially damaging to groups.

Scammers kidnap group members in a variety of ways. They may hunt for attendee lists on the group’s website. Maybe they troll social media to find people. They then reach out to group members via telephone, e-mail or even a phony website that looks convincingly official. The hustlers inform message recipients they are calling on the group’s behalf to secure hotel rooms for them. They may refer to the conference location city and specific conference hotels and tell the person the room block is nearly sold out, so they need to reserve their rooms immediately, etc.

Group members who fall prey to the sales tactics divulge credit card information and even complete room block reservation forms.

“Pirates may or may not actually reserve rooms,” Dunn says. “Even if they do, the reservations may come with less-favorable terms than those the organization had booked through the group or its authorized housing agent. Or, the pirate has not made hotel room reservations for the organization at all, and it is not until the organization attempts to confirm reservations or check into the hotel that they discover what has happened.”