This is why I don’t use ad-blocking plugins: so I can point out stuff like this

February 12, 2014

Today I checked out the weather forecast at Weather.com, mostly to confirm my suspicions that yes, this winter is going to be eternal and that it’s never going to rise above four degrees for the rest of my life.

(Okay, the actual forecast wasn’t that bad, and it’s actually going to get a little warmer very soon, but still.)

I noticed this banner ad in the right-side column where Weather.com usually puts them (among other locations):

2014-02-12-junkware

Looks important, don’it? Like your security software is telling you something is wrong, right?

Yeah, well, it’s not. It’s an advertisement. Good thing the ONLY indication is the little Google AdWords logo in the upper right corner, eh?

Now, I don’t know exactly what this advertisement leads to, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re using deception to trick people into clicking on it. That makes me think of ransomware, because it’s almost the exact technique used by makers of that type of malicious software. Click on it and you may find your computer locked down until you pay $80 or more to some crook.

I wish I could issue “just never click on anything” as a general rule, but it’s sort of hard to use the Internet without clicking on something now and then. I would suggest this, though: if you see an ad like this on a major website, click on that little triangle AdWords logo (click carefully…you don’t want to click on the ad itself!) and use the submission form to tell Google about it. Google’s AdWords system is great because it allows access to online advertising for businesses of all sizes, but that wide-openness also means a lot of scammers get their greasy little banner ads through. It’s like those “work at home” scans in the old print newspapers, only a couple hundred million times larger in scope.


The irony of online banner advertisements

November 9, 2012

Earlier this year, an article about the Iraqi Dinar Scam appeared on Forbes.com. Here’s a screenshot:

First, let me go on record here: I vehemently disagree with the author’s use of the word “stupid” in the title of this article. It’s arrogant. Falling for a scam doesn’t make you stupid; it is my deeply-held belief that everyone is vulnerable to scams. Every single one of us has some magic combination of situation, emotion and opportunity capable of leading us straight into Scamsville. My goal with this site has always been to eliminate as many of those possibilities as possible; to make your own scam-combination-lock as difficult to decipher as possible. But we’ve all got a tell. Somewhere. I can’t emphasize this enough.

But this particular scam isn’t really my focus here. Yes, the Iraqi Dinar Investment Thing is very much a scam. The fact that entities selling it have to classify their businesses as a service for collectors of exotic currency (and not as a foreign exchange investment) to get around regulations should tell you something. Now you know. Go forth and tell others.

No, my focus today is to point out one of the absurd ironies of online publishing and the keyword-based online advertisements that accompany it. Because, on the very same page as the article shown above, this advertisement appeared, plain as day:

Yep. An advertisement for a business involved in the very scam the article spends several hundred words discussing.

No, I didn’t click on it. I don’t trust these businesses enough to even expose my computer to their websites. So I can’t give you any further details on this particular “offer,” but I can assure you: it involves you paying a few thousand dollars for a mound of paper that’s going to be worth the same nothing ten years from now that it’s worth today.

So here’s your takeaway for this Friday: for the most part, just don’t click on advertisements that appear on websites, even when those websites are reputable (I mean, Forbes wasn’t exactly founded a week ago, you know?). Even if the ads seem relevant to what you’re reading.

In fact, lots of web browsers now have plugins available that will block banner ads from view altogether. Adblock for Google Chrome is popular. I used it in the past, but since I have to occasionally write articles on this stuff, I felt it was better for me to be able to see the ads. There was even a variant called “Catblock” at one point, which replaced ads with pictures of totally adorable cats. Which is just awesome.


1 Weird Old Trick to Lose Money Fast!

July 15, 2011

I’m only going to say this once, because it’s pretty simple:

If you see a banner advertisement that promises to reveal “1 Weird Old Trick” to lose weight (or “1 Weird Old Tip” to achieve anything), you are looking at a scam.

I know you’ve seen these ads. If you’ve looked at the Weather Channel, any of the major news providers, or even your local newspaper’s website, you have. Maybe you’ve even wondered, “So, what’s the weird old trick?”

The weird old trick is this: if you click on the ad, you’ll end up at one of about ten zillion websites that promise free samples of weight loss and other remedies that just don’t work; Acai berries are one of the most common. In ordering your “free” sample, you must provide a credit card number. They’ll start hitting your account with monthly charges soon afterwards. If you try to get them to stop, the phone numbers they provide either won’t work, or you’ll find you get “disconnected” a lot (in other words, whoever’s at the call center just hangs up on you). It’s actually a lot like the old “Google Kit” scam from a while back.

(You want a “weird trick” to help you lose weight? Become a raw vegan. I dare you to try to eat too many calories on that diet. Well, you said you wanted a weird trick!)

There’s a bright spot in all of this, though. According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the feds are cracking down on this scheme. I’ve already noticed the ads seem to have mostly disappeared. Score one for the good guys!


Don’t fall for the stranded friend scam

July 5, 2010

According to the latest Intelligence Note from the IC3, people continue to lose thousands of dollars to a common social networking scam.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Somebody hacks your friend’s Facebook account.
  2. They send messages to all their friends that boil down to “Help, I’m in London and somebody stole all my money and cards and I need you to wire me money. I’ll pay you back later.”
  3. You wire several hundred dollars to London.
  4. You find out your friend has been at home the entire time and, “Oh yeah, by the way, somebody hacked my Facebook account…”

Maybe there are cases where people have actually gotten cleaned out in some foreign city and used Facebook or Twitter to contact their friends and have them wire money to them, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

If you get a message like this from a Facebook friend, don’t just respond immediately by wiring cash. There are some questions you need to ask first:

  1. Is your friend actually in London?

Actually, that one question alone will usually tell you everything you need to know. Pick up the telephone and call your friend. You know that mobile Internet device you’re always using to find sushi restaurants? You can call people on those. If your friend is sitting at home watching the Leif Garrett episode of Behind the Music for the hundredth time, you know that message was a scam. Also, “Oh yeah, by the way, dude, somebody hacked your Facebook account.”

Then again, if you get that message at all, you should already be about 99.9% sure it’s fake. Even now, whose first reaction upon getting robbed would be to run to Facebook? There are police in London, you know, and I’m sure they have procedures.

Plus, you should never wire money to anyone without being able to verify, beyond a reasonable doubt, who you’re sending it to, where you’re sending it, and why you’re sending it.


Google files federal lawsuit against company for work-at-home scams.

December 9, 2009

You know those work-at-home scams that use Google’s name and logo?

It looks like Google is finally going after one of them. A federal lawsuit has been filed against a company called Pacific WebWorks, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The suit alleges that Pacific WebWorks has been using Google’s name and logo, without authorization, to sell a “work-at-home” scheme. Victims of this scam are charged repeated fees while receiving nearly nothing (or literally nothing) of value in return. Google is also demanding the company reveal an accounting of its profits.

The Better Business Bureau’s report (“F,” in case you didn’t already guess) for the company lists the following as websites operated by Pacific WebWorks:

http://www.pacificwebworks.com
http://www.profitcenterlearning.com
http://www.googlefastcash.com
http://www.gogglefastcash.com
http://www.homebizkit4u.com
http://www.moneyy.org
http://www.googlebizkit.com
http://www.profitstudiolearning.com
http://www.yourprofitgateway.com
http://www.esuccess2u.com
http://www.eauctionsuccess.com
http://www.yourwebsiterev.com

Do NOT visit any of the above sites!

But, take a moment to study the web addresses. You see words like “success” and “profit” and “cash” an awful lot in there. They even use a misspelling of “Google” (“gogglefastcash”). Why would a legitimate business need so many different websites, including some that use another company’s name?

Anybody else think this won’t just stop at a corporate suit? I see criminal charges looming for Pacific WebWorks. That’s good—it’s a criminal organization that needs to be shut down. I don’t mind jumping the legal gun and passing judgment here; this company has been running a scam, pure and simple.

“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” said cunning old Fury:
“I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.”

—Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Online Scams Epilogue: How to actually make money on the Internet

August 27, 2009

So, how do you make money on the Internet?

Perhaps I’ve given the impression that it can’t be done, but that’s not true. However, the answer may not be what you want to hear.

Basically, you have to have something or create something that other people want, and figure out how to deliver it over the Internet.

The easiest way is the most obvious: sell things on eBay. If you have a supply of antiques, collectables or anything else lots of people desire, create an eBay account and go for it. It’s probably not going to be a full-time career or bring you millions of dollars (unless you’re extremely shrewd), but it can be a source of income that doesn’t involve a ton of work on your part.

