Scammers set up a Web site advertising a fake bridal show billed as the "biggest and most extravagant" and used it to steal from thousands of brides-to-be and their vendors, who were lured by chances to win "fabulous gifts and prizes," police and FBI experts said Monday.
A site called The Boston 411 invited would-be brides and potential vendors to a nonexistent Spring Home and Bridal Show at the Hynes Convention Center this weekend, police said. Around 6,000 people and vendors signed up, paid registration fees and bought floor space through the Web site, which promised elegant wedding displays, demonstrations and samples, they said.
Authorities said they got wind of the scam after vendors began calling the convention center to ask when they could go in and start working on their exhibits for the show. Convention center officials said no such show had been scheduled.
The victims include wedding photographer Aram Orchanian, who said he lost nearly $3,000 he paid to attend the show and to produce promotional materials for it.
He said he heard about the show on the Facebook social networking site and called a telephone number listed on the fake site to seek more information about it before he registered and paid more than $900 for a corner booth in October. He spent another $2,000 producing fliers, magnets, free gifts and other promotional goodies, which are sitting in his office.
Orchanian said vendors who discovered the event wasn't scheduled at the convention center were assured by a woman who answered the fake site's telephone number that there had been a mix-up at the venue and it would be resolved.
Orchanian said the scammers insisted on receiving payments through the PayPal online money transfer service, declining to accept checks, and responded quickly to voice messages.
"They know the industry and knew what they were talking about" as they sought to encourage people to quickly pay for nonexistent services, he said.
Orchanian said the fraudulent show was timed to take advantage of couples who may have been euphoric over Valentine's Day proposals.
The site charged couples pre-registering to attend the show $10 to $15, promising they "will receive a welcome bag of goodies and will be entered for a chance to win fabulous gifts and prizes!"
Authorities said vendors paid up to $4,000 to participate in the event, described on the Web site as "New England's biggest and most extravagant Bridal Show!"
The Web site, created using a free online event registration and marketing service at eventbrite.com, had been taken down by Monday evening. Efforts to access the site generated a message saying: "The owner has indicated they are no longer in business."
The Facebook account used to lure vendors and brides-to-be was no longer active. A message was left at the phone number listed on the bridal Web site.
Officials at eventbrite.com did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Police and the FBI Cyber Crime Unit are investigating.