An extraordinary LinkedIn post from the organizer of a telecoms revenue assurance and fraud management conference has accused rival events of being ‘scams’ and ‘frauds’. This is what Mohammed Ali of Falcon Business Research wrote:
Kindly be aware of Scams. I have listed below 2 companies which are fraud.
The post also included a screen grab taken from the Quintus website, focusing on the section where they described themselves as event and conference organizers with a team that has 15 years’ worth of collective experience.
Mr. Ali is currently promoting two events to be held in Dubai: the ‘Global Telecoms Fraud and Revenue Assurance Forum’ which will occur in April, and the ‘Telco Big Data Analytics & Customer Experience Management Summit 2016′, which is scheduled for May. Falcon also lists other upcoming conferences on its website, but some of the details are sketchy.
The subjects of the accusations are promoting conferences whose scope and geographical location makes them competitors to Falcon’s Dubai events. Quintus’ event is described as the ‘Telecom Fraud Control and Revenue Assurance Forum’, and is scheduled for June in Vienna. UBC has two events listed, both described as ‘Governance, Risk and Compliance Forums’. One is scheduled for April in Nairobi, whilst the other states it will be in Dubai during September.
Mr. Ali’s profile says he is both the Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President of VIP Relations at Falcon. In February Mr. Ali used LinkedIn to contact me about the two Falcon events, sending me unsolicited brochures and asking “if this would be something you would like to consider joining us”. I declined the offer to be an unpaid ‘media partner’ for the events, and responded with a counter-offer to carry a paid advert for the RAFM event, proposing terms which Mr. Ali seemingly agreed to. Although I issued an invoice to Falcon, there has been no transaction between the businesses, nor was there any further communication until I telephoned Mr. Ali about this story.
The UBC website lists 11 senior risk and compliance professionals who will reportedly speak at the Nairobi GRC forum in April. Several sponsors are also named, but no information is provided about the venue. The site has no information about their Dubai event, apart from stating the date.
The Quintus RAFM conference in Vienna is also short of details. It currently lists 5 speakers, a single sponsor, and no mention is made of the venue. However, as the event is scheduled for June it is not that unusual for details to be patchy at this stage. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Quintus seems to be unsure about how to spell its own name. Whilst their website URL is indisputably spelled quintuss.com, their name has a single ‘s’ everywhere else.
Local and personal rivalries may be one explanation for the ill-will between these businesses. Though Falcon, UBC and Quintus promote international events in a range of cities, they are all based in Bangalore, India. This was borne out when I spoke with Mohammed Ali to ask why he described the Quintus and UBC Compliance events as ‘scams’. Though I caught him at an inconvenient moment, he briefly explained:
The organizers of these companies were working in my company and they have kept the data from my company. And they are using the same data [about customers]…
They are Bangalore-based and we are also Bangalore-based, so we have a good reputation in revenue assurance and fraud management market and all the leading vendors in fraud management and revenue assurance, from one to ten, top ten, they all sponsor our event. And some of them have come to me asking about these two companies… Some vendors in the market who are my sponsors they asked me to update about it to other people. That’s the only reason I posted it to LinkedIn.
Mr. Ali has since emailed me with more detailed allegations, which mostly relate to UBC and John Ngaihte. Mr. Ali described Mr. Ngaihte as the owner of UBC. Interestingly, John Ngaihte’s LinkedIn profile makes no mention of UBC, but it does describe him as co-founder and COO of Falcon Business Research. This corroborates Mr. Ali’s assertion that Mr. Ngaihte formerly worked at Falcon, and may have sought to siphon customers from Falcon to a new business.
I called UBC’s main contact number to advise them of Mr. Ali’s accusations, and to give UBC an opportunity to comment. A gentlemen called Leon answered the telephone; Leon stated that he had no knowledge of Mohammed Ali or of any claims of fraudulent activity by UBC. Leon was unwilling to discuss the matter further, citing the late hour. I offered to call him back at a more convenient time, but he was unwilling to arrange that call, and he suggested we correspond by email instead. When I observed that this article was scheduled for Monday morning, he was unwilling to compromise in order to provide input before publication, even though I reiterated that the accusation had already been made on the internet and hence merited an urgent response.
My attempts to call Quintus to obtain their response were unsuccessful. When I telephoned the primary contact number listed on their website, I was played a recorded message saying the number was currently ‘switched off’.
