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Professor Jennifer Kelly admits to feeling intrigued when an email arrived in her inbox inviting her to be a guest speaker at an international nursing conference being held in Paris this July.

The email stated Professor Kelly’s presence at the International Conference on Nursing and Health Care “would impress the other researchers” and cited a paper she co-authored in 2017 on maternity service reforms.

“We are inviting you to participate in this significant event since your research publication titled A research method to explore midwives’ views on national maternity service reforms is a complete apt to this congress. We assure that this gathering benefits you,” the invitation read.

A link at the bottom of the email took her to a slick-looking conference website featuring images of several key speakers and information on dozens of “Scientific Sessions” set to be held over the three-day event.

People wanting to attend the conference are encouraged to submit 300-400 word abstracts about their topic and asked to list their professional experience and achievements.

Registration fees range from $899 to $1599.

Scientific Serve, whose official website lists numerous similar events taking place around the globe throughout the year, is running the conference.

Professor Kelly, a registered nurse/midwife and currently Associate Dean – Applied Health in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT, says red flags began appearing when she noticed “Scientific Session Number 9″ was titled “Midwifery Nursing”, a term she says does not exist and that midwives would consider highly inappropriate.

“There is no such thing as “Midwifery Nursing” [in Australia] and midwives would be offended with this title as they are different disciplines,” Professor Kelly claims.

Another cause for doubt related to ambiguity surrounding exactly where in Paris the conference would be held because initially a hotel for the event was not listed.

Professor Kelly’s scepticism grew after she submitted an abstract and did not receive the typical automated response advising that a panel would review it.

She emailed the conference organisers outlining her concerns about the lack of a named venue and the use of the term “Midwifery Nursing” but did not receive a response

Instead, she received a phone call two days after submitting her abstract from an unknown UK phone number that she let slip through to voicemail.

The message was from a man who congratulated her on her abstract being accepted, then demanded she pay the conference registration fees immediately.

The man rang back incessantly until Professor Kelly blocked the number.

Professor Kelly, who attends at least one international conference per year, believes there is an increasing drive towards scamming academics through predatory conferences.

Predatory conferences are events designed to appear like legitimate academic conferences that actually do not exist and simply exploit people by swindling money.

Many of the so-called conferences list the involvement of prominent experts as keynote speakers in a bid to increase authenticity.

Growing evidence indicates their prevalence is on the rise.

Dr Katie Dainty, Research Chair, Patient Centred Outcomes at the North York General Hospital in Ontario, Canada, and an academic at the University of Toronto, was one of the Featured Speakers listed on the International Conference on Nursing and Health Care’s website.

However, when contacted by the ANMJ regarding her involvement Dr Dainty confirmed she had never spoken to the organisers and claimed they were fraudulently using her image.

She labelled the conference “a scam”.

The ANMJ emailed the organisers seeking a response to Dr Dainty’s claims but did not hear back.

The following day, Dr Dainty’s image had been removed from the list of Featured Speakers on the conference website.

Professor Kelly says she received a similar email around the same period, inviting her to the 8th World Congress on Patient Care for Chronic Disease in Paris in September and asking her to become a member of the organizing committee.

Her considerable interest in public health motivated her to accept the invitation and draft an abstract.

But when she went to submit the abstract Professor Kelly was directed to the same website as the nursing conference and immediately abandoned the process.

Prior to going through the experience, Professor Kelly, who contemplated calling the Australian Federal Police to investigate the issue as cybercrime, was unaware of a predatory conference within nursing circles.

Now, she believes nurse academics and others attending conferences should do their homework and be on alert.

“Don’t be fooled by the fact someone’s found an article that you’ve published and wants you to present a paper at a conference,” Professor Kelly warns.

“I think they’re using publications as bait because people who publish want their work out there in the public arena. It would be very tempting to accept a conference invite but it seems everyone needs to be alert to scams today that are aligned with conferences and where there is a demand for paying registration fees via a phone call.”