Eager customers and vendors are paying to attend November bridal and fashion events around Arizona, but the events are bogus.
The scam appears to be somewhat sophisticated, with a massive online ad blitz and a professional-looking website featuring news about the supposed events. Both potential event attendees and vendors are at risk of losing money. And if you've already paid to attend or be a vendor at the events, you likely won't be getting a refund.
"The Girl Network" website, a website created in February which apparently is the Internet home of the scamsters, advertises that a bridal expo will be held on November 1 at a Goodyear Hampton Inn & Suites, and the "WinterGlam Fashion Show" will be held on November 8 and 15 at the Peoria Center for Performing Arts and Tucson's Arizona Inn.
Event coordinators at both locations say no such events are scheduled.
(Please see update to this article below.)
The Peoria arts center has received numerous calls about the November 8 "WinterGlam," but "we know nothing about it. People should be very cautious."
An email we sent to the main contact at The Girl Network and WinterGlam, Lena Parks, resulted in an auto-reply: "We are currently receiving a high volume of emails and phone calls. Thank you for your patience while we answer your questions. We will answer your emails and voice mails in the order they were received."
One of the ads, republished in the event listings of a Tucson TV news station's web site, states that WinterGlam "is our biggest family event of the year! We will have live local musical performances, family fun activities, local top vendors and of course our fashion show! We are still looking for top vendors and more musical talent for our show!"
Rhonda St. Louis of Mesa paid $55 to attend a bridal-show event in August that was supposed to have taken place at the Phoenix Convention Center. In retrospect, she says, she probably should have given the purchase more thought.
"I was so busy with working and my client appointments in the evening," she says. "I just get in the habit of just registering for events."
The day before the event, she says she received the following hard-to-believe email from The Girl Network: "We are sadden (sic) to inform you some of our staff was in a major car accident late last night. Our Owner and Sara Chan had fatal injuries in the crash. Lena Parks and Tiffany Jordan are in critical condition. We cannot continue the Bride Expo for this Saturday, August 30, 2014. This event will be moved to another date."
St. Louis says she's tried to get a refund on her $55 ever since, but that further emails to the website resulted in the same auto-reply as we received about the "high volume" of emails. She also discovered, as we confirmed, that the new dates and locations were bogus.
The WinterGlam event is also scheduled for dates in Fresno and Los Angeles; we're suspicious those aren't going to happen, either.
The Girl Network advertised something called the "Royal Princess Ball" for September 6 at the Embassy Suites Biltmore in Phoenix -- but an employee there confirmed it never happened. The employee, who didn't want to be identified, tells New Times that many people called the hotel before September 6 asking about the event, including some who said they'd paid to be vendors.
In one Princess Ball ad, we found a phone number for Lena Parks, who's a Valley resident, and The Girl Network. We left a message but haven't heard back. If you've paid for one of the events and want to talk to Parks, you could try the number: (623) 748-7585.
Parks is using the online ticket-sales company Eventbrite, (and similar companies, apparently), to collect credit-card numbers and purchases from would-be customers. The Eventbrite listing claims that the bogus Peoria event on November 8 is sold out -- if true, that could mean Parks made bank on this deal.
Terra Carmichael, head of communications for the San Francisco-based Eventbrite, says she's checking into the allegations and expects to get back to us this morning. She says in an email that, "At the end of the day, Eventbrite always does right by our customers, so anyone who buys a ticket on Eventbrite for this event will be protected in the event it is cancelled or doesn't happen."
We'll put an update here when she gets back to us.
UPDATE: After our article was published this morning, we received an email from Megan Newman, an area manager for Hampton Inn & Suites:
"...We are supposed to host a bridal show on Saturday for the Girl Network. I spoke with Lena Parks and sent a contract over a few months ago and never heard from her again. I have left multiple messages and send multiple emails in regards to not hosting this event and no phone call back.
"Today 5 vendors have called our hotel stating that they are supposed to have guest rooms and have paid money to be a part of this bridal show. They are furious and I'm concerned that our front desk staff will be yelled at on Saturday. I googled Lena Parks and found your article. I have contacted the police but they state that this is a matter between the vendors and the Girl Network."
We phoned Newman, and she told us that one of the bridal-gear vendors that called her complained that she had spent thousands of dollars getting ready for the November 1st show, plus paid The Girl Network a $350 fee for a vendor booth. The vendor also said this Saturday's show was the redo for the canceled August event -- the same one, apparently, that Rhonda St. Louis told us about. Newman says the vendor told her that she'd talked to Tamara Williams, one of the bridal show's organizers, who was sobbing as she described the terrible accident that caused the August show's cancellation.
New Times is also waiting for a reply to an email we sent to the state Attorney General's Office this morning about The Girl Network. Check back for more updates.
UPDATE October 31: Eventbrite tells us that The Girl Network canceled its Eventbrite listings for the WinterGlam and the bridal expo. Fewer than five tickets between for the event had been sold through Eventbrite, says spokeswoman Sara Altier.
"Several of the events (not accounts) affiliated with the Girl Network have been removed from our platform," Altier says. "If an organizer wants to delete an event from our platform, they first have to refund all tickets, if any were sold."
Altier says the problems haven't led Eventbrite to believe The Girl Network is a scam, and that the company isn't barred from posting future listings. Indeed, as of Thursday, Eventbrite was still helping the company sell tickets for upcoming The Girl Network events in Fresno and San Franciso. We called the hotels where those events are supposed to take place -- as before, the hotels had nothing booked. Today, the Eventbrite listings for the California events also seem to have been deleted.
As of Friday, though, an Eventbrite listing was still online and selling tickets for the Goodyear bridal expo that isn't happening.
Eventbrite was only one of several ways The Girl Network collects money for its events. The receipt sent to St. Louis was not an Eventbrite receipt, Altier confirms.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
New Times also found yet another The Girl Network event that had been advertised to take place earlier this year but never happened. The company said it was putting on a six-week "Girl Career Training Program" beginning April 12 at the Peoria Public Library. It's unknown how many victims paid the $150 registration fee.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.