I spoke to another reliable source who was also invited to speak at the Quintus forum in Vienna, and was willing to talk about the experience on condition of anonymity. They said the invitation had been received via LinkedIn from a lady named Rumela Halder, and that it appeared to be genuine. This was the first time that they had been contacted by Rumela Halder, and they had no knowledge of her business. They had decided not to respond because they were not interested in taking part. The text below is quoted from the invitation received via LinkedIn:
I am glad to inform you that we are organizing a Summit on Telecom fraud Control and Revenue Assurance Forum in Austria 2016 and I would like to invite you as a Keynote speaker for the summit. The event will be held on 16th and 17th of June 2016 at Vienna. kindly provide me your official email address and mobile number so that my team can reach you and explain the details Looking forward to hearing from you.
I checked Rumela Halder’s LinkedIn profile, which appeared genuine to me. Though she seems to be a young lady with very limited work experience, she has used LinkedIn to connect to a string of top RAFM professionals. If the Quintus event is a scam, it is an elaborate one. In reality, it may be more appropriate to say their event will be real, if enough people decide to attend, but Quintus may have resorted to sharp practices in order to identify potential customers.
My feeling is that Falcon should not have publicly accused competitors of fraud without also explaining the reasons why, and without providing evidence to substantiate the claim. Fraud is a serious accusation, not to be made lightly. Even if the claims are true, it is necessary to show the justification for the claim, and to allow the accused an opportunity to defend themselves. However, I am glad that Mr. Ali has made some effort to explain the basis of his claims to me.
Furthermore, it may be hard to get a balanced evaluation, if the targets of Mr. Ali’s criticism are unwilling or unable to defend themselves. Falcon does appear to have been running events for a lot longer than SBC or Quintus; Falcon has the advantage in terms of credibility. The integrity of UBC and Quintus has been denounced publicly. It is up to UBC and Quintus to rebut the accusations. There is an irony that these small firms want to be paid for educating big businesses about the management of risks, but they probably lack the skills to best defend their own business reputation. If somebody publicly accused me of criminal activities, I would respond without delay!
The saddest truth is that our industry has ventured down similar paths before, paying for training and events which were run by charlatans. African telcos have been especially plagued by cheats and liars, but they are not the only ones. We all still need to learn from past mistakes. Some telco employees want training, but their businesses are too cheap to pay the proper price for it. The result is an unrealistic chasm between what the student expects to learn, and the value of the education they will actually receive. Anybody can pretend to be an expert on anything. Any event can add the word ‘global’ to their title, and promise to deliver a world-class event. But basic economics and common sense should guide us: if you cannot explain why a top expert would be willing to fly to your city to give you training at bargain basement rates, then you have to reflect on whether the person providing that service is really as knowledgeable as they pretend to be.
I have spent a large part of my career trying to identify ways to improve the quality of education whilst reducing its cost. Anyone can make grand promises and run over-hyped one-off commercial activities, but sustained success means delivering a win-win for both the provider and the recipient of knowledge. Commsrisk is one example of how I have tried to tackle the challenge, where education is delivered drip-drip-drip via the internet, in the form of news and opinions. Another example is my participation in the Risk & Assurance Group; instead of telling people that top experts are willing to fly to see them, we are going to bring the best experts to London, and ask the rest of the world to join us there. And I am heartened by the way Michael Lazarou’s Studying Data Science series is helping people to find good sources of education online, and also by the tweets generated in response to his posts, which shows they appeal to a much wider audience than the regular Commsrisk base.
In contrast, I am saddened by the claims made by Falcon, which suggest some comms sector professionals continue to allow education to be debased. Our area of expertise rightly deserves more criticism when we accept training from liars and cheats. How should we think of a fraud manager who falls victim to a fraud? What about the risk manager who cannot see the risks when being invited to speak at a bogus event? And how should we feel about an auditor who does not do even a basic background check before paying an unknown firm for education? Checks do not have to be sophisticated: consider what kind of global training business has a phone number which does not allow callers to leave a message outside of office hours!
We need to place our own house in order, and that means relying less on others – or on Commsrisk – to investigate claims of unprofessional behavior and shady practice by organizers of training events. It means we must treat professional reputations as more than just a list of what seminars you can write on a CV; some people reading your CV will be able to tell the difference between a real event and a flagrant scam, even if you cannot. And it means resisting the temptation to cheat ourselves, which occurs whenever we spend time and money on education which is over-hyped but of inferior quality. It is not just your companies which are cheated, when they pay the bill for a lousy training event. You also pay, by failing to develop your own potential.