APS News

Meeting Attendee Has Identity Stolen

When Greg Grason, a postdoc at UCLA, arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center first thing on the Monday morning of the March Meeting, he made his way to the registration booth, and asked to pick up his badge. But the badge had already been checked out.

Assuming it had been some minor mix-up, registration staff made him another badge, and Grason was not concerned at the time.

Not until Thursday did he discover that he’d been the victim of a sort of identity theft–someone had posed as Grason, gotten a badge with Grason’s name on it, and used it to scam meeting attendees out of money.

On Thursday night, several of Grason’s colleagues told him they had seen a man on the street wearing a badge with Grason’s name on it, introducing himself as Grason, and asking to borrow money for a taxi.

He thought this was odd, and reported it to meeting registration staff on Friday morning. The meetings staff took note of the problem, but at that point there wasn’t anything they could do about the matter.

Shortly after the end of the meeting, Grason received several emails from other meeting attendees who had met the impostor. Two had lent money to the person, believing him to be Grason, and were now requesting him to repay the $20. Grason responded to these emails explaining that he had not, in fact, been the person asking for money. Another email came from a physicist who had given money to the impostor, but now realized it wasn’t Grason, and simply wanted to alert him to the scam. One correspondent told Grason he had tried to report the incident to the police, but after waiting for hours at the police station without receiving much attention, he gave up.

Grason believes that the perpetrator may have met dozens, or even hundreds, of meeting attendees, Grason’s current and potential future colleagues. Grason therefore wants to make sure it is known that this individual wearing his badge and asking for money wasn’t him.

Nothing like this has happened at an APS meeting before, says Donna Baudrau, APS Director of Meetings.

It seems that the impostor went to the registration desk, claimed to be Greg Grason, and was given the badge. It isn’t clear why this individual chose to impersonate Grason, or how he knew that Grason was pre-registered for the meeting, Baudrau said. Possibly the impostor looked at the meeting program, picked Grason at random, approached the registration desk, asked for Grason’s badge, and was simply lucky that Grason was pre-registered and had not already picked up his badge.

Baudrau also wonders why anyone would give money to a stranger on the street, even someone who appeared to be a fellow physicist.

Meeting registration staff members do not ask registrants for identification, since asking 7000 participants for ID would slow the already long lines. Since there have been no previous incidents, there seems to be no reason to change the procedure, says Baudrau.

Grason also acknowledges that checking IDs of all meeting attendees would be impractical, though he hopes someone will try to come up with a way to avoid this sort of problem in the future, while keeping meeting registration efficient and convenient.

Grason says he still finds the incident strange, and while he can think of several ways that it could have happened, it all seems a bit implausible. He figures the scam artist could have been a physicist who was familiar with the meeting and registration procedures, or someone who hangs out around the Baltimore convention center and runs this sort of scam at other meetings as well. “Every scenario seems a bit silly,” Grason says.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff