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


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