Other than that, you pretty much have to create something. If you make things by hand, there’s a site called Etsy that allows you to put up a “store” for your wares. Again, it’s probably not going to be a career, but it’s a way to leverage a hobby into extra income.

The blogging world has some success stories. A lot of sites (I Can Has Cheezburger? comes to mind) that have become cultural icons are essentially using a fairly standard blog format. They mostly generate income through advertising revenue (and some of them get book deals later on).

It’s tough to do, but it can be done. Remember; Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter were all created by small groups of people with ideas for sites people might like.

So that’s how you make money on the Internet: create content that people want, or sell a service or product. Perhaps there was a time when putting up a page with nothing but paid links to other sites would have worked, but those days are long gone. The Internet just isn’t “neat” enough anymore, in and of itself, for that sort of thing to work. You’ve got to create your own business on the Internet. It’s not easy, and you might fail over and over, but I hear it’s a pretty sweet life when it works.


Online Scams Vol. 3: Work at home scams are everywhere

August 26, 2009

Crooks these days. They’re nothing if not adaptable.

Have you seen the number of work-at-home “jobs” being offered on the Internet these days? They know what’s up. A lot of people are losing their jobs and are looking for something new. And it’s a great American tradition—recession (or depression) takes your job, start your own business!

However, the fact is that most people don’t have the right kind of entrepreneurial “spark” needed to start a successful business venture. It takes a certain kind of grit, a deep belief in yourself and your “product,” the ability to hold your head high when faced with failure (and to learn from that failure and move on, instead of taking it personally and wallowing in it), and the kind of positive attitude that, frankly, tends to get obliterated when you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay the mortgage next week.

Let’s face it: starting your own business is way, way tougher than working for someone else. How many times have you seen someone start their own little store because they were “tired of working 40 hours a week,” and you check out their new digs and they’ve got no clear vision for their business, they’re trying to be everything to everyone, and they’re only open five or six hours per day because they’re trying to make owning a business easier than working for someone else? How long did they last?

And I think most of us, deep down, know that. “I’d love to work for myself, but yeesh! 18 hour days, seven days a week?” It’s okay to admit that you’re not a natural born entrepreneur (can you become one? Of course. You can become anything you intend). But most of us know—it is a path of great resistance.

Send in the Work-at-Home-Scam Clowns.

They sound great, don’t they? Stay at home, do some menial task that takes ten minutes, and let “the power of the Internet” (or something) do the rest. You’ll have so many Porsches by this time next year, you won’t know what to do with them all!

Of course I’m going to tell you they’re all completely full of baloney. Nobody is going to pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for nothing.

“Oh, but they’re not paying you,” you’ll say. “You’re starting your own business!”

Well, at best you’re going to pay them a large amount of money for a “startup kit,” fees, or other such bull. You’re not going to assemble kits at home, you’re not going to enter any data, and you’re not going to get paid to stuff envelopes. You’re going to get ripped off.

Fraud.org (run by the National Consumers League) has a great article called “Tips for Avoiding Work-at-Home Scams.” I would recommend you take a few minutes to read the entire article, but the following is a summary of their tips:

  • Know who you’re dealing with
  • Don’t believe that you can make big profits easily
  • Be cautious about emails offering work-at-home opportunities (real companies do not recruit in this way. Ever)
  • Get all the details before you pay
  • Find out if there is really a market for your work
  • Get references for other people who are doing the work
  • Be aware of legal requirements (medical billing requires a license, for example)
  • Know the refund policy
  • Be wary of offers to send you an “advance” on your “pay”
  • Do your own research about work-at-home opportunities

I would amend that fourth tip slightly: just don’t ever pay someone else to work for them.

About.com also has a nice article on this topic: “Work at Home Scams.” I’d suggest you read this as well.

Finally, never, ever trust the phrase, “Other work at home sites are scams, but I found one that isn’t!” There are tons of fake blogs out there. I even found one by searching for “work at home scams.” It had a whole article, possibly culled from a trusted news source, about avoiding these traps. It claimed to be an article from a newspaper in Cleveland. As you read, you suddenly find you’ve been eased into a sales pitch about how “this one isn’t a scam!”

Do they need to make it any more obvious?


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