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Developing country climate scientists are being targeted by an elaborate 'phishing' scam that invites them to attend conferences and asks for advance payment.

The conferences are fake but are advertised on websites that look authentic and falsely claim support from big companies, such as the energy company BP, and governmental departments.

BBC News said it has seen emails from two African scientists who were planning to speak at such conferences in London but pulled out when asked for money.

One website, currently live, advertises a conference organised by the 'Global Warming Volunteer Group' and hosted by the Crown London Hotel — giving the same address as the real-life Crowne Plaza, which has nothing to do with the scheme.

'Climate-phishing' dates back to 2007, when an email sent to scientists read: "Random Selection as Development/Campaign Partner... We hereby notify you that you have been selected as a partner in the World Campaign against Global Warming ... "

But the new online scams are more sophisticated. Some list names of existing climate experts, such as the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and claim funding from the UN General Assembly.

What they have in common is they ask for travel or accommodation costs of around €200–300 (US$273–410) to be paid up front, which will be reimbursed later on.

Langston James "Kimo" Goree VI, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in the United States, told BBC News: "The scammers have lifted entire portions of the IISD website, doing a search and replace to find IISD and replace it with their own fake name and creating a fake website that they use to fool people into believing that they are legitimate."

"The fake website is very cleverly done ... they do speak the 'lingo' fluently."

They are after money as well as personal details, such as e-mail addresses, said Carole Theriault, a spokeswoman on security issues with online security company Sophos. "So if you've replied to an e-mail invitation you're saying 'hi, this is me, this is my email address as of now' — that's valuable."